FERAL by Ron Capshaw
The sunlight streaming through the stained glass window of the castle haloed only one of the two figures flanking the Blackstone Coat of Arms. The lit figure was a knight with his visor up and leaning with both hands on a broadsword in front of him, as if on guard duty.
The figure the sun seemed to refuse to shine on was a cave-man type with a bow and arrow.
The butler coughed politely and I stopped looking at the coat of arms. He looked like just the kind of butler an English lord would have. He had wavy white hair combed back, clear blue eyes and an unobtrusive manner.
He led me down a long hallway with suits of armour and portraits on the wall. As I walked past I saw a portrait of what had to be the present Duke’s father. He was rosy-cheeked with a jutting jaw and grey-green eyes. He smiled and was holding a rapier pointed at the ground. The next picture showed the old boy himself leaning on a rifle, dressed as hunter.
We passed the last portrait. It was of the Duke’s son, Clayton Beta-Jones, who went missing in Africa before the Great War. Word was the Queen herself sent the son on a secret mission to report on the German presence in Africa.
The son had apache-black hair, the same grey-green eyes and jutting jaw as his predecessors and was sporting a handlebar moustache. No rifles or swords were present, just a portrait of a man with his jaw seemingly pointed to a happy picture with his bride, the daughter of the Duke of Claremont. She was beside him in the portrait with her hand on his chest to show off a diamond ring.
By now we had made it to a khaki-coloured door. The butler knocked and said, “Mr. Nash, sir.”
“Come,” the voice from inside the door said. The butler opened the door for me and then politely excused himself.
Inside was a room devoted to the slaughter of animals. There were mounted heads of exotic animals on the wall: leopards, tigers, elks, and gorillas. Even the furniture looked exotic. There was a leopard-print couch (God knows how many leopards it took to cover the couch with their skin), tables with African artefacts on it, and even a picture of the Duke of Blackstone posing with Teddy Roosevelt. The two looked exactly alike and not just because they were dressed in the same safari clothes. They had the same triumphant, insane grin.
A man with snow-white hair carelessly combed back, a tanned face, and grey-green eyes put down a rifle he was cleaning and advanced toward me.
The Duke of Blackstone was dressed in khaki and easily six two. He glided over to me with cat-like grace.
“Mr. Nash,” he said in growly British voice.
He gestured at a leather chair.
“No thank you.”
He picked up the rifle he was cleaning, sat down across from me and put it on his lap. He returned to polishing it.
“You come highly recommended,” he finally said.
I smiled, wondering if the rifle was loaded.
“I know two of your employers back when you were a Pinkerton detective and later a major in Army Intelligence. Both spoke highly of you.”
I titled my head forward as if bowing.
He grunted, and put the rifle to one side.
“Tell me about yourself,” he said.
“Well, if you talked to Allen Jaunders and Major Smythe you probably know the whole story. I worked for the Pinkertons before America the War Then I got drafted in 1917 and I suppose because of my detective background, I was recruited by Allied intelligence. After my discharge I decided I liked England and stayed.”
I grinned, “The rest is history.”
He didn’t laugh or even smile. Clearly the celebrated British sense of humour was not within him.
“What do you know of my family?”
“I know that despite your hatred of publicity, your family has made the news. You have one daughter, Cicely, who is a Hitler supporter. The other, Clarissa, is a supporter of Stalin. I’m sure dinner is a screaming match. Then you have a son who disappeared in Africa before the War, in 1913. You hired several detectives and government men to locate him, but to no avail. You yourself made several trips, the last in 1930, and couldn’t find him.”
“With the daughters I suppose it is in the Blackstone blood,” he said. “We have a tendency toward eccentricity. My father went native during the Sepoy Rebellion. He dressed like the wogs, but fought for the Empire. My daughters I suppose are going native as well. Cicely, photographed in Berlin with the Brown Shirts, has a Nazi uniform she wears at every event in England. Clarissa dresses in that long leather jacket and peasant clothes the Bolsheviks like to wear.”
“But that is not why I’ve brought you here.”
He reached into his many pocketed shirt and handed me a document.
“Congratulations my Lord. I have located your son. I assume that you would like this location known. Please pay my travel expenses and finder’s fee in order for me to bring him back to you.”
It was signed, “Philip Jose.”
“Who is this Jose?” I said, looking at the elegant hand-writing.
The Duke looked so angry his moustache was trembling.
“Probably some bounder who is trying to make money off my grief. Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve had anyone claim to have found my son. The blackmailers swarm around Cicely and Clarissa instead. The public knows so much about that them, with their Nazi salutes and fist-clenches, that I am practically blackmail proof.”
I handed the note back. “So you don’t think this is legit?”
He took the note, held it by the corner, and let if float down to the ground as if something distasteful was on it.
“Trust me when I say this, Mr. Nash. My son is gone. No doubt murdered by a tribe or eaten by a tiger. I have spared no expense, and even his skeleton or that of his bride has never been found. Not even in the crude hut he constructed after the shipwreck. It could also have been the Hun, Clayton was tasked by his majesty to monitor them and we know full well of their bestiality from the last war.”
