Pluto's Child

by DJ

Chapter 24

Jo set the pot of freshly brewed coffee on the kitchen table, sat down, pushed her hair back off her face and placed her elbows on the table. She sighed deeply, seeming to be far away. Lorna wondered if she was thinking about her father. She caught Lorna watching her and gave her a pensive smile. "Sorry, I was miles away, do you take sugar?"

"One, please." Lorna watched Jo pour two mugs of coffee. It was the first time the two of them had been alone and there were so many things she wanted to know, so many questions to ask. After the doctor had arrived and shut himself in Gypsy's room with Ed, Sean and Manuel, David had gone into conference with Barney and the police, and the two women had found themselves on their own; Erica having been tucked up in her bed once more with her canine guard for company. Sandy had long since gone back to bed and Jo, not seeing the point of going back to bed, as she had to be at the airport quite early, had suggested they go down to the kitchen and make some coffee. Now Lorna watched Jo take a sip of her coffee and set her mug down carefully in front of her. She looked up at Lorna. "I suppose you're wondering if I'm jealous about you coming into Gypsy's life like this, if I might feel hurt at someone taking the place of my sister."

Lorna blushed guiltily. "I'm sorry. It's all happened so suddenly."

Jo smiled softly at her. "I've no regrets the way things are. In fact, I'm rather glad. Ed and I have been wondering how we could loosen the ties a little bit, and you've given us the answer."

Lorna thought about what Gypsy had said. "You mean you'll go away?"

"Not a hope, love." Jo's laugh was naturally warm. "If Ed wasn't around, Gypsy would be in a wheelchair within six months and he'd never get out of it again. We all take it for granted that arthritis and rheumatism will never hit us till we're old, but it's always round the corner for Gypsy. It always strikes where there has been serious injury. In the mornings you'll hear him moan and groan till Ed gets him moving with massage, hot baths and exercise. I'm not putting you-off am I?"

"No," Lorna said with a smile. "I want to know as much as possible. I need to know what you do too. What exactly do you do?"

"Me?" Jo considered the question with a wry look on her face. "I look after Erica, make sure David has the cash to run the house with and play host to any visitors, and that's all. David runs the house, not me. Mrs. Peckham runs the kitchen, and her daughter, Carol, acts as maid. To tell you the truth, I hate housework"

"So do I"

"Oh, well, step into my shoes, dear, and welcome to Chilvers. You'll find yourself with too much to do once this house is turned over to The Chilvers Project. I certainly didn't relish a house full of screaming kids. You'll find David is a treasure. As long as he can rely on you to back him up one hundred percent, you won't have to worry about a thing." Suddenly Jo leaned forward, looking very secretive. "I do believe he's getting sweet on Carol; I wouldn't be surprised if they got married soon. It's rather like having two households under one roof, like in the old Empire days; Mrs. Peckham's, and ours She's a jolly soul and if you ever want to have a go at cooking, she's only too willing to let you get on with it, not like the last cook we had; that witch wouldn't let anyone else in the kitchen let alone boil an egg, and least of all me. Gypsy tolerated her for a month then had to get rid of her." She noticed Lorna's tense expression, and cocked her head on one side. "You can stop worrying, you know; you're going to be fine, just like Ed said. You coped just now didn't you? Erica's not the easiest of' children to deal with; she's a Leo and needs a lot of patience and security. You gave her that just now; look how she went straight to you upstairs. She may be only six but she worries about her daddy, and it makes her restless to see him in pain. If she has you to comfort and understand her, she'll feel so much better; and Gypsy will love you all the more for it." Jo looked at her in an odd way. "Has he told you much about his past?"

"Yes, most of it."

"Has he shown you the prophecy?"

"Not yet, but he told me about it, and he also told me about the blackmail letters and how he's been doing a bit of detective work at the Hine place, it much be very worrying for you all."

Jo stared at her with slowly widening eyes. "Of course!" She sat up straight, "Why didn't we think of' it before? Whoever broke in here wasn't a burglar or someone trying to kidnap Erica at all, he was after the film. That's why there was nothing missing."

She leapt to her feet and Lorna asked, "Where are you going?"

"To tell Barney of course!"

"But he's with the police. Perhaps Gypsy doesn't want them to know about it yet. Think of all the questions they would ask him. He's got no proof of anything except the letters."

Jo frowned and sat down again. "I suppose you're right. So what do we do?"

Lorna had a plan forming in her mind but before she could tell Jo about it, a polite cough behind them made her look over her shoulder. David was standing in the doorway, smiling politely. "If you'll excuse me, ladies, I'd like to make some fresh coffee for Mr. Barney and the police."

Lorna looked enquiringly at Jo who raised an eyebrow at her. Together they rose from their chairs and went to take hold of David by the arms. Smiling sweetly, Jo said, "David, forget the coffee for a moment. We'd like to talk to you."

