Lisette Rivers & the Crumbling Mansion Affair

 

by

 

Brian Sands

 

 

The Devil Came from Akasava,HtF

Chapter Sixteen: The Clue of Swallowtail Cottage

Lisette wasted no time getting out of the lighthouse and seeking the shelter of the trees. She scrambled from copse to copse, striking aslant the hill slope, but did so cautiously. She was so successful in using the undergrowth and the trees as cover that she came upon Sunny Virtue without her friend being aware of her approach. Sunny was lying behind a cluster of grassy tufts on her elbows with her binoculars to her eyes. She was watching a vehicle parked at the front door of the lighthouse.

 

Sunny’s first inkling that she was shadowed came when Lisette dropped quietly to her side and placed a hand warningly over her mouth. “It’s all right. It’s me,” whispered Lisette as Sunny whuffed with fright. Lisette removed her hand. “I managed to get away,” she added unnecessarily.

 

“I’m glad,” Sunny replied after taking a deep breath in relief. “I was wondering what I could do to rescue you.”

 

“You knew I was there?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“How long have you been staking out this place?”

 

“Since before sun-up. I can’t tell you what a fright I had when I saw them carry you into that place!”

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“Can we go back to your cottage? It’s more comfy and I’ve been here for hours. I’ll tell you then. I’ve found out what I want to know … all those comings and goings.” Sunny began to pack her binoculars, thermos and blanket into the hamper. “Come on. We’d better keep the trees between us and the lighthouse. Someone might see us from a window, although we’re safe enough. I wonder what the police are doing?”

 

“The police?”

 

“They’ve been watching the lighthouse in shifts, one squad car and now another, a sort of a plain clothes police car, has taken its place. See, down there almost hidden by those trees.”

 

Lisette and Sunny crouched watching for another minute. “Maybe they’re waiting so they can follow the suspects to a HQ,” whispered Lisette.

 

“They could have done that when the other car brought you the first time. That Landrover parked there not long before you surprised me.”

 

“Well, the woman who drove it is inside bound and gagged … Hmm. They must be waiting for bigger fish to follow.”

 

“Bound and - ? What on earth - ?”

 

“The woman was one of my kidnappers. She’s the maid, remember that dinner party at Weathersrtone Hall? Lolly Tablier.”

<p.

“I thought I recognised her from somewhere. Did you trick her and tie her up?”

 

“Not exactly. She came and freed me, and asked me to tie her up to allay suspicion when their boss came. She and that man … ”

 

“I know him. He’s Hugo Lumière. He used to be the lighthouse keeper before they closed it down.”

 

“… had a change of heart. They seem to do unusual courier services.

 

“Part of the contraband network?”

 

“Very probably. But this time their job was to kidnap me. They had second thoughts when that old woman started mistreating me. They’re bound by a strange Kidnapper’s Code. I’ve heard of it before. In fact I’ve met the people who wrote the Code, on one of my cases. They talk about bringing quality and accountability into the workplace.”

 

“I suppose even kidnappers need workplace guidelines.”

 

“Yes. But weren’t we going to my cottage?

 

“Of course, but what you’re telling me is so fascinating. Anyway, I have even more surprising news to tell. Come on, the police can look after themselves.”

 

“The two young women have gone so we may assume that they are safe for the moment, Sergeant.”

 

“Yes, Sir.”

 

“Aha! Something is afoot,” continued Detective Inspector Hereward Fysshe as a second vehicle drew up behind the four-wheel drive parked at the lighthouse. It was a smaller 4x4 with black duco and tinted windows. A man climbed out and entered the building.

 

“More coffee, Sir?” asked Detective Sergeant Poppy Chipps.

 

“Not now, Sergeant. We may have to follow them soon. But thank you. That was an excellent brew.” A lot better that that café swill, he ruminated.

<p.

It’s tea that brews, thought Poppy. The poor dear really needs tutoring on infusions.

 

“Look! Didn’t I tell you?”

 

“Yes, Sir.”