I scratched my head. “Why is this Jose bringing this up twenty years after your son’s disappearance?”
He shook his head.
“Okay. What do you want me to do?”
“Take the rotter out. Find out who he is, what his game is, and then warn him away.”
“It might not be that easy. I’m a private detective now. Perhaps when I was a Pinkerton I could have muscled him, but I can’t do that now and keep my license.”
He got up with the same fluid movement.
“Oh but you can Mr. Nash. I know several members of Scotland Yard who have assured me you have carte blanche in this matter. The only limit to your duties is you can’t commit murder, although I would support that.”
I rolled my arm slightly, wondering if I still had it in me for muscle work.
“Okay. Does Scotland Yard have any information on this Jose?”
My butler will give you what we have from Scotland Yard. No one has been able to locate the bastard however.”
“Okay,” I said, rising from the chair. “I’ll be in touch.
I met the butler in the hallway and he had a folder with “Scotland Yard” stamped on it.
“Thanks,” I said, taking it.
He escorted me outside to my car and said, “Please let me know if there is any way I can be of further assistance to you.”
Just then a cry went out, a bull-throated roar that rattled the windows, made a flock of birds fly away, and something cold go up my spine.
The butler didn’t even blink.
What Scotland Yard had on “Philip Jose” was useless. The name went nowhere. It turned out it was a pseudonym for a mysterious author who wrote anti-imperialist books. The police speculated that he probably lived abroad.
It looked like that Jose was going to be as hard to find as Clayton Beta-Jones.
I started with Jose’s literary agent.
Like myself, Arthur Carraway was an American who chose to live in England. He ran a fairly respectable publishing firm.
He was also determined to look English, down to the tweed jacket and jodhpurs, which it was rumoured he only took off for white tails when a society ball beckoned.
He smiled when I gave him my card.
“A private detective, eh? I thought they only existed in the books by Dashiell Hammett.”
“Nope. I’m for real.”
He motioned me to the carefully-stained wooden chair in his office.
“I suppose you are here about Philip Jose.” He got a cigarette holder, put a cigarette in it and lit it.
“I understand he is a mystery himself.”
He offered me a cigarette, which I took and smoked sans holder.
“Philip Jose is a pseudonym. I’ve spent years trying to find out who he really is.”
I crossed my legs in that American way the British thought effeminate.
“You’ve never met him?”
“No. His novels arrive via fair mail. From Libreville. What I know of him comes from his subject matter. He is left-wing, probably a Bolshevik, who writes socialist novels about British Imperial behaviour in Africa. He has intricate knowledge of the country and British officials that shows he has lived there. May still be there in fact.”
Great. A puzzle within a puzzle. A mystery man allegedly claiming to have “solved” the mysterious disappearance of an English nobleman.
“He claims to have found the Duke of Blackstone’s missing son. But he wants money for it.”
Carraway put his boot on the desk either to admire it or get me to.
“It’s possible. He certainly has spent enough time in the bush. But something else than money must be motivating him. He doesn’t need it. He makes a bundle from his novels that ironically attack capitalism.”
“No offense, but this is sketchy. Does anyone else know about him?”
He shuffled some papers on his desk.
“He does have devoted fans. One has made a study of Jose’s life who could be helpful.”
He wrote down his name and I left.
Jarvis Smith was a man obviously with money to spare for his dogged, obsessive quest to determine Philip Jose’s true identity.
That was evident from the shrine he built for the author inside his apartment. On the wall were covers of Jose’s novels. There was also maps of Africa on the walls with red circles drawn around particular sections. Flanking them were two drawings of man in a pitch helmet and jodhpurs I took to be the person he thought Jose was. There were also pictures taken on safari with a man in the back whose shadowy head was circled.
I gave him Smith my card and he smiled politely.
Smith looked too old to be a fan. He had a receding hairline and moustache. He had crow’s feet on a face that had been considerably tanned and wind burnt in the past. I put his age somewhere between 45 and 65.
“A detective? Oh yes, please come in,” he said in an accent that could have been French or English or Swiss.
He pulled two chairs away from the mounds of files and documents on his desk and with a courtly gesture invited me to sit down.
I did, and he moved the other chair near me, sat in it, and leaned forward, cupping his chin with both palms and studied me as if I was the most important person in the world.
“I suppose you are here about Jose,” he said.
“Who is he?”
“Ha,” he said. “I have spent almost thirty years trying to solve that problem. But I think I have.”
He is, I believe, a German anarchist named Hans Kruger who fled Germany for Africa with the police on his tail. He is clearly left-wing and probably around 60 years old. I do know from reading his books that he has an almost pathological interest in violence and the greed that causes it.”
“So where is he? Could he be here?”
Smith stroked his chin.
“If he’s here, I would venture to say he would camouflage himself by living in the poor section of the London.”