Lorna smiled at him. "Come and sit down, David, we won't keep you long."

David looked from one to the other in astonishment but allowed them to lead him to the table. He sat down and waited for Lorna and Jo to sit down on either side of him. He looked at Lorna. "Yes, Miss? What can I do for you?"

"You can tell us what the police and Barney have found out about the burglar."

David shook his head. "I'm sorry Miss, I can't divulge police information."

Lorna studied the pattern on the sleeve of her housecoat very closely. "David, am I to understand you have no wish to obey an order from the lady of the house?"

David stared at her, and then he chuckled. "All right, Miss, if you put it that way." He folded his hands on the table. "Mr. Barney and the two policemen made a thorough search of the house, with my assistance, and are of the opinion that nothing has been taken, and the burglar must have been looking for something in particular. Only the study and Mr. Diaz's private upstairs lounge have been disturbed. The intruder got in by way of the window on the top floor, which had been opened from the inside. They are all bolted from the inside you see. The bolts on the window in question had been unscrewed."

"Could it have been left open by mistake?"

"Oh, no, Miss, I locked all the windows myself, after the heating engineers left the repair work unfinished two weeks ago. No one else has been up there since. The intruder couldn't have got in any other way without tripping the burglar alarms. The mystery is how the intruder got up to the house in the first place, let alone shin up a drainpipe. The dogs barked when he left, why didn't they bark when he arrived? Mr. Barney suggests he was brought here in a car belonging to one of the guests and I'm inclined to agree with him. Whoever brought him here left the party at some time in the evening, went up to the top floor and opened the window. There was quite a bit of noise going on when the main party of guests left the house last night, so that would account for the dogs not hearing the intruder make his way from the car to the drainpipe and shin up it. And most of the guests were too far intoxicated to notice anyone climbing pipes. I myself was too busy at the front door to notice anything. When the dogs were released for their first nightly patrol the number of scents they picked up would have confused them, having so many to follow.

"The intruder must have got into the room at the top and waited there till he was sure the household was asleep; apparently the dogs were not taken up to the top floor when Mr. Diaz ordered them in last night. When he thought it was safe, the intruder crept downstairs to search for whatever he came for. When he passed Erica's bedroom, Butch heard him. His growling roused Erica because Mr. Diaz found her in the dog's basket with the dog. Erica mumbled something about a man upstairs and he went to investigate. How the child knew about the man is a mystery."

Jo smiled. "I think I know the answer to that. Gypsy believes Erica has inherited his psychic gifts; she's a very canny little madam at times."

David nodded. "I've an open mind, Mrs. Thompson, and quite prepared to believe it, but to get back to my story; the intruder used the same route for his escape as he got in and must have made it to the boundary wall before Mr. Barney released the dogs. That man will never know how lucky he was, and that, ladies, is my total knowledge of the matter."

"I see," said Lorna, "and you've no idea what the man was after?"

"I'm afraid not, Miss."

"Oh, David," Lorna chided him gently, "what about the roll of film Gypsy asked you to hide? Jo told me about it."

"The film, Miss? Is that what the man was after? I had no idea." David rose to his feet and nodded politely to Lorna then to Jo. "If you will excuse me, I need to make that coffee.

Jo smiled up at him. "You're not going to tell the police are you?"

"About what, Miss?"

"About the film."

"What film was that, Miss?"

After he had departed Jo frowned at Lorna. "One of Gypsy's guests? I don't believe that."

"Why not? You know Gypsy was feeling bad vibrations last night."

"But my dear girl, every guest at last night's party was a personal friend of Gypsy's. What would they gain from this sort of thing? If they needed anything they only had to ask and it was theirs. You might as well get used to the idea, Gypsy is well known for his soft heart and loose pockets."

In the morning, Manuel let himself into Gypsy's bedroom and went quietly to the bed. Speaking softly, he spoke Gypsy's name, repeating it till Gypsy's eyes flickered open. "Hi, Dad, what time is it?"

"Eleven thirty."

Gypsy lifted his head up off the pillows, remembered how bruised he was, and let it fall back with a groan. "That Marla Frank woman was supposed to be here at ten. Am I lucky enough to have missed her?"

"Yes, your fiancé handled the interview with utmost grace and charm; a most confident young lady in public."

"Lorna did?" Gypsy's eyes opened wide. "On her own?"

"Well, she had a little help from a certain young lady who was determined not to be left out, seeing as it was she who caused the engagement in the first place. The story of Erica's matchmaking and Terry's exclusive scoop has sent Marla Frank away in a fine tizzy after losing the gossip scoop of the month if not the year. I believe Terry wrote quite a nice story and had that and his photos accepted by the magazine before Marla knew she'd been upstaged. Nice move on your part to start him off on your PR team. How are you feeling now?"