 

A man and a woman had emerged from the lighthouse. They paused and conferred for a moment, then the woman turned and climbed into the 4x4. The man watched as she pulled out and disappeared along the track. He then returned to his vehicle and followed.

 

DI Fysshe switched the engine into life and the unmarked police sedan slid onto the track and followed the four-wheel drive, its top just visible ahead. It turned to the right onto Cliff Road and began to travel towards the village. DI Fysshe and DS Chipps followed in decorous pursuit.

 

 

Meanwhile, Lisa and Sunny returned to the safety of Swallowtail Cottage. Upon arrival, they took the precaution of hiding their cars. Sunny parked her little Fiat behind a stand of low trees about fifty metres past the cottage. Lisa drove her Peugeot along the side lane as far as the knee-high stone fence in the rear. Although the vehicle was not obscured, it was inconspicuous, parked a few yards from the lane in a small dip in the ground that marked the beginning of the moors.

 

Once inside the cottage, Sunny prepared a late lunch for them both in the microwave, while Lisa quickly showered and changed into a burgundy blouse and light red slacks. Although she was not expecting any trouble soon, Lisa wore the belt that held a blade within its leather stitching. She had been caught out more than once through neglecting that simple but effective means of escape and decided that it was a good idea to make a habit of wearing the belt (and others like it to match different clothes). 

 

In the comfort of the kitchen, Sunny gently lifted Rasputin from the top of the refrigerator to the floor and presented him with a bowl of milk and a piece of beef stroganoff. She was still in the safari suit that she wore when on surveillance, a shirt and slacks in fine cotton that were more practical for fashion wear than for the outdoors, and a white silk neckerchief at her throat.  Lisa arrived and together the two young women ate their pre-packaged rice and beef stroganoff in silence. They left the washing-up for later and went into the living room where Sunny took a letter from a thin brief case and handed it over to Lisa to read.

 

“My lawyer gave me this photocopy of the caveat they received two days ago,” Sunny explained. “According to this, I’m not the heir to Weatherstone Hall! There’s another relative they didn’t know about, someone represented by ‘L. B. Marks Inc.’ They threaten legal action if I don’t withdraw my claim. But, you know Lisa, I’m not so keen on inheriting that crumbling old building. Too many things have happened connected with it: that horrible murder, the drug running, your kidnapping, our kidnapping. A lot of people will say it’s bad luck to keep the place.”

 

“What will happen if you give up your claim?”

 

“I asked my lawyer that question. He thinks it’s slated to go under demolition, if they can get around the national heritage laws for old buildings.”

 

“We should find out something about that company. It sounds dodgy to me and … oh my goodness. Look at the letterhead!”

 

“What is it?”

 

“See that logo?”

 

“Yes. A pretty butterfly for such a ‘dodgy’ company.”

 

“That’s no ordinary butterfly. Come, I’ll show you.”

 

Lisette took Sunny’s hand and led her to the front door where she showed the faded pastel image of a Swallowtail Butterfly impressed into the ceramic tile. In silence they returned to the living room.

 

“It’s not the same image as on the letterhead,” said Lisette after a further moment of silence. “But it looks like the same species of butterfly. Don’t you think it’s more than a coincidence that the local people call this Swallowtail Cottage and there’s a Swallowtail butterfly plaque on the door, and that the L. B. Marks Inc. letterhead appears to have the same butterfly as its logo? Come to think of it, what was the name of the deceased owner of Weatherstone Hall?”

 

“It was a Peer, Sir Albatroyd Merks.”

 

“Albatroyd Merks … L. B. Marks. Isn’t one a much too obvious anagram of the other?”

 

“My god, Lisa, you don’t think that Albatroyd Merks is still alive?”

 

“And operating a scam of some sort under the company name of L. B. Marks? It looks likely … Sunny, I’d better check on some things online.”

 

Lisette began to unpack and set up her laptop.

 

“I’ll get more refreshment shall I?” said Sunny. “What would you like, coffee or tea, or something stronger?”

 

“I’ll have something stronger, thanks, a gin and tonic maybe.”

 

“Great. I’ll have one too … What about you Puss?”

