Manservant, Mr Horse and knife grinder, Frank Stone had been standing at the corner of Darnaway Street and Wemyss Place for some forty minutes. Attempting to remain inconspicuous had proved difficult, giving the little barking fox terrier at Stone’s feet.
Horse looked down the street: ‘He will come, Frank, he will come…’
‘Aye – and so will Christmas…’
Having called at the door of the home of the returning husband (and alleged imposter), Joseph Blakemore, Horse had been informed by the housemaid that the master had gone for his afternoon walk, but was expected back in around 30 minutes. Would he like to leave a message? No, thank you.
Thus it was that Horse and Stone (and the dog) waited nearby for Blakemore’s return. A curious trio on the corner, Horse had attempted to lighten the scene by giving any passer-by a cheery ‘Good evening’. While this was reciprocated by a number of smiling nursemaids passing while pushing perambulators, it did not seem entirely welcomed by others – who conspicuously increased the speed of their steps.
Horse pointed towards Stone: ‘Now, Frankie boy, you’re sure you’d recognise him?’
‘I telt ye – I kent him well before that ammunition blew up in his face. He had a big black beard and they had to shave if off so they could treat him. And then, of course, his heid was covered in bandages…’
Horse shook his head, doubtful: ‘But there must be other things. Like things that you done together.’
Frank Stone stood frowning in thought. Horse continued: ‘You must have got up to some scrapes over there. Just the two of you. Things that only you and Blakemore would know about.’
Stone nodded: ‘Right enough…there was that time…when…’
Horse, desperate for information, stared at the knife grinder: ‘Yes…’that time when’…?’
‘That time when…when…when we ate a monkey.’
This reminiscence stopped Horse in his tracks. It was not the conversation that would be expected in the New Town of Edinburgh. Horse frowned and was silent for a time. Then felt compelled to ask: ‘The monkey. What did it taste like?’
‘Put it this way, it was better than the rat…’
The unusual culinary reverie was interrupted by the approach of a gentleman turning the corner. The man fit the general description of their quarry, but it was getting dark now. Horse dunted Stone with his elbow: ‘What about him? Is that him?’
Stone peered through the gloom: ‘It could be…’
Horse shoved his friend in the direction of the approaching figure: ‘Go on, my son…’
Frank Stone strolled toward the approaching man. The two passed each other. Stone smiled. The man gave a perfunctory bow and went on his way. Then Stone stopped and looked back: ‘Joe? Joe Blakemore?’
Joseph Blakemore turned around and scrutinised the figure before him: ‘Can I help you sir?’
The knife-grinder walked up to him: ‘Do you not know me, Joe?’
Things were getting more and more heated in the tiny interview room in the police office.
Mackintosh of the Detective read from his notes: ‘So, Mr Lermontov, you confronted George Kemp, you struck him on the face with that…’
The Russian nodded. He held up the folded scroll and gave a sudden swat down onto the desk, making others at the table start. He smiled: ‘I strike him in the face with the very church he has stolen.’ He examined the rolled-up document somewhat theatrically: ‘Maybe there is still a mark of Kemp the thief on it…’
Mackintosh pressed on: ‘And at that point, you say, he began to get….’undressed’???’
The Russian stood up and mimicked the actions he was describing: ‘First, he put down his stick-for-walking. Then he took off his hat and put it on ground. Then, he took off the coat and put it on ground – but he folds it – gentle – first….’
Lermontov’s solicitor interjected: ‘I think that we all know, sirs, that Mr Kemp was reputed to be a very…’particular’ gentleman.’
The would-be murderer continued: ‘…then the Kemp puts up his arms like this.’ Lermontov raised his arms and clenched his fists into a boxer’s pose. ’So, I picked up his stick and I strike him on face…’
‘His own walking cane?’
Mackintosh frowned: ‘You challenge him to a fight, and then you use his own walking stick as a weapon against him? It hardly seems fair or…’gentlemanly’, sir…’
‘Kemp is no ‘gentleman’, sir. I am. Those rules do not count for him. Also, he is bigger than I am…’
Silence in the room for a moment. Then the detective placed his pencil on his notebook: ‘And?’
‘I put the stick in his face. He falls back. I look to the sky. I see the full moon. I have the strength of a man who is mad or an animal. Water below. I grab Kemp by collar and drag him to little wall. I lift him over. Splash.’ He brushed his hands together as if clearing dust from them. ’The thief is dead.’
Mackintosh looked up: ‘And where did all this happen?’
Lermontov’s solicitor piped up: ‘My client is not from these parts, but I understand that the confrontation is likely to have taken place near Fountainbridge…’
The Russian shook his head: ‘Nyet…nyet…no. I saw no fountain. I saw only bridge. Over the bridge. The body falls over the wall into water. Goodbye, thief.’
The silence in the room was disturbed only by the scratching Mackintosh’s pencil on his little notepad. He stopped writing and looked up: ‘I think we’ve heard enough, sir.’ He looked around the room: ‘Does anybody have any questions?’
No-one said anything. The detective leaned back in his chair, frowning. He sat reading through his notebook. Then he became aware of someone holding up their index finger. Edward Kane, Advocate looked like a schoolboy trying to catch the teacher’s attention.
‘Yes, Mr Kane?’
Kane turned to his client: ‘Mr Lermontov. I perhaps ought to have asked you this before, but after the confrontation that you have described, the argument, the, um, fisticuffs,’ he raised his fists to illustrate, ‘and your depositing Mr Kemp into the Union Canal…’
In actuality, Kane had no question, but he remembered Mr Horse’s story of the encounter with the young French soldier.
‘My question is: what did you do immediately afterwards?’
The Russian narrowed his eyes.
Tomorrow in The Scotsman: A Dog’s Hind Leg?