This Rough Magic
An excerpt from the novella by Josh Lanyon
To the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure.
-- The Tempest, William Shakespeare
It was always a dame, wasn’t it? In the dime novels, it was always a dame.
A smart and sassy society dame smelling of gardenias, with a fox stole thrown over her bony shoulders, and a mouth that would make a French maid blink. In real life, the dames Rafferty met were of a different breed. They wore Vogue pattern #7313 and lines of worry in their tired faces. They came to him in the hope that he could locate a missing son or daughter -- or straying husband.
There had been one society dame. Rafferty had helped her get back some letters, and her marriage to a Texas oil tycoon had gone right ahead as scheduled. Every now and then she threw some business his way. He could only think that Mrs. Charles Constable was somehow to blame for the very handsome and very nervous young man currently perched on the uncomfortable chair in front of Rafferty’s desk.
The chair squeaked as Brett Sheridan, of the Nob Hill Sheridans, gave another of those infinitesimal shifts like a bird on a cracking tree limb. Sheridan’s eyes -- wide and green as the water in San Francisco Bay -- met Rafferty’s and flicked away.
Yes, a very handsome young man. From that raven’s wing of soft dark hair that kept falling in his wide, long-lashed eyes to the obstinate jut of his chiseled chin.
Not so young, but not so old either. Twenty-six? Twenty-seven maybe? Sheltered, most certainly. The Brett Sheridans of the world were always sheltered. Right up to the moment the world decided to puncture their bicycle tires. Still, a nice ride while it lasted.
Rafferty said, “And you think your sister took this, what d’you call it, folio?”
Sheridan had a nice voice too. Low and a little husky, not too affected though he’d obviously spent time at a fancy New England boarding school. “Not Kitty. The thug she’s running around with.”
“Right. Do you know him?”
Rafferty’s mouth quirked. He reined himself in ruthlessly. “Despite how it looks, I’m not on nodding acquaintance with every bum in town.”
“No. Quite.” Sheridan’s color rose. Rafferty tried to recall what the story was on him. There was some story. That much he did remember. “I just thought that in your line of work you might have crossed paths before.”
“I’ve heard of him. He runs with Kip Mullen’s gang.” He could have told Sheridan a story or two about those boys that would have curled his hair, but scaring the client was rarely good business. “Explain to me again what this folio is?”
“It’s a book or a pamphlet. In this case it’s a book of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.” Sheridan bit his lip rather boyishly. “I suppose, technically, it’s a quarto, but I admit I don’t fully understand the difference. The only thing I know for certain is it’s the earliest printed version of the play. It was printed in the sixteenth century, nearly a decade before the First Folio.”
Rafferty opened his mouth and then closed it. It probably didn’t matter, right?
“And this folio that is or isn’t the first folio is worth a bundle?”
“It’s not the First Folio. That was printed in 1623. It contains thirty-six of Shakespeare’s plays, nineteen of which previously appeared in separate, individual editions. All the separate editions are quartos except for one octavo. But Mr. Lennox refers to it as a folio. The Tempest, that is.”
Rafferty could feel his eyes starting to spin. He resisted the temptation to hang onto his desk. “This thing is worth a bundle?”
“Sure, but I bet the insurance company tagged it with a dollar amount.”
“Mr. Lennox is very wealthy. The insurance money means nothing to him. He wants the folio back.”
“Correct. He wants it back at any cost.”
“Ah. He’d pay a king’s ransom?”
Sheridan nodded unhappily.
“And the last time anyone saw the-folio-that’s-really-a-quarto was the night of your engagement party?”
“Last night. Correct. Mr. Lennox hosted a garden party for us -- Juliet and me -- at his home in Pacific Heights.”
“And you immediately jumped to the conclusion that your sister’s beau was responsible?”
“There isn’t anyone else possible.”
Rafferty dropped his pencil and pushed back in his chair. “That so? All swell society folk with arm-long pedigrees, were they?”
There was that wash of color again. Not exactly what you expected from hale and healthy young Harvard bucks. Not unless they were given to unwholesome activities like painting watercolors or writing feverish poetry. Or worse. Rafferty was pretty sure worse was not the rumor he’d heard. He’d likely have remembered that.
“No. That is... Yes.”
“Which is it? No or yes?”
“It wasn’t my immediate thought, no,” Sheridan said stiffly. “But Kitty was acting so…so oddly. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized what must have happened. Sader took the folio and Kitty knows about it.”
“You mean she was his accomplice?”
