‘Well!’ Vale brought his hands together in a brisk clap. ‘Inspector, I suggest you set that in motion – and if there’s anywhere else that the gentleman might have concealed the book, we can review the possibilities while we’re waiting. Is there anywhere else that’s reasonably plausible, or even possible?’
‘There is one other thing,’ Singh said. He turned back to one of the earlier pages in his bundle of papers. ‘Apparently Lord Wyndham did regularly donate books to various museums around London. They were usually ones which he had collected earlier, but which were no longer of interest to him or his associates.’
Irene twitched at the very notion. Give books away? ‘How very frivolous,’ she finally said.
‘More altruistic than keeping them to himself,’ Vale corrected her. ‘Please go on, Inspector.’
Singh rustled his papers, just enough to emphasize that he was in charge of the situation. ‘Two days before Lord Wyndham’s murder, he sent a small box of such books to the Natural History Museum. Herbariums, bestiaries, that sort of thing. My men looked into it as a matter of course while in the process of investigating the goings-on before his murder. The clerk to whom they spoke said that nobody had got round to looking at it yet. Please don’t stare at me like that, madam. It’s quite regular for persons of quality to make donations to the museums. It might be months before anyone gets round to checking it, unless they’d been specifically notified that there was something of importance in it.’
Kai frowned. ‘Are you suggesting that he hid the genuine book in the crate of donations? Wasn’t that, well, extremely risky? If even one person had found it there, he would have lost it. His bank deposit box seems much more likely.’
‘No, I can see the logic of it,’ Bradamant contradicted him. ‘If there is a backlog of such donations, it could have been as much as a year before anyone opened it, and he could have asked for it back if he needed it to present to Silver – or to anyone else,’ she added thoughtfully.
‘Well, the gentleman was a vampire,’ Vale agreed, ‘so it would fit certain scheming aspects of his character – even though one should probably not speak ill of the undead.’ He paused, but nobody laughed. ‘Oh, very well. Are there any other possible ways by which the book could have been smuggled out of the house, Inspector?’
‘Possible, certainly, sir,’ Singh said cautiously, ‘but none plausible. I had my men check the cellars very thoroughly. There are no connections to the local sewers, or to the Underground. Of course, if he trusted it to one of his servants, then we have a whole new set of possibilities. If that’s the case, then we might do better watching the black market for such things to see if it shows up. Or we could see how the Iron Brotherhood go about finding it – if they’re after the damn thing too.’
Irene and Bradamant glanced at each other, and Irene could guess what the other woman was thinking. If they did have to resort to scouring the black market, or liaising with secret society members, then it might be better for Bradamant to break away from the group. She could then use any contacts that she’d made as ‘Belphegor’, rather than be known to be working with Singh and Vale. Of course, Bradamant could then find the book, and be the one who took it back to the Library. So which was more important for Irene? Finding the book herself, or making sure that it was found? She knew what the answer should be, but that didn’t mean that she liked it.
Vale and Singh were also looking thoughtfully at each other. Then Vale leapt to his feet. ‘Well, then! I believe this calls for a visit to the Natural History Museum. Ladies, Mr Strongrock, I trust I can prevail upon you to accompany us. Inspector, do you have a cab downstairs? You can give us a lift there before going on to get your search warrant.’
Singh looked at Bradamant, Irene and Kai with less than total enthusiasm, but controlled his expression. ‘I have one, sir, but I believe that we may require a second one if we are not to subject the ladies to unduly close quarters.’
‘I’d rather not delay,’ Irene broke in. A growing sense of urgency was pricking at her. Maybe the bank deposit box was the more likely possibility, but what if they were wrong? ‘Inspector, do you think you were followed here?’
Singh frowned. ‘I can’t deny that it is possible, madam. Not that anyone would find it strange. A great many people from the Yard come to visit Mr Vale here, and very frequently at that.’
Vale stepped across to the window, and stood to one side of it, peering down at the street below. ‘I can’t say whether they followed you, Inspector, or whether they’re watching me,’ he reported, ‘but Hairy Jimmy of the Whitechapel Roaring Boys is watching my front door.’
‘That’ll be Lord Silver, I believe,’ Singh said, slipping his papers back into his case. ‘The Iron Brotherhood wouldn’t have anything to do with werewolves.’
Vale considered for a moment. ‘Well, with London traffic the way it is at this hour of the morning, even if they are going to the museum, we should still make it there before they do.’ He snatched a coat from the overloaded hatstand, flung it on, and caught up his hat and sword cane. ‘Let us be off.’
Kai had also sprung to his feet in wild enthusiasm, and was busy finding his own hat and coat, which allowed Irene to tug Bradamant into the passage for a word in private.
‘What is it?’ Bradamant asked quietly.