lost_spook (lost_spook) wrote in runaway_tales,

Rocky Road 10, Cookies & Cream 7 [Divide and Rule]

Title: Den of Thieves
Author: lost_spook
Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): Rocky Road #10 (bar), Cookies & Cream #7 (chase)
Toppings/Extras: Butterscotch + Rainbow Sprinkles
Rating: All ages
Word Count: 2647
Notes: 1912; Harold Graves, Hanne Beck, Lionel Graves, Rudolf Beck.
Summary: It wasn’t the sort of place Harold had expected to find Miss Beck…


“Lionel?” said Harold in mild irritation, turning towards his younger brother who had just tugged at the sleeve of his coat for no good reason that he could see.

Lionel nodded towards a nearby alleyway. “What the devil is Miss Beck doing there?”

Harold instantly followed his gaze and spotted Hanne, walking along with her maid close beside her, heading down a narrow and by no means respectable side street. She shouldn’t even be out at this late hour. Harold ignored Lionel’s protests and hurried after her, catching up with her outside a pub whose battered and faded sign proclaimed it to be the Nag’s Head.

“Miss Beck,” he said, slightly out of breath in his haste. “You shouldn’t be here.”

She looked up, her eyes widening briefly in surprise. “But I brought Lily with me.”

“I hardly think that is sufficient protection,” said Harold, as Lionel joined them with a scowl on his face, his eyebrows drawn into a disapproving line. “What brings you here in any case?”

Hanne gave a slight sigh. “Mr Graves, I know you mean well, but it doesn’t matter what you say – I have to find Father!”

“And you think he is in there?” Harold nodded at the Nag’s Head. It didn’t seem a particularly likely establishment in which to find Professor Beck, but she wouldn’t have come here without reason.

“I’m not sure, but the man in the bookshop told me that he was on his way to meet someone there, so I must at least go in to find out.”

Harold leant forward. “He hasn’t come home? Surely if that’s so, you should inform the police? Or at the least, you should find a friend to help you search. This is no place for you or your maid.”

“I don’t suppose it is,” said Hanne, “but it will all be much simpler if I can find him and bring him home myself. Mother isn’t very well and I don’t want anyone else to make a fuss.”

“Of course you need to find him,” Harold said. “However, since I’m here now, why not let me help? You and your maid – Lily, was it? – may wait out here with Lionel while I go in and see if I can find your father – or, if not, ask the landlord if he has seen anyone answering to his description. Then there should not be any troublesome misunderstandings.”

Hanne closed her eyes momentarily. “Oh, why must people be so silly?”

“A very good question,” Harold said. “It doesn’t alter the fact that they undoubtedly are, however, and I am not willing to abandon you here at the risk of such harm. Now, Lionel, you will keep an eye on Miss Beck, won’t you?”

Lionel was busy stamping about under the lamplight, keeping warm. “Naturally,” he said, but he didn’t look any happier about the situation.

“There,” said Harold to Hanne. “Now, I shall go in and make enquiries – and if I need you to help, I shall come back out and fetch you, I promise. Lionel –”

He glared at him. “I can keep them safe, but we can hardly stand about here in the street!”

“I won’t be very long,” said Harold, mildly, putting a hand to his hat. “And you know where I am if there should be any difficulty. Now, Lionel, stop complaining – and you Miss –?” He hesitated, making the unfinished sentence a question as he crooked an eyebrow at the maid.

“Miss Chapple,” said Lily. She nodded eagerly, and he suspected that she was relieved at his interference, having had no wish to be dragged into disreputable establishments with only Hanne for protection.

Lionel turned. “Well, I hope this shows you exactly what an unsuitable, irresponsible –”

“I think the insults can wait,” said Harold, cutting his brother off as he strode away towards the pub.

By the time Harold re-emerged from the public house, he had not yet managed to locate Professor Beck, but after some persistent questioning of various people and the handing over of several shillings, he had at least gathered some information about the professor’s most likely current whereabouts.

On returning to the alley way, he found the little group now some yards away, waiting under a lamp. Hanne and Lionel were studiously ignoring each other.

Harold looked to Hanne first. “Miss Beck,” he said, as he joined them. “I have an address. I suggest you let Lionel and I go and fetch your father for you while you and Miss Chapple find a cab to take you home.”

Hanne shook her head, the ribbons on her hat flapping about. “I won’t go without Father, Mr Graves. You may go home if you wish – I shall take the address.”

