The back terrace was peaceful, the perfect place for William Murdoch and James Pendrick to relax on a Saturday evening after entertaining guests for dinner. Said guests were in the west parlor partaking of sherry and doing whatever it was ladies did when left on their own. The gentlemen had retreated to the outdoors claiming they wished to smoke.
“I hate to admit it,” Pendrick said as they sat under the stars, not smoking, “but relations are not what I’d hoped.” When Murdoch had no immediate response to that unexpected remark, the man glanced over. Murdoch’s dismayed expression made him first look puzzled, then amused. “No, my dear. I was referring to my relations. Catherine and Lisette.”
Murdoch recovered his voice. “Of course.”
“Our relations are splendid, as always,” Pendrick added, which made Murdoch blush a little, possibly the reason he said it. “I’m not sure what I was expecting of Catherine. I suppose I thought she’d be the same woman she was when we knew each other years ago.”
“Everyone changes with age,” Murdoch stated. “I’m sure you have too.”
“Nonsense. I’m as youthful and vigorous as I’ve ever been.” Pendrick raised an eyebrow when Murdoch didn’t answer right away, but he was smiling. “She was such a rebel in her twenties. Open-minded. Forward thinking. I don’t know what happened to her.”
Murdoch didn’t either, because that was not how he would describe the woman who had been staying with them for the past two weeks.
Catherine and Lisette had arrived for what had been planned as a week-long visit. Lisette had just completed her first semester at the Winnipeg Ladies Academy, and her reward for achieving top marks was a trip to Toronto. Pendrick had been pleased at the idea of renewing his friendship with the relative with whom he’d long lost contact, and Murdoch had looked forward to the possibility of expanding their circle of trusted confidants. Both delusions had faded quickly.
Although only a few years separated the cousins, Catherine Cumberland dressed and behaved as if she were a decade older. Her hair was always piled high and held more silver than its original gold; her wardrobe befit the widow she’d become over a dozen years earlier. Childless, she’d leapt at the chance to become a young lady’s legal guardian, and Murdoch foresaw a hectic round of match-making as soon as Lisette finished her schooling. Catherine was already practicing her techniques on other unmarried women of her acquaintance.
Lisette, while openly fond of her new ‘aunt’, had taken Pendrick aside soon after their arrival and begged to stay in Toronto until her school resumed session. She sincerely appreciated all that he and Catherine were doing for her, but she wasn’t sure she could live under the woman’s roof for more than a few days at a time. Whatever personal freedom Catherine had yearned for and enjoyed as a young woman had apparently slipped her mind, and it was now her goal to produce the most proper and eligible young miss she could. Lisette, the daughter of a French actress raised in New York, was used to and hoping for a broader sort of education.
So began a fortnight-long procession of dinner parties. During the day the ladies found ways to amuse themselves in the city, but faced with having to entertain them every evening, Murdoch and Pendrick took turns inviting any appropriate person they could think of to join them. Inspector Brackenreid and his wife had come one night, as had Pendrick’s solicitor and a few of his investors. Julia had come many times and sometimes brought her sister Ruby along. George Crabtree had come once, but after Catherine had caught him flirting with Lisette, the young constable was declared persona non grata. They were frankly running out of ideas for guests, although one upside of the situation was that Mary the cook was in her element and had truly outdone herself at every meal. She’d agreed to work full days while the ladies were in residence and had even been allowed to bring in a temporary assistant.
Murdoch had once suggested they invite Jeffrey Campbell to dinner, but Pendrick vetoed that idea immediately, if only to avoid awkwardness. Catherine was used to expressing her views on many subjects, and while homosexuality had yet to be among them, her every action indicated she would not approve. In her stated opinion, all men should be either married or seeking a mate, as should all women. If they couldn’t make a success of it themselves, there were plenty of people around who could guide them.
