“Good evening, Mister Parker.”
“Good evening, Mister Bunter.”
“I’m afraid his lordship has not yet returned from dinner at Lady Worthington’s.”
Parker’s eyebrows rose as Bunter took his coat and hat.
“A filial act of piety, sir,” explained Bunter. “I’m to offer your choice of spirit and tobacco but first,” Parker followed, but Bunter hesitated before the doors of the library, “a tour of the darkroom if you’d prefer.”
Parker’s eyebrows had just returned to their normal position when they were leaping again.
“Your sanctum sanctorum, Mister Bunter?”
“I was able, through his lordship’s kind generosity, to avail myself of the Double Anastigmat with supplementary lenses. It has been extraordinarily helpful in several inquiries as well as certain personal indulgences. I have a few examples which clearly demonstrate the power of the instrument, and, well, an enthusiast never misses an opportunity to show off to an appreciative audience.”
“That he doesn’t,” agreed Parker. “Lead on, my good man.”
“You aren’t developing anything right now?” asked Parker quickly as Bunter unlocked a door.
“No now, sir. After you.”
Bunter switched on the light and closed and locked behind them.
Half a dozen photographs were hanging up, pinned to a string which extended from one wall of the small space to another.
“This one,” Bunter indicated the first of the six, “was enlarged right up on the plate.”
Pale skin. Shoulder blades. Arms. Soles of feet.
Dark rope crisscrossing decorating as it bound.
Parker whistled. “Your work?”
“Would you trust it to anyone else, sir?”
Parker snorted. “The enlargement certainly has it advantages.” He pointed to a dark bulge in the centre of the buttocks and a metal ring attached. “You wouldn’t be able to see that with a regular lens.”
“No, sir.” Bunter pointed to the next photograph. “Here is a front view of the same subject.”
“Jesus Christ!” Parker wiped his brow. “Those are some knots! You’re an artist as well as a craftsman, Mister Bunter.”
“You’re very kind, Mister Parker, but a craftsman’s only as good as his tools.”
Parker had to press his lips together very tightly to prevent an unseemly noise from escaping. He nodded, then leaned very close to the third photograph and studied the image of the buttocks.
“It’s not the crop,” he said finally. “Cat o’ nine tails?”
“What did he do?”
“Insulted my coffee, sir.”
“How long had he been pestering you for a wallop before he tried that?”
“All of a morning and the better part of the afternoon, sir.”
Parker nodded and rubbed his jaw. “You had things to do, of course?”
“My time during the day is rarely my own, sir.”
“Of course. Did he cry?”
“No, sir. He sang.”
Parker chuckled. “Unrepentant little devil.”
Bunter said nothing, and Parker’s gaze went to the fourth photograph.
A body bent over a pillow.
Parker could almost hear the familiar breathing, coming hard and tightly through the nose.
“The costume is new,” he observed.
“Yes, sir. A purchase during a recent visit to Paris. It may be liberty for me to reveal this, sir,” which Parker knew meant that Lord Peter had instructed his manservant to reveal it and reveal it well, “that this ensemble was selected with your preferences in mind.”
Black ribbon. Black lace. Black silk.
And little of it.
“What colour is the tiny skirt?” asked Parker, feeling his body stir.
“A rich burgundy, sir.”
“Yes, sir,” said Bunter, agreeing with the unexpressed sentiment. “Very flattering.”
“I don’t know how you managed it, Mister Bunter. I don’t know how you managed to keep your head, and other parts, about you enough to operate the sophisticated piece of machinery like your camera.”
“Well, sir, we all have our limits.”
Parker glanced at the other two photographs.
“For your personal archive, Mister Bunter?”
“Quite the artist. Did he sing then, too?”
“No, I did. Twice.”
“Hullo, hullo, hullo!” cried Lord Peter from the hall as he rattled the doorknob. “Your darling Pipsey has come back to his distracted Popseys! At least I hope you’re distracted, Parker, if ol’ Bunter is showing you what I hope he’s showing you.”
Parker and Bunter exchanged a good-natured grin, then Bunter called back, “A man ran against Mister Parker with a milk can. I’m assisting him with his trousers, my lord.”
“The deuce you are without me, Bunter! You’d best unlock this door, good and faithful, before I break it down. I’ve just done an extended tour in the circle of hell known as Lady Worthington’s dinner party and my noblesse oblige is exhausted. I’m itchin’ to be stripped and whipped and painted like a Parisian postcard. And I’ve got so many pretty things to parade for Parker.”
Parker nodded, and Bunter unlocked the door.