Sheridan’s mouth thinned down to a line. His jaw lived up to the promise of that obstinate chin. “Maybe.”
“And you want me to find this folio and return it to its proper owner, your fiancée’s father?”
“Yes. That’s part of it. Mr. Lennox has given the culprit three days to return the folio. After that, he’s going to the police.”
“Why the stall? Why didn’t he ring for the cops last night?”
“Because--because it’s obvious to everyone that the crime was what you’d call an inside job.”
“Well, that’s one thing I might call it.”
“Perpetrated by one of the Lennox’s guests. Lennox is trying to save…someone from social ruin.”
“Not to mention prison.”
Sheridan paled. “Yes.”
“Okay. Three days to find this book or whatever it is and return it to Old Man Lennox. What’s the rest of it?”
“I want you to convince Sader to keep his mouth shut about Kitty’s involvement-- if any -- and to get him to agree to stay away from her.”
“That’s a tall order. Doesn’t Kitty have a say in all this?”
Sheridan’s throat moved as he swallowed. “No.”
“And how am I supposed to convince Sir Lancelot to give up the Lady of the Loot?”
Sheridan’s chin lifted. He said with unconscious arrogance, “I understood from Pat that you’re reasonably inventive.”
“Pat Constable. She’s the one who referred me to you. You to me. Anyway, I should think that the threat of jail would be sufficient to steer Sader away from Kitty.”
Rafferty’s brows rose. “You want me to blackmail him?”
“I don’t want to know anything about it. I just want Kitty out of his cl -- free of him.”
Rafferty managed not to laugh. The Brett Sheridans of the world did not like to be laughed at, even when they were talking what they would probably refer to as poppycock. Rafferty would have referred to it as something else, but not in polite company, and this company was about as polite as it got -- requests for blackmail and intimidation not withstanding.
“All right,” he said.
Sheridan’s eyes widened. “You’ll do it?”
“Wasn’t that the idea?”
“Yes. I just wasn’t sure -- didn’t think it would be this simple.”
“Yeah, well, it sounds straightforward enough. Right up my alley.” Rafferty tried to look suitably disreputable. He didn’t have to try hard these days.
“There’s a time element to all this --”
“Three days. I didn’t miss it. And it’ll cost you more.” Rafferty named a figure that should have made the sensitive Mr. Sheridan blanch. He didn’t bat an eye as he reached inside his Scotch wool topcoat and withdrew a leather wallet. He briskly counted out the crisp notes.
“You always carry this much cash?” Rafferty inquired, taking the bills, folding them, and tucking them into the breast pocket of his suit.
“Pat told me you weren’t cheap.”
Rafferty snorted. “I’ve been called many things, but never cheap.”
Sheridan’s lashes flicked up, and he gave Rafferty a long, direct look. So direct a look, in fact, that Rafferty wasn’t quite sure he was reading it correctly.
“What will your first move be?”
Rafferty blinked. “Huh?”
“How will you proceed with the case?”
“Are you sure you want to know? It’ll probably be necessary to, er, bend the rules a little... ”
Sheridan drew back as though from a flame. “No. You’re right. It’s better if I don’t know. But you’ll... keep me posted on your progress? There’s so little time.”
Rafferty rose from behind his desk, and Sheridan rose too, automatically. “The minute I find anything out, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Right. Of course,” Sheridan said doubtfully. “Thank you.”
“No, no,” Rafferty replied urbanely. He was starting to enjoy himself. “Thank you.”
“Gee.” Linda’s tone was wistful. “He even smells beautiful.”
“That’s Lenthéric aftershave, sugar.” Rafferty turned from the grimy window as Brett Sheridan’s tan V-8 convertible sedan sped away down California Street. “He fills the suit out all right, but if he’s got the brains of a Pekingese I’ll eat my hat.”
Linda laughed. She was a blonde bit of a girl, barely five feet in her socks. Not that Rafferty had seen her in her socks -- or anything but those prim little numbers she wore on the Saturdays, Mondays, and Wednesdays she manned his front office. He’d met her -- rescued her, if you took her word for it -- the morning she’d escaped with hours-old Baby William from the Drake Home for Unwed Mothers in Sausalito.
“Do we have a case?”
Rafferty reached into his pocket and showed her the wad of bank notes.
Linda gasped. “Who do you have to kill?”
“This is honest dough for honest labor. I may have to rough Harry Sader up a little.”
Linda’s big brown eyes went saucer-like. “Harry Sader?”
“He’s managed to get his claws into Little Lord Fauntleroy’s big sister. I’m going to encourage him to let go -- among other things.”