 

“Frafff,” said Rasputin Thermodux the First in a tone that suggested it was about time someone asked him his pleasure.

 

By the time Sunny had prepared the drinks and made Rasputin comfortable with a bowl of cream and a handful of his favourite biscuits Lisa was busy in cyberspace. She worked quietly for the next fifteen minutes while Sunny relaxed in an armchair with one of the garish novels. When she had finished, Lisette sat back with a sigh.

 

“I’ve found something, Sunny. In fact, a couple of things.”

 

Sunny put down her book and sat forward in her chair.

 

“Firstly,” said Lisette, “I accessed the DORFIS data base and requested information on L. B. Marks Inc. The company has branches here. There’s a small office in a lane off Old Compton Street in Soho.”

 

“That doesn’t sound very respectable.”

 

“No, and there’s a head office overseas in Australia. The address is in the Sydney suburb of Kings Cross.”

 

“Well that’s not so bad. My cousin’s London flat is in King’s Cross. It’s quite up-market.”

 

“Maybe for London, but in Sydney King’s Cross has a reputation somewhat like that of Soho.”

 

“Oh, so … ”

 

“Oh yes.  Sunny, what do you expect? We’re dealing with a criminal organization! Anyway, the other thing I found, on the ‘net this time from the Wikipedia, is about that butterfly. Seems it’s a species found in Australia of the genus Cressida Swainson.”

 

Lisette read from the entry she had downloaded:

 

“Cressida cressida cressdia (Fabricius), 1775. Comments: "Big Greasy". One of two subspecies of this butterfly which are endemic to Australia … This subspecies occurs as far south as Sydney, but it is very rare there. It is more common … in north-eastern New South Wales.”

 

“There’s even a 45 cent postage stamp of Big Greasy,” said Lisette as she saved the entry, closed the laptop and added, almost to herself. “I think that we’ll find the subspecies ‘real estate swindler’ is not rare in Sydney.”  

 

“Do you think Albatroyd Merks, Knight of the Realm, is involved in the cocaine smuggling too?” asked Sunny.

 

“I think it’s very likely. It’s too much of a coincidence isn’t it?”

 

“Have you told your people at DORFIS? It’s dangerous if we’re the only persons who know about it.”

 

“Yes, that was probably why Spencer Forbes was killed. He wanted to buy the mansion and must have enquired too deeply into its previous owner for his own good. Thank you for reminding me. I think I should let them know right away.”

 

“Do you think that’s also why there have been kidnapping attempts on both of us?”

 

With a worried frown, Lisette leaned forward to unlock the laptop cover when they heard a knock at the front door. The two young women looked at each other in dismay. There came a second knock and a faint “Yoo hoo?” from the front porch and Sunny relaxed visibly. “It sounds like that writer Lily Woodgreen,” she said. “I’d better let her in. She’ll bore our ears off, but if we’re lucky she only wants to borrow something and go away.”

 

Sunny went to the door while Lisette prudently slipped the laptop beneath the sofa. The briefing to DORFIS would have to wait until the woman had gone.

 

Agapanthus Woodgreen, or Lily to her friends, bounced into the room. She was dressed in another garish assortment of chiffons and satins and held the small Pomeranian under one arm. The creature looked up smugly at Rasputin, who had retreated to the top of the drinks cabinet and was glaring with disapproval at the intruder. It looked so much like a misshapen cat but smelled too clearly of canine through the perfumes in which it had been dowsed.

 

“There you are my dear Sunny and,” the woman hesitated significantly, “Miss Eliza Poole. I didn’t think anyone was home. Your car was not in sight. But I saw a light in this pretty little living room so I thought I’d try my luck. My, the late afternoon chill is setting in.” The woman shivered melodramatically.

 

“Can I offer you a drink?” asked Sunny dutifully.

 

 “Thenk you, dear. A large brandy and dry, if you will.”

 

Sunny set about preparing the drink at the cocktail cabinet, casting an apologetic glance at Rasputin above her, as Lisette took up the conversation.

 

“Are you out walking, Miss Woodgreen?”