Julia had unfortunately planted herself squarely in Catherine’s sights by having become engaged again and then breaking it off a month before the wedding. Murdoch had met her intended, a doctor specializing in eye injuries, and although he would not have voiced it in a million years, the man reminded him in many ways of Darcy Garland, Julia’s first husband. The optometric surgeon was tall, thin, dark-haired, well-connected and ambitious. They appeared to be an ideal couple, just as Julia and Darcy had at first. When Julia suddenly announced the betrothal over after three months, Murdoch suspected he wasn’t the only one of her friends who’d breathed a sigh of relief. He wished her only happiness, not another taxing divorce.
“I’ve invited Jerold Simmons to dinner tomorrow,” Pendrick mentioned. “We’ve met twice now and he seems qualified to manage my workshop. If he can make it through dinner with Catherine, I’ll hire him.”
Murdoch had also met the man and thought him quite capable. “He’s a good choice. Too old for Lisette and not highly educated enough for Julia.”
Pendrick’s lips quirked. “Those aren’t the qualities I’m concerned with, but point taken.” He went on smoothly, “I only hope the churches have invested in some insurance. Otherwise they’ll be dependent on donations from their members to rebuild.”
Murdoch had also seen Catherine, Julia, Ruby and Lisette come into the music room. The ladies joined them on the terrace, where the gentlemen gallantly surrendered their seats. The evening air was still mild, and several small lamps strung around the perimeter cast enough light to make the area respectable for mixed company to sit and chat.
“They can expect contributions from the Diocese,” Murdoch pointed out, “but there won’t be much to go around with three churches needing to be rebuilt at the same time.”
“Were you discussing this rash of church arsons?” Julia asked at once. “You’re not involved in the investigation, are you, William?”
“No. There’s been no one injured or killed, so it’s not my area,” Murdoch said. He’d asked Brackenreid’s permission to lend his assistance since the three churches struck so far were all Roman Catholic, but the inspector had to turn him down, even when the most recent fire had occurred in his district. “There are good men on the case.”
“You have no inside information at all?” Ruby inquired. “I was hoping to get an interview with you.”
“I’m sorry, I know no more than you do.”
“Could you introduce me to one of the investigating officers?”
Murdoch had had this sort of conversation with Ruby before. Her career as a journalist was doing quite well, but she was always seeking a new, sensational story and inevitably considered him a source. “You already know everyone at station four.”
“Yes, but they’ve all been ordered not to talk to me,” Ruby said with a pretty pout. As she spoke she calmly pulled a cigarette out of her handbag and lit it. “Your Inspector Brackenreid doesn’t trust me to tell the God’s honest truth.” She took a puff, then widened her eyes at their stares. “I’m sorry. Would anyone like a Sweet Caporal?”
“A what?” Catherine asked.
“Ruby!” Julia exclaimed.
“I’d like to try one,” Lisette said.
Murdoch exchanged a glance with Pendrick and followed him quietly into the house.
They didn’t stop till they’d reached the library, the one room designated off-limits to guests. With the door securely closed, they relaxed again.
Murdoch broke the silence. “Coward.”
The other laughed and picked up a billiard cue. Now that the library had been renovated to include what had once been the east parlor, there was room for two desks, one contraption, a thousand books and the return of the billiard table. “I was not about to be drawn into that discussion. I don’t care if Ruby chooses to smoke. Whether Lisette takes up the habit is Catherine’s problem.”
“We left Julia in the middle of it.”
“I’m sure she has an opinion and is willing to share it.”
Murdoch hesitated, but he really didn’t want to be forced to take a side. He personally thought Ruby had only started smoking because it was the trendy thing for a progressive young woman to do, and the reactions she’d gotten were exactly what she’d been looking for.
They played billiards until voices in the foyer signaled Julia and Ruby’s readiness to leave. Murdoch immediately grabbed his hat and accompanied them to the carriage, leaving Pendrick to field any comments his cousin might offer on the evening’s developments. As the carriage pulled up the drive, Murdoch could swear he heard a voice call after him, “Coward!”