“What other things?”
“Our client thinks Harry stole a book.”
“I didn’t know Harry could read.”
“I guess it’s a very valuable book, and it would keep Harry in gin and greyhounds for the foreseeable future.”
“Harry Sader is trouble.”
Rafferty flashed her a grin. “Trouble is my business.” He reached for his hat.
* * * * *
Central Station was a quaint little cottage tucked in between Chinatown and North Beach, a cozy home away from home for the bulls, and a place of refuge for the rummys, grifters, and quiffs who regularly graced its halls and cells. As usual they were doing a brisk business when Rafferty stepped inside, letting the door swing shut on the clinging, clammy, June fog.
“You know your way,” growled the Sergeant at the desk, barely looking up.
Rafferty did know his way, and in few minutes he was sharing a smoke and a lousy cup of coffee with his oldest friend.
“We never heard anything about it,” McNulty said, tamping the tobacco in his pipe. He was a slim, dark man. Dapper for a copper. Dapper for anyone who wasn’t a cardsharp or Nob Hill scion. Once upon a time he and Rafferty had pounded a beat together, but Rafferty had made the mistake of belting the son-in-law of the assistant chief right in the kisser. Fastest way to make detective, he always assured anyone who asked.
He told McNulty now, “That’s because old man Lennox is keeping the lid on to give the owl a chance to put the book back.”
“Never figured old man Lennox for a member of the Optimist’s Club.”
Rafferty shrugged. “What can you tell me about the Sheridans?”
McNulty sucked on his pipe for a few seconds. “For starters, they’re broke. Linus Sheridan lost just about everything in the crash.”
Rafferty paused mid-lighting his cigarette. “Is that so?” He shook the match out.
“Yep. There was money on the wife’s side, but she flew the coop when the kids were still in school. Ran off with a count or something and died on the Continent.”
“I think I maybe saw the movie.”
McNulty chuckled. “One of our fine old San Francisco families. They’ve been limping along for the last few years waiting for a bail out. The eldest girl, Katherine, was engaged to Robbie Covington, but that fell through when he broke his neck falling off his polo pony. Her standards must have dropped a few flights if she’s running with Harry Sader. The youngest girl, Sophie, is supposed to be some kind of musical prodigy.”
“An expensive hobby.”
McNulty nodded. “There’s an expensive second wife too. Sheridan’s former secretary. So it looks like it’s up to young Brett to save the family fortune. He was engaged to Frances Westhook, but that fell through. Then it was Mavis Kearny-Ross. That fell through too. But Juliet Lennox stuck and it looks like she’ll go on sticking right up to the altar.”
“What’s the story on young Sheridan?”
McNulty shook his head. “No story that I know of. Spends most of his time in the society pages squiring beautiful women around.”
Rafferty grunted. “Ambitious.”
“There was some kind of crack up during college. Over study or over athletics or maybe both, I don’t know. He was training to be a lawyer but nothing ever came of it. Nothing ever comes of anything with that one, but if he does manage to marry Juliet Lennox, she’ll make a man of him. That dame could make a man out of King Kong.”
Rafferty grinned lazily. “I don’t know the lady.”
“That’s because you don’t read the society pages.”
“I can’t say that I do. Not many of my clients reside in Pacific Heights.”
“No, I guess not. That may change if you find this book or pamphlet or whatever it is.”
“I don’t know that I want it to change.”
McNulty shot him a keen look. “No. Well, maybe not. So you took the case?”
“I guess it won’t hurt to poke around a little. See what there is to see. Sheridan may be broke but he handed over twice my usual fee without batting an eyelash.”
“He must have borrowed it.”
“Lennox is one of these self-made men, as I recall. Oil, wasn’t it?”
“Cattle. Meat packing to be accurate. He’s Powell Packing Company now days.”
Rafferty whistled. “What happened to Powell?”
“Lennox ran him out. He’s not a man to cross, I can tell you that. If Sheridan’s sister did have something to do with lifting that book, it could be the biggest mistake of her life.”
“Next to getting involved with Harry Sader.”
McNulty drew on his pipe. “Next to that.”
The phone jangled on McNulty’s desk.
Rafferty pushed up out of his chair. “Okay. Thanks for your help, pal. I guess I’ll mosey on out to the old homestead. Put my ear to the ground.”
“See you, Neil.” McNulty reached for the phone. “Homicide Squad.” He held the handset down and called to Rafferty, “Watch out for bushwhackers.”
Copyright 2000-17, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.