I gestured around his dingy office/library.
He grinned. “No. Not this bad.”
I left. But something about his manner wasn’t right. I had the impression Smith was toying with me.
I waited in the shadows outside his apartment in my car.
Smith soon left his apartment and hailed a taxi.
I followed behind, and he arrived at the gate of the Blackstone castle. The cabbie kept the car running.
Soon I saw Jenkins, the Blackstone butler, hand Smith a folder.
What the hell did Jenkins have to do with this?
I followed Smith, and he stopped off at a pub.
I played another hunch, and went back to Smith’s apartment, picked the lock and went into this makeshift shrine to Philip Jose.
I first looked at the African map on the wall. A red circle was around a section entitled “French Colonial Africa.” Inside the circle someone had written “Where it started: April 1930.” Then there was a map of Paris, “Eight times, 1930.” Then London, “Three times in 1931, four in 1932, and so far six in 1933.”
I rooted around in his drawer and found several pictures of obvious working class women on a slab: “Marie Odette, 18. Decapitated.” “Mary Jane Beaumont, 19, Throat ripped out.” “Sarah Pomeroy, 24. Knife wound to the heart. The heart was not found.” “Meredith Jenkins, age 25. Disembowelled. Found hung upside down from a street lamp.”
I then found pictures of an African cabin, which I took to be one the Duke’s son constructed after a ship wreck. Written on the photo was “Gabon, Africa, 1912.” Standing in front of the hut was a clean-shaven man with long hair, dressed in a white shirt that had seen better days. Even with the long hair I recognized the Duke’s son, Clayton Beta-Jones. Beside him was a woman dressed in a way that would be called immodest in England. She had on a buttoned white shirt and flowing white skirt and was holding a baby.”
Blackstone’s father didn’t mention his missing son had a child.
Why didn’t he?”
Jenkins was the soul of politeness as he let me in.
“The Duke is out for the moment but he said you could wait.”
I waited a beat and then said,
“What’s the connection between you and Smith?”
I had to give it to Jenkins. He didn’t pale or shuffle.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I saw you hand Smith a packet. Is it about the missing son?”
Jenkins suddenly dropped the Jeeves act.
“What do you want?” he said in a less soothing voice.
“I want to know why Blackstone never mentioned his son had a baby while in Africa.”
He looked up to the ceiling as if asking for help from the almighty.
“He didn’t want it known that he brought his grandson back.”
I took a step back.
“When was he brought back?”
“Blackstone assigned Sherlock Holmes himself to locate the family. The detective was able to determine that gorillas killed the son and his wife. Their skeletons were found, which I think the Duke later ordered burned. But, because there was no skeleton of the baby found, Holmes surmised that because of the hair on the scene it was apes. The Duke’s grandson spent the next 20 years of his life among them. The Duke located ‘it,’, and very quietly, after spending a considerable amount of hush money, took his grandson back to England, after some stopovers in France.”
I looked up.
“You said ‘it.’
Jenkins looked again up to the ceiling.
“The child could not be civilized. It was aggressive, killing anyone who came into its eye line and then ate them. To keep ‘it’ happy, Blackstone would let his grandson out to satisfy his blood lust albeit supervised and controlled as much as possible by the Duke and myself.”
Something clicked in my head, as if the last piece of the puzzle snapped into place.
“Did you say there were stopovers in Paris?”
That explained the entries Smith made about the wave of deaths in Paris.
“Where does Smith figure into this?”
“One of those slaughtered was Smith’s estranged daughter. I am sure by now you know that Smith is Philip Jose.”
The blackmailer and proletariat writer.
I looked at my hand that started to tremble.
“Why are you giving information to Smith?”
Jenkins looked down at his highly-polished feet.
“Because I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of watching that animal rip people apart. No one would suspect the grandson of English royalty. Much like Jack the Ripper. So the murders will go on and on.”
Another scream was heard. From upstairs.
“‘It’ is upstairs, in the attic,” Jenkins whispered.
Before I could stop him, he whipped out a pistol, put it in his mouth, and blew the top of his head off.
I watched Jenkins’ brains leak out onto the polished tiled floor.
Another bull-throated roar.
I drew my gun and ran up the stairs following the roars.
‘It’ was screaming behind a metal door.
I was able to open it and go in.
There was a swinging light bulb on a chair.
The door clanged shut behind me.
I went forward and stumbled over a body. It was Smith’s or what was left of him. He still held a pistol in his hand. Something had scalped him and eaten his brains.
I followed the swinging light, hoping it would settle on the grandson.
Calloused feet hit my chest and I ricocheted off a wall. As I slid to the floor, I said “I know you are in here Blackstone. This doesn’t end with me. Others will figure out what you and that creature have been doing.”
The light swung by and I saw the Duke of Blackstone beside a crouching figure.
I heard the Duke say, almost lazily, “Kregah.”
I heard a growl and as the creature rocketed toward me, teeth bared, I noticed he had the Blackstone jutting chin.