Next morning Murdoch left early for church as usual. It was a long bicycle ride but he made it willingly, glad that he had a place to go that didn’t condemn him. His tenure in the Catholic Church could so easily have ended in despair, and Father Lanahan was permanently in his prayers for being the kind and tolerant man he was. Saint Joseph’s could be in the next province and he would happily make the trip each week.
It had taken a couple of years, but these days Murdoch was sociable with a number of the other church members, and he no longer sat by himself on a side aisle. His introduction had much to do with one Rory Malone, a man he’d met about six months earlier while conducting an investigation. Six days of the week Malone was on the wrong side of the law, but on Sundays he seemed to feel that all were created equal, and he’d begun greeting Murdoch upon arriving at church as if they were old acquaintances. Over time he’d struck up conversations, introduced him to his family, and eventually drew him into a wider circle of parishioners who apparently didn’t care that they were fraternizing with a crime boss. They made Murdoch welcome, and after some internal debate, he decided it was doing no harm. Malone never seemed to wonder why Murdoch attended services at Saint Joseph’s, so Murdoch chose not to rock the boat.
After today’s service, Murdoch lingered to invite Father Lanahan to dinner later in the week. He’d long wanted Pendrick to meet the priest, and having others present at the meal would prevent any discomfort. However, when Murdoch reached the father’s side, he was engrossed in a conversation that made Murdoch’s ears prick up.
“I heard he was a vagrant,” one gentleman was saying. “Father Clyde used to let him sleep in the basement of the church, but no one knew he was there that night.”
“I heard that Father Clyde hired him to guard the place after the first two fires, but he got drunk and passed out,” another man said.
“I heard he was so badly burned they couldn’t identify him,” a third man said.
Father Lanahan saw Murdoch join them and placed a hand on his shoulder. “William, there’s a story going around that a man was killed in the most recent fire. Do you know whether it’s true?”
“There was no mention of it yesterday. I haven’t been to my station today,” Murdoch said. The group was eyeing him expectantly, the priest in obvious distress. “I’ll need to check in, because if it is true, it happened in my district. Please excuse me.”
He headed straight for Station No. 4. The fire in question had occurred Friday night, and as of Saturday when he’d left work, there had been no discovery of a body. As much as he’d wanted to get involved in the investigation, he hoped the rumors were just that.
As soon as he arrived, he knew they were not. Constable Crabtree followed him to his office, talking rapidly before Murdoch could even remove his hat and coat.
“The firemen didn’t search the basement until the debris had cooled,” he reported, “so no one knew the man was down there till this morning. Well, we assume the body is that of a man. Dr. Ogden is on her way in now to examine the remains. The priest at Saint Helen’s couldn’t say who it was. He’s taking a poll of his flock at this very moment to determine if anyone is missing. We sent someone to the house for you, but you’d already left for church -”
“It was at church that I heard about it,” Murdoch broke in. “Did they find any new evidence in the basement? Any indication that this man might have been the intended target?”
“No, but by the time they found him they’d already begun clearing -”
“Murdoch, it’s your case now,” Brackenreid interrupted from the doorway. He looked somber and not just because he too had been called in on a Sunday. “Careful what you wish for, my boy.”
“Stations two and five have sent over their files, because you’ll be leading the investigation. Talk to the men who’ve been working the case and get up to speed. I’ll want updates as soon as possible.”
He handed over several folders as Murdoch and Crabtree hurried by him on the way to the morgue. Between them, they had time to read all the documentation before Julia showed up, and then time to read it again while she examined the desiccated corpse on her table.
“They’ve scoured the sites of the first two fires,” Crabtree said, “and didn’t find any bodies. I suppose it’s possible the arsonist didn’t know anyone was inside the third one.”
“That or he didn’t care,” Murdoch agreed. He watched as Julia carefully peeled back layer after layer of charred flesh; it was clearly going to take a while to learn anything useful.
“Their best guess is that the arsonist used common household kerosene as an accelerant. He may even have used each church’s own store of kerosene, in which case there’s no chance of tracing it, even if it were easy to trace...” Crabtree suddenly stopped restating what they both already knew and swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, Sir, I need to get some air.”