 

“Oh no,” Agapanthus replied evasively, “I was just passing by. I had to purchase the foi gras for little Fluggy Baskerville here. But I’m curious … Thenk you dear,” as Sunny handed her a charged brandy balloon. “Since that awful murder I haven’t set eyes on either of you.”

 

Sunny explained that she had to be in London several times on legal matters. Lisette stated that she had been resting after her experience at Weatherstone Hall and had not felt enthusiastic for social intercourse.

 

“But that’s really so remiss of you children,” said Woodgreen unsympathetically. “I simply demand that you visit me in my little cottage.” She took a deep draught from the brandy balloon, reducing its contents to a few drops at the bottom of the glass, and set it aside on the mantel.

 

“That’s really good of you,” said Lisette, “and we shall, shan’t we, Sunny? Perhaps later this week?”

 

“Oh, but I don’t think you understand, my dears,” rejoined Agapanthus Woodgreen. “I meant for you both to accompany me to my little cottage, right now!”

 

 A huge black revolver appeared from the folds of the woman’s voluptuous garments as if from nowhere, held steadily in a pudgy hand and levelled straight at Sunny Virtue. Lisette began to rise.

 

“No you don’t,” said Woodgreen threateningly. “Stay quite still where you are, Miss Lisette Rivers! In fact, sit on your hands like they say in spy movies. That way I’ll be certain you don’t get up to any tricks. Oh yes, I know your real name. I know you’re a very clever private detective. But here is where your cleverness ends.”

 

“You’re one of the cocaine smugglers, aren’t you?” said Lisette.

 

The woman nodded. “A silent partner in the organization, watching that everything should be as it should be. I am not at all pleased with the way matters have been bungled, and I’m putting a stop to it right now.” She shifted the muzzle of her revolver to centre on Lisette. “Sunny, my dear, you are to do exactly what I tell you, otherwise your friend will die.”

 

“Yes,” replied Sunny in a small voice.

<p.

She kept me in check by holding the gun on Sunny. Now she’s forcing Sunny’s cooperation by threatening me. This woman’s scheming and cold-blooded, thought Lisette grimly.

 

Agapanthus Woodgreen continued. “There is rope hanging on a peg by the front door, no doubt once used for packing. You are to fetch it here. If you choose to make a run for it, you will hear the shot that will mean Miss Rivers’ death. Do you understand, Miss Virtue?”

 

“Yes.” Sunny gave Lisette a despairing glance as she left to do the woman’s bidding. Rasputin followed. Sunny was back moments later, trembling, coils of rope in her hands. Rasputin did not return.

<p.

“Very good,” observed Woodgreen, hefting the revolver in one hand while she adjusted the Pomeranian Fluggy in the crook of her other arm. “Place all the rope except for one piece on the coffee table … Good. Choose a shorter piece … That’s right.” Woodgreen shifted the gun to cover Sunny. “Now, Miss Rivers, kindly stand and present your arms behind your back.” Lisette obeyed, and the muzzle of the gun was placed against her forehead. “Bind the lady’s hands,” the woman commanded Sunny. “If you do not tie them tightly enough, I shall content myself with shooting the detective and taking you. One will be easier to transport anyway. It’s up to you.” With trembling hands, Sunny Virtue began to wind the rope around Lisette’s wrists. “As for you, Miss Rivers,” said Woodgreen warningly, “we’ll have none of those escapology tricks they advise in the self defence manuals and real-life TV. Let your hands be quite relaxed.”

 

Perhaps because she was trembling, Sunny tied Lisette’s wrist bonds extremely tight. She was then ordered to use another piece of rope to truss Lisette’s arms by the elbows so that her shoulders were pulled back. The stretch increased the tightness around her wrists and forced her neat breasts to strain prettily against the thin silk of the blouse. 

 

Agapanthus Woodgreen emitted a soft hiss of satisfaction at the sight of Lisette’s obvious discomfort. “Good work! Now take that scarf you’re wearing and gag Miss Rivers with it.”

 

Flickr, Thommy2

 

“May I ask a question?” said Lisette as Sunny began to unfasten the small silk scarf.

