The search was on for Ms. Larkin, beginning with her home in Romford. The secretary was nowhere to be found, however, and every constable in London and Essex were notified to be on the lookout. Inspector Hugo and Huxley set off to speak with Maxwell Stein whom they found seated behind his desk.
“Gentlemen,” greeted Mr. Stein with a degree of surprise. “I was just about to leave for the day.”
“Sorry to inconvenience you,” said Inspector Hugo, “but we need to ask you a few questions about your secretary Matilda Larkin.”
“Yes. We’ve reason to believe that she may be involved somehow with today’s events.”
“Matilda? I find that difficult to believe,” he said with a dubious chuckle. “She’s a sweetheart. Wouldn’t hurt a flea.”
“Be that as it may,” said Huxley, “not an hour ago, while we were inspecting the materials you sent over, Ms. Larkin disappeared with the blueprints and diagrams to your vaults.”
“How much access does your secretary have to your confidential information?” asked the inspector.
“Well, she’s my secretary. She has access to virtually everything, my correspondence, minutes for meetings, accounts, suppliers…”
“Yes,” nodded Mr. Stein. “Blueprints as well.”
“Are you aware of any political affiliations?” Huxley asked. “Perhaps she was a suffragette or is a member of the Communist party.”
“I would be shocked if she was. As I said, she’s always been a good employee, hardworking, honest, and diligent,” he said. “I could never find fault in her if I tried.”
“If you don’t mind,” said the inspector, “we’d like to have a look in her desk.”
“Certainly.” Mr. Stein guided them to Matilda Larkin’s workspace in the anteroom and watched the two rifle through papers, notes, and drawers.
“Nothing stands out to me,” Inspector Hugo said.
“Nor to me,” Huxley agreed. “Mr. Stein, how long has she been in your employment?”
“A few years now. She’s the best secretary I’ve ever had. When you find one, you can’t let them get away, you know.”
“Can you recall where she worked before?” asked Inspector Hugo.
“I remember her references were quite good,” he said, furrowing his brow in concentration. “I believe her last job was as a switchboard operator for the GPO. Before that, she worked somewhere producing medical supplies during the war. If I’m not mistaken, she worked at a transportation company prior to that. Doing what, I don’t recall.”
“A transportation company?” repeated Huxley.
“Yes. Earhart, or Everett, or—”
Mr. Stein narrowed his eyes in thought. “That sounds right. I’d need to pull her references to know for sure.”
“No need,” said Huxley. “Inspector Hugo, Everest & Sons is the transportation company that provided the carts to move the gold. There may be a connection there.”
“That’s why it sounded so familiar,” said Inspector Hugo.
“I thought it mildly peculiar this morning, but the cart that transported the gold was returned immediately to the company without being searched for evidence.”
“I’d say it’s about time we did then,” the inspector said. “Mr. Stein, may I use your telephone? I need to make a call to headquarters.”
Despite the panic of the early afternoon, the strike resumed in what seemed greater, more emboldened numbers. Inspector Hugo and Huxley took a taxi as far as they could, but eventually had to make their way on foot through the crowd to reach Everest & Sons. It was a small shop adjacent to an alley that led to an enclosed courtyard. The two of them looked through the iron gate at several carts, wagons, and motorcars.
“Inspector, the only vehicles capable of carrying such a heavy load would be the carts. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, and they appear to be badger-drawn,” Inspector Hugo agreed.
Huxley looked down the alley then back at Inspector Hugo. “I don’t imagine there were any badgers among the dead, were there?”
“No. Not one,” he said, shaking his head. “Why didn’t we see it before?”
“It is not to see, but to understand,” said Huxley. “Ah! They’re here.”
Huxley and Hugo hid in the shadows of the alley where they still maintained a clear view of the courtyard. Out in the street, several constables could be seen approaching the front door of Everest & Sons before a thunderous banging ensued. The two remained still, waiting as the noise continued until it abruptly stopped.
“Here,” said Inspector Hugo, brandishing a revolver. “You may need this.”
“Thank you, Inspector, but I’ll be quite all right without it,” Huxley smiled.
“You’d think a war veteran would have more sense than to take on the enemy unarmed.” Inspector Hugo shook his head.
A door slammed in the courtyard, and a badger hurried into the alleyway, unaware the two were watching him. Silently, they followed him, hurrying to keep up. Before they could reach the badger, however, he was swallowed up by the crowd striking in the street. Without hesitation, they entered the mob themselves, pushing through against the current of protesters, losing sight of the badger for brief moments, then seeing him once more. Finally, they reached the opposite side of the street where he ducked into another alley, running faster now. The two increased their speed, catching a glimpse of his tail disappearing around a bend.
Rounding the corner after him, a shot rang out, and a bullet struck the wall near their heads. Inspector Hugo and Huxley jumped back behind the corner, waiting a moment before stepping out with their guns drawn. The badger ran further, two shots from Inspector Hugo’s revolver missing only slightly. They pursued him, seeing him steal into another turn. Following, they came to an empty dead end, the badger nowhere to be seen.
“What in the bloody hell…” Inspector Hugo muttered.
“Nobody disappears into thin air,” said Huxley, peering around them.
Just as he spoke those words, the badger jumped out from behind a false wall, firing a pistol at them. Inspector Hugo returned a shot that struck the badger in the arm.
“Don’t move! Get down on the ground!” ordered Inspector Hugo. “Hands behind your back!” Within seconds, the inspector handcuffed the badger, but halted upon seeing Huxley lying on the ground, a pool of blood forming beneath him. “Mr. Huxley!” he shouted. “Are you all right? Mr. Huxley, answer me!”
Copyright © 2019 by Stephen Daniel Ruiz