Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 10: Four Months to Live

Lermontov had already left the room and had slammed the door. Mackintosh, solicitor Barrowman and Kane sat in an embarrassed silence for a while, before the detective spoke to the solicitor: ‘How long does your client have to live?’

Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 10: Four Months to Live. ILLUSTRATION: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 10: Four Months to Live. ILLUSTRATION: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

‘Well, he says that the physicians gave him four months. But you know what they’re like, detective. The doctors give you four months and it looks good when you live for twelve.’

The quip broke the ice and all laughed.

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The solicitor continued: ‘And he is certainly making the most of his remaining time here. He appears to sleep little.’

Mackintosh nodded: ‘He clearly comes from money.’

Barrowman reached down into his briefcase and produced an envelope: ‘A Letter of Comfort authorised by the Bank of England.’ He reached down again and produced a cloth bag: ‘And - forgive the theatricality, but this is what he did at our first consultation.’ He proceeded to dump the contents of the bag onto the table. Out flew dozens of notes that looked like foreign currency. Each person at the table picked up a note and examined it. The solicitor continued: ‘Mr Lermontov has suitcases full of these’

Mackintosh of the detective felt the note between his fingers: ‘Suitcases full of bank notes?’

The solicitor smiled: ‘More precisely, these are ‘State Credit Notes’. Perfectly legal tender in Russia. I have seen them before, but never in such quantities.’

Edward Kane pointed to the collection of notes on the table: ‘But I don’t see any numbers, any….’

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The solicitor picked it up: ‘No denominations, you are correct, Mr Kane. In my experience of this type of currency, the value of each note is written in words - unfortunately, in this case, in Russian.’

Mackintosh placed the note back onto the pile and leaned back in his chair: ‘Well, I don’t know what you gentlemen think about this whole thing, but I’m flummoxed. How much money did Lermontov bring over with him?’

Barrowman began to scoop the notes back into the bag: ‘By all accounts, several thousand pounds. We took the suitcases to the new Commercial Bank in George Street, but they couldn’t deal with the sheer amount of roubles - so we’ve sent them to The Bank of England in London for exchange. I’m optimistic to hear by the end of the week. And then we will issue Mr Lermontov with a passbook containing the final balance.’

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As if reading the young Advocate’s mind, the solicitor smiled over to him: ‘And then Mr Kane and I will be paid. In pounds sterling.’

*****

Mr Horse and Frank Stone were staring at Joseph Blakemore now. On the face of it, Stone’s question was simple: when out there in Madras, what did Stone and Blakemore kill and eat that was such a secret?

The knife grinder, on his fifth rum, was starting to get obstreperous: ‘I’ve got a better idea. What about we just take you to the police office now and tell them that we’ve proved that you’re a fake, eh, ‘Joseph’ - or whatever your real name is?’

Blakemore was silent for a time, then: ‘A tufted grey langur.’

Mr Horse leaned in: ‘‘A tufty what?’

Blakemore gulped down some rum: ‘A kind of monkey. A tufted grey langur. He was just licking moisture off the leaves. And I shot him. And we skinned him and cooked him and ate him…’

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Frank Stone raised his glass: ‘And he was bloody delicious an’ all. Good work, Joe.’

‘…and we never told anyone. He’s considered sacred there. To do with the god, Hanuman. We kept it quiet. Didn’t want to upset the locals.’

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With that, he downed his rum. He got up from his seat and tossed some coins onto the table: ‘And now - if you don’t mind…’

*****

Two hours later. Same pub. The knife grinder (on his seventh rum): ‘…and tae think - after his face was near blown aff - I use to visit him every week. In that hospital. I’d sneak him a wee dram. Maybe give him his letters from that lassie at hame. And look at him noo - eh, Horse?’ He mimicked the more recent incarnation of his old friend. ‘‘And now - if you don’t mind’. Well, I DO mind…I DO mind, buddy…’

Horse smiled: ‘Francis Stone - I think it is time for you and your faithful mutt to get back to that fire station and hit the hay, my friend.’

Stone was undeterred: ‘Every week, Mr Horse - into that stinking hell-hole they called a hospital. You should have seen the place. Never seen so many beds. So many people. They men were packed like sardines in a tin.’

Horse finished his drink. ’Well, chum - at least we solved the mystery tonight. The bloke what came back is definitely Joseph Blakemore.’

Frank Stone laughed: ‘Oh, Horse, Horse - buddy, you’ve no’ go a clue, have ye?’

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Horse frowned: ‘But he knew about the monkey and all…’

‘Monkey my eye! I don’t know how he knew about that, but that fella isnae Joe Blackmore.’

‘How do you know?’

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Stone lifted the fox terrier onto his lap: ‘The dog. Joe Blakemore hated dogs. In Madras, they’re runnin’ about the streets, starvin’. Joe would just fire guns at them for sport. But ma wee Scraps here,’ he nuzzled the dog’s head, ‘Scraps liked that fella here wi’ the top hat and the fella clapped him and everything. That’s no’ Joe Blakemore.’ He scratched the dog’s ears: ‘People lie all the time, Horse. But dogs don’t lie. Dogs don’t lie.’

*****

‘Mr Horse, you are late.’

The manservant was taking off his coat: ‘Sorry, Mr K - lost track of the time. I was out working, sir.’

‘You don’t smell as if you’ve been working, Mr Horse.’

‘Had to show willing and down a few glasses so that the bloke don’t suspect, sir.’

With that, Horse narrated the events of the day to his master. The Advocate knotted his brows: ‘So, your friend, the knife grinder, is convinced that this fellow is a fake because the Blakemore who left Scotland did not care for dogs and the Blakemore who returned does. I hardly think that that argument would persuade a judge.’

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Mr Horse - not entirely sober, given that he had been out ‘working’ - grinned: ‘We could always put that little fox terrier on the stand, sir’ He mimicked swearing the dog in: ‘Could you raise your right paw…’

‘Mr Horse, I venture that you have been ‘working’ too hard. Any sign of supper on that hard-working horizon? An early night tonight - we have court tomorrow.’

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In The Scotsman on Monday: Clever Dick