 

“It had better be quick,” said Woodgreen. “You’re not going to come out with that tired old cliché that I can’t get away with it, or that the police are on their way?”

 

“Well you won’t, and the police know,” replied Lisette. “But are we going to have the pleasure of meeting the man you’re working for, Sir Albatroyd Merks in person? Are you taking us to him?” It was a bold move and Agapanthus Woodgreen fell for it.

 

“That’s two questions, and far too many non sequiturs,” replied Woodgreen. “No, I’m not introducing you to him.”

 

Lisette became silent. Her question had achieved its purpose. Instead of reminding her that Merks was the deceased former owner of Weatherstone Hall, to which Sunny Virtue was heir, Agapanthus Woodgreen had by her tacit agreement told Lisa that the man was alive. A moment later Lisette was unable to ask further questions.

 

“Tie the scarf over Miss Rivers’ mouth as tightly as you can,” ordered Woodgreen. “You know the consequence if I’m not satisfied.” Her revolver was still directed against Lisette’s temple.

 

“Where are you taking us? What are you going to do with us?” asked Sunny as she bound the scarf triangularly over Lisette’s mouth.

 

Buck Ryan,1940, Zola, C3C Group

 

“Pointless questions! You’ll know soon enough. Tie her legs too!”

 

Lisette sat in one of the armchairs as directed and Sunny reluctantly bound her ankles together. Agapanthus Woodgreen interrupted her action. “She can be lightly bound, enough to prevent our resourceful young detective from moving while I’m attending to you.”

 

With Lisette secure, Woodgreen took up a piece of rope and tied Sunny’s hands behind her. Sunny accepted her bonds without a murmur but she was close to tears, her eyes bright through a hank of hair that had fallen across her face. With her lips pressed tightly against her teeth by the gag, Lisette was unable to comfort her.

 

Woodgreen pushed Sunny into the second armchair and began to search the top drawers of the drinks cabinet. Both her hands had to be free so she placed Fluggy upon the top of the cabinet. The space was heavily impregnated with Rasputin’s scent and Fluggy whimpered pathetically. To his mistress the behaviour appeared inexplicable. She looked around the room vaguely as though expecting someone to appear. “Oh Fluggy, don’t be such a fuss-budget. I’ll give ums nice creamy-nums when we get home.”

 

The gratuitous baby talk broke the gravity of the situation. Sunny rolled her eyes and Lisette’s giggle quickly became a faint cough through the tight silk.

 

“This will do nicely.”

 

Agapanthus Woodgreen drew a neatly folded cloth from the drawer. When she shook it out of its folds they saw that it was a large rectangle of white nylon with a butterfly pattern in variegated hues. Its use evidently was to cover food and tea things. The woman folded the nylon across the diagonal and twirled it several times before bringing it over Sunny’s head and stuffing it into her mouth. She knotted the gag firmly at the back of the girl’s neck.

 

“That will keep you quiet,” said Woodgreen with satisfaction. “Now, on your feet!” She took Sunny by an arm and pulled her roughly from the armchair. “March!”

 

Lisette watched helplessly as the woman left the room with her captive. The wind was rising and she did not hear the sound of the car door opening or closing, or the lid of the boot, a thought that sent a shiver through her. A minute later, Agapanthus Woodgreen returned, unfastened the snares at Lisette’s ankles, and marched her out, switching off the lights and closing the doors as they passed from the cottage. Sunny Virtue was sitting in the back of a Morris Minor that had seen better days. Her head was lowered and, as Lisette was pushed in beside her and her ankles once again tied together, Lisette saw that Sunny was fretting on the gag. That nylon must be awfully scratchy, she thought sympathetically.

 

“Not long now and you’ll both be nice and secure in my little cottage,” said Woodgreen as she slid behind the wheel and started up the motor. “Oh Fluggy, do be quiet, there’s a good snookums. I don’t know what’s got into you!”

 

As the small car pulled onto Cliff Road, Rasputin Thermodux the First wedged himself comfortably into the roof rack. This time he was not going to be left behind.

 

©         To be Continued …

 

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