Mother will never forgive me,” said Daisy. She clutched her bouquet of rosebuds in one hand and smoothed the skirt of her cream linen costume with the other as the big, green Vauxhall pulled smoothly away from the kerb in a shower of confetti.
“For marrying me?” asked Alec softly, glancing at the chauffeur’s back.
“Oh no, darling. She’s been resigned to my marrying a policeman ever since she discovered you’re a Detective Chief Inspector, not a humble bobby. Besides, an unmarried daughter of twenty-six is a fearful reproach to someone of her generation.” Daisy heard herself babbling but couldn’t stop. After all, she had never been married before, and it felt most peculiar. “Where Mother’s concerned,” she continued, “it doesn’t hurt that your mother disapproves of me quite as much as mine disapproves of you.”
“I’m afraid so,” he admitted, “but Belinda adores you. Almost as much as I do.”
When he looked at her like that, it was hard to believe those grey eyes were capable of making an erring subordinate snap to attention or freezing a criminal to the marrow of his bones. “Alec, my hat!” she squeaked, as he enveloped her in a crushing embrace.
Though she was unable to speak for several minutes, her ears were unencumbered. She distinctly heard Bill Truscott chuckle as he drove the Vauxhall, its hood down on this sparkling October day, towards the Dorchester Hotel. That was the worst of old retainers.
The loan of the motor and chauffeur was the least of what Daisy’s cousin Edgar, Lord Dalrymple, had provided. He had done them proud, in spite of the short notice. Coming over all dynastic, he had begged to give the bride away and to provide a bang-up reception. Daisy hadn’t had the heart to refuse, knowing how guilty the ex-schoolmaster felt at having inherited Fairacres and the viscountcy after her father’s death in the ’flu pandemic of ’19.
Her father ought to have been there to give her hand to Alec, he or her brother, Gervaise, killed in the Flanders trenches. And it might have been Michael who placed the ring on her finger, if that land-mine had not blown up his Friends’ Ambulance Unit. A catch in her throat, Daisy blinked.
She loved Alec dearly, but her sight was misty as she glanced back at the following motor-cars. The first bore Cousin Edgar, the Dowager Lady Dalrymple, and Daisy’s maid of honour, her erstwhile housemate, Lucy Fotheringay. The second, Alec’s cherished Austin “Chummy,” was driven by his sergeant, Tom Tring, who had stood as his best man. In the back seat, Mrs. Fletcher sat poker-stiff with Alec’s ten-year-old daughter, Belinda, bouncing slightly at her side.
It was a small wedding party, just what Daisy had wanted but not at all what her mother considered proper.
“She’ll never forgive me the Registry Office,” Daisy sighed, “since she had her heart set on St. George’s, Hanover Square. Darling, I’m frightfully glad Superintendent Crane gave you so little notice of your fortnight’s leave.”
“So am I, since it pleases you, love.” Alec’s dark, rather fierce eyebrows met in a frown. “Yet I have a nasty feeling he’s got something up his sleeve.”
“Oh, Alec, he can’t ask you to investigate a crime while we’re on our honeymoon!”
“That’s why I suggested a week in Jersey. The Channel Islands have their own legal system, which is none of our business. And I haven’t mentioned to anyone at the Yard that we’ll spend the second week at home. No, I suspect the Super has something special in store for when I go back to work.”
“Let’s not worry about it now, then, darling. Oh, here we are. You squashed my flowers. Is my hat straight?”
The reception was on a completely different scale from the wedding. In spite of the short notice, few of those invited failed to attend. The Dorchester’s ballroom was crammed with Daisy’s aristocratic family connections, Alec’s Metropolitan Police colleagues, and an eclectic collection of friends.
Daisy made friends easily and, according to her mother, without discrimination. Standing in the receiving line, the Dowager Lady Dalrymple was forced to shake hands with, among others, an Indian doctor, an American industrialist, and a Russian Jewish violinist.
“I knew if you insisted on working for a living you were bound to meet the most unsuitable people,” she moaned, “but need you make friends of them?”
“Buck up, Mother,” Daisy whispered. “Here come Lord and Lady Wentwater. I wrote an article about Wentwater Court, remember?”
In spite of their unfortunate connection with her work, an earl and countess could not fail to please. For the moment at least, Daisy was spared further reproaches.
Another “suitable” guest was the Honourable Phillip Petrie, who had grown up on the estate next to Fairacres. Lady Dalrymple’s only objection to him was that he had not married Daisy. It was not for want of trying. As Gervaise’s closest chum, he had long felt honour-bound to take care of Gervaise’s little sister, which led him to propose to her at regular intervals.
Daisy having refused him with equal regularity, he had recently married an American girl. He appeared to be utterly besotted with his golden-headed Gloria, whom he generally addressed—revoltingly—as Glow-worm.
Later on, after cutting the wedding cake, Daisy and Alec were talking to Phillip and Gloria when Gloria’s father, Mr. Arbuckle, approached. Curiously, he was accompanied by Detective Superintendent Crane, with whom he appeared to be on unnaturally friendly terms.
They were an oddly assorted pair, and the uniform of formal morning cutaways and striped trousers only served to accentuate the contrast. The American millionaire was short and spare, his long face lengthened by a receding hair-line. The English policeman stood well above the regulation height, his bulk still muscular (thrice weekly games of fives, according to Alec), his sandy hair fading but still thick.
