Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 15: A Merry Heart

‘Apologies, gentlemen,’ Barrowman the solicitor for the Russian consulted his pocket watch, ‘Mr Lermontov is not usually late.’

Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 15: A Merry Heart. ILLUSTRATION: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane
Edward Kane and The Letters of Comfort, Chapter 15: A Merry Heart. ILLUSTRATION: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

The police office at St Giles had a different air about it this time. On the one hand, the (current) absence of the truculent Russian had led to a more relaxed atmosphere among a group of people who knew each other well and they were engaging now in a more informal form of chat.

On the other hand, Mackintosh of the Detective did seem distracted. The tardiness of the self-confessed killer had delayed a number of questions that had been troubling the detective’s mind. Unanswered questions were always a form of torture to Mackintosh. Always disturbing his peace, like an angry teapot whistling to be taken off the fire.

Hide Ad

Sergeant Wilson came into the room: ‘We have a visitor, detective.’

Solicitor, Barrowman stood up: ‘I told you, gentlemen, Mr Lermontov is…’

But it wasn’t the Russian. The figure that was led in was the solicitor’s clerk, a gawky, gangly youth named ‘Sharkey’. Barrowman, the lad’s employer was perplexed: ‘Sharkey – what in heaven’s name…’

The boy took off his cap: ‘Begging your pardon, Mr Barrowman. I thought I’d bring you up today’s mail, sir, because…’

The solicitor snatched the letters: ‘Give me those.’ He tossed them onto the table. ’It’s not correspondence we need – it’s the Russian. This is now akin to an emergency. Get yourself down to the New Club and fetch our client immediately.’ He fumbled in his pocket and produced a coin. ’Here’s half a crown – take a cab there and back if you must – but hurry, boy, hurry.’ He waved the lad away. Sharkey gave his employer a quick nod, put on his cap and ran out of the door. The solicitor sat down, embarrassed: ‘Apologies, gentlemen. My wife’s nephew. The boy’s an idiot.’

They sat in silence for a time, then Mackintosh produced a sheaf of papers from the drawer of his desk. He then produced his notebook from his pocket. ’While we’re waiting for your client to appear, gentlemen. I wonder if we could clarify a few matters. It shouldn’t take too long.’ Barrowman and Edward Kane leaned forward.

Hide Ad

The detective studied his papers. ‘Now, when Mr Kane here asked Mr Lermontov what he did right after disposing of the unfortunate architect, George Meikle Kemp…’. He nodded towards Kane, who smiled back in acknowledgement, ‘…your client responded that he looked up at the full moon and the stars and such.’

‘Yes?’

‘Well, I’ve checked the almanacs and calendars for that date, sir. And there was no full moon that night.’

The solicitor considered this: ‘An air of theatricality perhaps in the telling of the tale. You’ve seen for yourself what Mr Lermontov is like…’

Hide Ad

The detective continued: ‘And as far as looking down into the water is concerned, I’ve consulted with our Desk Sergeant Wilson – he was there that night – and he says that the fog was so thick, he could hardly see his hand in front of him – never mind, seeing a hat and such floating in the water.’

The solicitor sighed: ‘These are points that we can raise with my client when he gets here.’ He took a piece of paper from out of his case and began to write. ’I will make a list of your questions.’

Mackintosh nodded: ‘You can add this, then. Mr Lermontov says that he arrived at Leith Docks and – more or less immediately s- ought out Kemp.’

‘That is my understanding, yes.’

The detective leaned back in his chair: ‘I took the liberty of consulting the Register of the Harbour Master for that date. There was no mention of any ‘Lermontov’ on any ship manifest. Neither passenger nor crew.’

Barrowman looked up from his paper. Were those beads of sweat forming on his brow? The solicitor coughed: ‘No doubt, travelling incognito – given that he was in possession of so much money in those suitcases. Most likely, he did not want to attract attention to his true identity as a Russian nobleman.’

Hide Ad

The detective pressed on: ‘And you will recall, sir, your client insisting that he had struck Kemp with that rolled-up plan of the old church. The one he showed us. The one that was written in Dutch. Difficult to make out…’

Barrowman sat back in his chair: ‘You will agree with me, detective, that account was vivid and had the ring of truth about it.’

Hide Ad

‘Well, when I had people look at it, sir, it seems that the entry printed at the end of the scroll – ‘mrt45’ – is the date it was made…’

‘Yes?’

‘…and from the Dutch, translates into March 1845 – some 12 months after the alleged murder…’ Mackintosh looked up from his notes, inviting an answer.

Barrowman began to stutter: ‘I’m sure that there is some reasonable…’

Mackintosh marched on. He reached into the drawer of his desk and produced a black notebook. The notebook that had been handed over by the Russian to confirm his guilt: ‘And this. We only got this back late on last night.’

Barrowman pointed over: ‘Of course – Mr Lermontov’s detailed account of the regrettable events. Unfortunately, entirely in the Russian language.’

The detective nodded: ‘Correct, sir. Correct about the language. Pity about the account. When it was looked over by our people, turns out that it’s just a lot of old poetry. Yes – by a chap called Lermontov – but that particular fellow appears to have died some ten years ago. Which begs the question, sir – who exactly is YOUR fellow?’

Hide Ad

Barrowman was floundering now: ‘I…I…’

The solicitor’s struggle was interrupted by the entrance of Desk Sergeant Wilson: ‘The boy is back sir – the one sent to the New Club.’ Enter an out-of-breath Sharkey: ‘Mr Barrowman – I took a cab like you said. Except I had a disagreement with the driver about the fare. He said…’

Hide Ad

Barrowman raised his hand to halt the breathless narrative: ‘Not that, Sharkey, forget that. Where is Lermontov?’