Gypsy pulled a face at Manuel. "How would you feel after falling down the stairs? I ache all over. What had Monclare to say? I think fell asleep before he left."

"He was amazed you suffered nothing more than a severe bruising and he said there was no reason to bring your appointment forward as long as you rest as much as possible and stay off your feet unless absolutely necessary."

"That means the wheelchair again."

"No, he just wants you to keep the weight off your spine. Ed is not back from taking Jo to the airport so you will have to put up with my getting you out of bed this morning, so come on, let's get you up and moving."

Gypsy gazed up at him suspiciously. "Why the rush?"

"There is no rush." Manuel sat down on the edge of the bed. "I just think it is time we told the police what is going on."

"I can't, Dad, I have no proof to face them with. What do I say, that a gypsy told me all this would happen? They would laugh in my face."

"But we are wasting time, Gypsy."

"I know, but I want to wait till Barney comes up with something on Brian and Peter first; and we haven't heard from Don yet. Give them time, Dad."

Manuel did not agree. He planted his hands on the pillow both sides of Gypsy's head, and gazed down at his son with worried eyes. "Gypsy, for Erica's sake; tell the police what you know and also what you suspect. They are the detectives, not you. After that irresponsible trip to Bev's house, I'm surprised Barney has not put a curfew on you. If that film is important, whoever wants it will try again. If they fail, they might snatch Erica to make you hand it over. Remember my grandmother's prediction; you would never forgive yourself if anything happened to Erica."

"I still want to give Barney and his brother time to do some digging. I know you are worried, Dad, and I am too, but I'm willing to give them a few hours more. In any case I'll be too busy to talk to anyone today." He grinned. "Lorna and I want to go and see the priest about getting married as soon as possible. Do you think Erica would enjoy being a bridesmaid?"

"Without a doubt. And I know two other young ladies who would jump at the chance. I suggest you allow yourself a little of your precious time to ring those pretty sisters of yours." He helped Gypsy out of bed and into his wheelchair, and blessed the day Lorna had walked back into Gypsy's shattered life.

At the same time as Manuel was attempting to ease the ache out of Gypsy's stiffened muscles, the pristine white, one hundred and fifty foot ocean going luxury motor yacht "Lady Valentina" was being refitted and re-provisioned as she lay at anchor a few miles east of the Pool of London, ready for her long voyage to the South Atlantic. The crew was happy enough doing the extra work involved; they were more than well paid by the owner who had at this moment stepped out of the shower in his private cabin suite. Wrapped in the silky folds of a Japanese kimono, he eyed the newest addition to his rather unusual collection. He was tall with a swarthy complexion, giving his Arab features a sinister cast. His eyes glittered with anticipation, but there was nothing pleasant about his smile above the severe Machiavellian beard. He gazed down at the white satin sheets; he loved satin; it was an obsession, a sexual turn-on, an erotic tidbit, especially when the satin followed the curves of the youth beneath it. It revealed every succulent detail. The man smiled as he lowered himself onto the bed and touched the smoothness or the material, to explore the boy through the silk. As his hand traveled up the sleek torso, the short chimes of a muted bell sounded and he straightened up, cursing with annoyance. Whoever dared to disturb him now would pay dearly unless he had good reason: The bedroom door opened and Malik, his handsome Moroccan valet, entered; his young eyes cold with jealousy as he avoided looking at the white satin.

"Yes, Malik, what is it?"

"Sorry to disturb you, Master. Teddy is here." The young man bowed, and walked out again.

The man rose quickly from the bed, his eyes narrowing with interest; the one he had been waiting for since midnight had finally arrived. In the lounge beyond, his visitor was sitting nervously on the edge or a high backed chair. "Well, Teddy?" The Arab already knew the man had failed in his mission. "Did you get the film?"

Teddy shook his head. "No, sir; I couldn't find it. I would have searched more thoroughly but I was disturbed. There was a ruddy great Doberman in the house and I almost got torn apart getting out. I looked in all the usual places but there was no sign of the film, well hidden, it was."

"And the child? What about her?"

"I didn't see her, but I know which bedroom she's in. Guarded by that dog, she is. It'll have to be an outside job if you want her. Somewhere well away from that place."

"Very well, Teddy." The Arab hid his annoyance at the stupid man. He would have to be disposed of; he was too weak and unreliable, and now he knew too much. "You may go now, but stay on board; I may need you again in a short while. You will be paid through the usual channels, of course." He smiled at his visitor and turned to go back into the cabin. "Enjoy yourself while you are here. Anything you need, just tell Malik. You will find plenty to choose from in the rear cabins."

"No thanks, I don't need the kind of hospitality you have to offer. I work for your money not your favours."

"As you wish, Teddy; I'll have the bosun arrange for some ladies to be brought on board for your pleasure, at my expense, of course." The Arab left the room, already planning the man's permanent exit.

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