Mr. Arbuckle looked smug, Superintendent Crane bland in a way Daisy had long since concluded all detectives must practise in front of their looking-glasses. She regarded him with suspicion.
“He does have something up his sleeve,” she muttered.
Catching her words, Gloria glanced back. “Yes, Poppa’s been up to something,” she said. “I don’t know what, but he’s in cahoots with Superintendent Crane, I do believe. I’ve seen them with their heads together, haven’t you, honey?”
Phillip’s conventionally handsome face remained blank. In anyone she knew less well, Daisy might have supposed he was aware of whatever plot was hatching and was attempting to conceal his knowledge. In Phillip, however, blankness of face denoted blankness of mind. Put him down in front of a motor-car engine and his capabilities amounted to near genius, according to his poppa-in-law. Little else, always excepting his young bride, was able to stir his brain cells into action.
“Er, yes,” he agreed uncertainly, smoothing his already sleek, fair head.
Arbuckle and Crane were upon them. The usual congratulations for the groom and wishes for the bride’s happiness were repeated. During the brief pause that followed, Daisy caught a hint of embarrassment marring the Super’s placid façade. He turned his head towards his fellow conspirator.
“Waal, have I got a surprise for you folks,” said Arbuckle, beaming. “I’m tickled to death, Fletcher, to be able to tell you I’ve been pulling strings in Washington on your account. See, our noo President, Mr. Coolidge, wants to clean up the Investigation Bureau of the Justice Department—that’s like our national police—and boy oh boy, do they need it! Orgian stables isn’t in it, trust me.”
He smirked, pleased with himself at this classical reference. After a momentary vision of mounted police indulging in orgies, Daisy translated it as Augean stables. Her school had not considered Greek and Latin suitable for feeble female minds, but tales from the myths, properly bowdlerized, were staples.
“I’ve heard rumours,” Alec admitted with caution.
“Graft’s the word, right from the top. Burns, the Director, has been using federal employees to run his own ’tec agency. Waal, to cut a long story short, I got put onto this smart young guy who’ll likely end up as the boss man. I talked to him on the transatlantic telephone and convinced him he needed to consult with Scotland Yard.”
“And the Sûreté,” put in Superintendent Crane dryly.
“Gotta be fair to our gallant allies, sir, or at least look like it. Anyways, as I was about to say, there’s no police department back in the States that’s worth a dime, not when it comes to big ideas for organizing things on a sound, honest basis. And once I’d talked round this J. Edgar Hoover guy, your Commissioner was easy as pie.”
“I hope you won’t let him hear you say that!” Crane exclaimed, not a little put out.
“All I mean is, he’s a reasonable guy,” Arbuckle hastened to assure him.
Daisy, the sinking feeling in her stomach reaching rock-bottom, decided it was time to learn the worst. “But what was the Commissioner reasonable about?” she demanded.
Arbuckle beamed at her, triumphant. “Why, first he agreed to send a man over to advise young J. Edgar, and then he agreed that Detective Chief Inspector Fletcher is the best man for the job.”
“But we’re only just married!” Daisy wailed, seizing Alec’s arm and hanging on tight. Alec put his hand over hers and opened his mouth, but Gloria got in first.
“Poppa, how could you!”
“Now, now, honey, let your old poppa finish. I’m mighty sorry, Mrs. Fletcher—I should’ve started at the other end. You’re going too, see, all expenses paid.”
“Oh, but I couldn’t possibly accept …”
“It’s not me that’s paying, not but what I would, and be happy to. I owe you big, you and Fletcher, and don’t you think I’ll ever forget it. While you’re in the States, I surely hope—we hope, don’t we, honey?—you’ll be our guests at my little country place.”
“Gee, sure thing, Poppa. That’s a swell idea.”
“We’ll all sail together on the SS Talavera. But there’re others than me glad to pay your fare, Mrs. Fletcher. Yes siree, I’ve been talking to your editors, here in Lunnon and over in Manhattan. Here’s a cable from N‘York and a letter from the Lunnon guy. You’ll see both of ’em want articles about the voyage and your impressions of America.”
Daisy was speechless, thrilled certainly, yet nettled at being manipulated. While she scanned the two messages, Alec turned to Crane.
“I was promised two weeks’ leave, sir,” he said flatly.
The Superintendent’s face remained bland, but he had a twinkle in his eye. “Keep your hair on,” he said. “You get a nice week’s sea cruise each way, courtesy of H.M. Government; and what’s more, it’s a bonus. The Talavera leaves Liverpool on the Wednesday after you’re due back on duty.”
“Ah.” Alec remained cautious. “What about this invitation to stay with Arbuckle?”
“Your return voyage is booked. If you finish in Washington before the time’s up, what you do next is up to you.” Drawing Alec a little aside, Crane lowered his voice. “I’ll tell you this in confidence. Arbuckle has a certain amount of influence over here, and we can’t ignore a request from the American Government. However, what persuaded the A.C. to let you go for so long is the prospect of six weeks without Mrs. Fletcher’s getting herself mixed up in any investigations.”
“My mother …? Oh, Daisy!”
Crane chuckled. “Anything she does in America is out of our jurisdiction; and whatever happens there, you will at least have peace on board ship.”
“Yes,” Alec said hopefully, “she can’t possibly get into trouble aboard.”
TO DAVY JONES BELOW. Copyright © 2001 by Carola Dunn. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.