‘I went to the New Club like you asked sir and asked for him. They led me up to his rooms, but there was no answer at the door. So I told them – as you said, sir, that his kin had an emergency – so they unlocked the rooms.’

The boy stopped, to catch his breath. The solicitor waved his hands: ‘And?’

‘No sign, sir. They hadn’t seen him for days. Last thing he said was that he might go to Glasgow. And – I’m telling you, sir, that room – it was a right cowp!’

The solicitor sat in stunned silence. Then the boy added: ‘Oh – and they said that they’d be sending you the bill for the room and the food and all the wine and the damage an’ all, sir.’

Barrowman looked around and tried to put on a brave face: ‘Well, at least we have the expenses covered. A considerable sum in roubles from our client lodged with the Bank of England.’

Hide Ad

‘That’ll be in the letter, sir.’ Sharkey nodded towards the letters that had been tossed onto the table: ‘Like I was trying to tell you…’

Barrowman was still for a moment, then, in a frenzied motion, seized on the pile and scrambled through the letters until he produced one clearly marked ‘Bank of England’. He ripped it open and scanned it. Then, an apparent moment of calm as he deliberately placed the letter back into its envelope. He did not speak for a time. Then: ‘They have never heard of Lermontov. Their letter of comfort was a forgery. Oh – and all of those paper roubles – they were counterfeit too…’

*****

Hide Ad

Mr Horse drank from his tin cup and rubbed his stubbly chin: ‘So if the Russian bloke was a con man, then how come he was throwing all that money about, sir?’

Kane sipped his tea by the fire: ‘It wasn’t his money, Horse. It belonged to the solicitors. They thought that those suitcases of roubles had put them in funds, so they gave him their own letter of comfort and he was able to pledge their credit wherever he went. And, by golly, he did just that. They reckon that he must have spent over a hundred pounds…’

‘And what about us, sir? Did we get paid at all?’

‘Nothing, Mr Horse. I say ‘nothing’ – except those two items I brought home this morning. Tendered by a flustered and embarrassed solicitor. What appears to be a bottle of fine malt whisky, no doubt given to him by some grateful – and authentic – client. And a small envelope containing some counterfeit Russian roubles. Offered, I suppose, as a kind of souvenir.’

Horse grinned: ‘Well here’s the thing, Mr K. I took them roubles out with me later. And I knows a bloke what knows a bloke…’ He winked and tapped his nose, ‘… if you catch my drift. And he looks through them and I can see him getting excited. So he says that he’ll take them off my hands…’

‘And?’

The manservant reached into his pocket and produced notes and coins. He put them on the table: ‘Three pound, seventeen and six, sir.’

Hide Ad

Kane sat wide-eyed: ‘I can only to imagine the sheer number of offences committed in that single transaction – but thank you, Horse. Thank you!’

The manservant began to scowl: ‘But, Mr K, you know that bottle of fine whisky the lawyer gave you?’

‘Yes?’

Hide Ad

Horse shook his head: ‘Some bad news, sir…’

‘In what respect?’

‘Well, I had a thought this morning: bad things usually come in threes, don’t they?’

Kane shrugged: ‘I’m not quite catching your drift, Mr Horse’

‘Bad things. And things being fake, and the like sir. Come in threes, don’t they.’ He counted on his fingers: ’You got the fake Russian – number one…’

‘Yes…’

‘And then the fake husband what come back from India – number two…’

‘Mr Horse – I’m not sure…’

Hide Ad

‘Oh, that bloke was a fake, sir.’ He pointed at his master for emphasis: ’Dogs don’t lie – they don’t, Mr K! So I thought: ‘Is the number three fake going to be that bottle of whisky’ – must be worth a right few bob – and who would give that away? Just too good to be true. And, I’m telling you, that seal on the bottle looked wery dodgy to me. So I opened it. And would you beli ev e it…’

Kane closed his eyes and expected the worst: ‘Yes?’

Hide Ad

Horse smiled. ’It was real…sir. By jingo, Mr K- it was WERY real!’ He smacked his lips together.

The Advocate opened his eyes: ‘So what was the bad news about the whisky?’

‘The bad news, sir, is that I had to break the seal, so we can’t sell it now, can we? You know what that means.’

The young Advocate smiled in spite of himself: ‘Enlighten me, Mr Horse…’

‘That means that we’re going to have to drink it ourselves, ain’t we? Now, I’ve just washed us a couple of tumblers, sir. And we can both have a nip.’

Horse took the bottle of fine malt whisky and poured two significant measures into the tumblers. His master took a sip. He raised his eyebrows and smiled: ’You were not wrong, Mr Horse. This is very fine whisky indeed.’

Hide Ad

The manservant raised his glass: ‘Cheers, Mr K.’

The young Advocate sat back in his chair nursing his glass. He smiled: ‘Thank you, Mr Horse. Thank you for that three pounds, seventeen and sixpence.’ He sighed: ‘And things will improve financially – I’m certain of it.’ He raised his glass: ‘Above all, we must remain cheerful.’

Hide Ad

‘I do me best, sir.’

Kane smiled: ‘My father was a clergyman, you know that….’

The manservant gave a little chuckle: ‘You may have mentioned it the odd hundred times, sir.’

‘And he used to quote from…I think it was Proverbs…’A merry heart is like good medicine.’ Kane raised his glass again: ‘I will now propose a toast, Mr Horse. In the last twenty-four hours, we appeared to have survived a fake husband, fake roubles and a very real swine of a judge, and yet we remain cheerful. ‘A merry heart is like good medicine’. A toast, then, my friend: Here’s to a merry heart!’

Horse held up his glass of fine whisky and winked: ‘And here’s to more medicine...’

*****

Look out for more exploits of Edward Kane and Mr Horse in The Scotsman in 2023.