“No, no,” said Harold and glanced over at her with a brief smile. “Resign yourself to the fact that just as you are not going home without your father, I could not possibly square it with my conscience to leave you wandering about the city at this hour. Now, it’s not far, so walk with me and explain – what is this about a book?”

Hanne took his arm, working hard to keep up with his leisurely pace. “It’s a rare volume of some kind. Father must have gone to rescue it.”

“Rescue it?”

“Well,” she said, lowering her voice and leaning in nearer to him, “I do not think the man he is buying it from can be entirely honest.”

Harold had rapidly been coming to that conclusion himself. He had hoped she would have a better explanation. Did Professor Beck regularly encourage the theft of antiquarian titles? He decided it was much better not to ask.

Harold’s information led them to a small corner shop a couple of streets further along. Judging by what could be seen by gaslight through murky windows, it was full of the sort of bric-a-brac that Harold’s family would never condescend to purchase. They’d never even have anything this tawdry to give away.

He entered with Hanne close behind him, and called out, since nobody seemed to be in evidence at the cluttered counter. When a scruffy man in his fifties appeared, Harold asked him for Salter, as he’d been instructed. The man hesitated and his gaze slid beyond Harold, even as Hanne made a small, startled sound. Harold hastily side-stepped, receiving a blow across the shoulder from a second man that might otherwise have felled him.

“We just need to see Professor Beck,” he said as he backed away, grabbing at Hanne’s arm. “This is his daughter – she’s worried about him.”

The first, older man paused and the two looked at each other, before he gave a nod. “Then why didn’t you say so?”

Professor Beck was sitting in the backroom of the shop, deep in conversation with the questionable bookseller, their heads bent over the book in question. “Fascinating,” he murmured as he carefully turned the pages.

“I knew you’d like it,” the man who must be Salter said. He could have been any age, bundled up in ill-fitting layers, but he looked at least seventy. He coughed. “And, ahh, it looks as if I’ve kept you here too long.”

Professor Beck nodded. “It’s a shame our conversations must be something of a rarity.” He raised his head and finally emerged from the world of the past enough to register Hanne and Harold. “Oh, dear.”

“Much too late for you to be wandering about town at this hour,” said Salter. He coughed again, but gave a bright grin out of place in the gloom of the shop. “Still, this gent looks like he can give you his arm – get you home safe. And who’s the little lady?”

Harold had to bite down an urge to march them all out immediately – and hit someone if he had to – but he managed to remain impassive and civil. “This is Miss Beck. She was concerned about her Father. As you say, you kept him too late.”

“Oh, dear,” said Professor Beck. “It’s all my fault, I fear. I had so many questions – Mr Salter is something of a fascinating resource in himself. Hanne, liebling, I’m sorry to have made you fret, but you should not have come after me. You should know your old father would be fine, eh?”

Hanne glanced up at Harold, who stepped forward. “Sir, I think we should leave. Your daughter needs to go home even if you do not.” And with some relief, he ushered them out of the shop.

“Don’t say anything,” Harold said to Lionel as he rejoined his brother and Miss Chapple. “Go and find a cab for Miss Beck, the Professor and Miss Chapple. No,” he added, as Lionel opened his mouth anyway. “Not now, Lionel. Just – go, please.”

Lionel shut his mouth and gave a short nod before hurrying back to the main street, the others following him out more slowly, only to find that he had been lucky. Harold and Lionel saw the Becks and their maid into the hansom cab, and then they finally headed away themselves.

Lionel shot him a look.

“Yes, yes,” said Harold. “Whatever it is, you may say it now.”

“I hardly need to,” Lionel said. “I think my point – the point all of us have been trying to make – has been more than adequately made already. Does Professor Beck habitually consort with criminals?”

Harold was beginning to wonder the same thing, although he reminded himself that, strictly speaking, he had seen no positive evidence of anything actually illegal tonight. However, he felt drawn to the opposite conclusion regarding Hanne. This was no reason to leave her alone; it merely demonstrated that the whole family needed someone to keep an eye on them. Hanne was perfectly well-behaved, but tonight showed once more how inclined she was to overlook convention when it came to someone else in trouble. Her first thought was to help without stopping to consider the cost or at least first what might be the most practical way to help. It was an admirable trait in some ways, but Harold felt cold, wondering what might have befallen her if he and Lionel hadn’t chanced upon her. That, he thought, must not occur again.

“I believe I should thank you,” the Professor said in the morning when Harold came to enquire if everyone was well after the night’s alarms. “I should have done so last night, but I was thinking of the books. I was not sure why you were there, but Hanne has enlightened me and, be assured, I am fully sensible of the debt I owe you.”

Harold tried to think how best to frame the question he wanted to ask. “The volume – can you be sure of its provenance?”

“Oh, it is authentic,” he said, his face alight with new interest. “I have no doubt of that. I examined it most carefully before I agreed to make the purchase.”

Harold coughed. “That was not precisely what I meant, sir.”

“Ah,” said the Professor. “You think Mr Salter and his friends could be somewhat dishonest?”

“The thought could not help but occur to me.”

Professor Beck nodded. “I feel that is all the more reason to make the effort to acquire it. Otherwise some collector would do so and it might be forever lost to other scholars. That is a risk not to be countenanced.”

“Perhaps you could instead have notified the police? If it was stolen from somewhere, it should be returned.”

Professor Beck raised his eyebrows. “True, but involving the police would only, I fear, increase the chances of its being lost or destroyed – and I should never be told of any other such articles. I couldn’t possibly take such action on a mere suspicion. This will now be given to the British Museum or another such library that will make good use of it. After all, if it had not been found till now, it may have been lying anywhere – or its previous owner kept it shut away.”

“And thus forfeited his right to it?” said Harold. Good God, he thought in alarm. “Is that for you to decide?”

The Professor held up a hand. “Now, now, I merely purchase such volumes as I come across. And Mr Salter is a very unusual, knowledgeable fellow. There is no saying that he didn’t come buy it perfectly legally, at some auction or sale or other such affair. No doubt he would not have enlightened the seller as to its value, but that, sadly, is business as I’m sure you would tell me, Mr Graves.”

“You don’t think you might be encouraging theft?” Harold would also have liked to add that he never conducted business in such a havey-cavey manner, in any case, but he decided it was politic not to.

The Professor stared back at him. “Goodness, no! What an idea! If I showed no interest, there are plenty of others who would. Removing myself would only leave more such treasures to fall into the hands of the unscrupulous. I at least will make sure the book is sent to a place where it can be cared for, repaired, and studied.”

“Of course,” said Harold, “this is a rare event, I suppose?”

Professor Beck gave a slight smile. “Oh, yes. It happens only once in a while.”

“Sir, while I realise it is not my place to say something, you do understand that if these people are involved in anything criminal, you could also be prosecuted for your part? What would become of your family? And last night – your daughter should not have had cause to wander the streets, searching for you.”

The Professor drew himself up to his full height, which was only somewhere around five feet four inches. “As you say, that is not your business. Besides, it is the prevention of a crime – the mollification of it at the very worst. And you may rest easy that I have told Hanne that she is under no circumstances to come looking for me again.”

“Sir,” said Harold, biting his tongue. There was clearly no point in continuing. The dealer, as the Professor said, might not have been anything like as disreputable as he seemed. There were plenty of eccentrics in any trade, especially when it came to second-hand goods and antiquities. However, while Hanne would no doubt obey her father in most things, she would not heed that rule if he disappeared again, Harold felt sure. If her father vanished, she would try everything she could to find him. Harold liked Professor Beck, but at that moment he could happily have shaken him.

He emerged out into the hallway, being led back to the door by the maid, only to find Hanne coming down the stairs.

“Oh, Mr Graves,” she said, hurrying down the last few steps to meet him. “Thank you so much for all your help last night.”

“Miss Beck,” he murmured in greeting. “You should not have been out there. You do understand that?”

She nodded. “Well, of course – and even if I did not, Lily told me several times – she was most grateful to you and your brother. She most especially did not think we should go in the public house. But it was Father and what else could I do? I had to find him.”

“Someone had to,” Harold said, stepping forward and offering her his hand. “Hanne. I hope it doesn’t happen again, but if it does, or anything like it, and you don’t feel able to go to the police, send word to me – at home or at my place of business, or both. You must not make a repeat of last night.”

She looked at him for a long moment. “You mean it,” she said.

He nodded, as Lily passed him his hat and coat. “Yes, Miss Beck, I do.”

Tags: [author] lost_spook, [challenge] cookies n cream, [challenge] rocky road, [topping] butterscotch, [topping] sprinkles

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