“Of course.” Murdoch had been so mesmerized by Julia’s work he hadn’t noticed that the constable was turning green. “Wait for me at the station, George.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Julia glanced up as Crabtree exited quickly, then beckoned Murdoch over. She’d reached the corpse’s internal organs and had opened the relevant ones.
“This was a male,” she stated, “in his fifties or older. There’s a great deal of damage to his lungs, so I would surmise that he died of smoke inhalation before the fire reached him.” She met Murdoch’s eyes. “I would also surmise that he was passed out at the time. There’s still evidence of a large quantity of alcohol in his stomach.”
“Is there any chance that he was the arsonist?” Murdoch asked. It had been his first thought and greatest hope since he’d heard of the death, because it would mean that the string of fires was over and that an innocent person hadn’t been killed.
Julia looked at her subject then back at him. “I’m sorry, William, I have no way of determining that from the remains.” He nodded. “I’ll keep looking, and if I find anything that can help identify him, I’ll notify you.”
By late afternoon Murdoch had gathered at Station No. 4 a squad consisting of all the officers who’d been involved in each of the recent incidents. As a group they went over every detail until each man knew the particulars of all three cases. Murdoch made good use of his chalkboard, listing differences and similarities between the three fires and insisting each point be analyzed. One by one the policemen drifted out in exasperation, but by the time Murdoch was done, he knew as much about the arsonist and crime scenes as if he’d visited them himself.
When he set down his chalk, he was startled to see that it was long past dinner time. The only other person in the room was Crabtree, who’d been valiantly trying to hide his yawns for the last hour.
“We’ll resume tomorrow, George,” Murdoch told him. “Go get a good night’s rest.”
“You too, Sir. Oh.” Crabtree held out a slip of paper. “Mr. Pendrick called around six o’clock.”
The note simply said that the household knew why he was delayed and they would not be holding dinner for him. Murdoch, reading between Pendrick’s lines, knew that his partner was assuring him that he’d wait up for him no matter how late so that they could rehash the case together.
“Thank you, George,” Murdoch said with a private smile. Crabtree frowned, as if wondering if he’d written something he hadn’t meant to, then merely yawned again and left.
Murdoch got home to a silent and mostly dark house. The ladies’ bed chambers were at the back so he couldn’t tell if they were still awake, but as long as they stayed back there, he didn’t care. He wearily went up to his room and locked the door. Although Pendrick was in his own bedroom, he came through as soon as Murdoch went in, and embraced him.
“I missed you at dinner,” he said. “Have you eaten?”
“I think so.” Murdoch vaguely remembered Higgins passing food around the meeting room, and he was pretty sure he’d nibbled something. “You know what’s happened?”
“Yes, one of your constables explained when he came by this morning looking for you. Have you made any progress?”
“Not as such. I’ve caught up to where I would have been if I’d been in charge from the beginning.”
“Do you think the killing was intentional?” Pendrick carefully removed Murdoch’s hat and jacket, then loosened and pulled off his tie. “Could the first two fires have been a diversion to make the police think the death at the third was an accident?”
“I’m considering it,” Murdoch admitted, “but that sort of a diversion would have required more pre-planning than seems to have been involved. None of the fires were terribly complex. My first impression is that they were started in the heat of the moment, so to speak, rather than in cold blood. I’m not even sure the arsonist brought the accelerant with him.”
Pendrick unbuttoned Murdoch’s shirt and slipped it off his shoulders. “Spur of the moment arson? Someone came upon a church and decided to burn it? That would indicate either a strong hatred for Catholics or an indiscriminate need to start fires.”
“Both are possibilities, although I’m leaning towards the former.” Murdoch suddenly noticed that Pendrick had stripped him to his shorts. Usually he realized what his lover was doing and stopped him before then. Depending on how much fondling was involved, they might make love next, or they might just go to sleep. The lack of fondling tonight told Murdoch that Pendrick simply knew he’d had a long day and would have a longer tomorrow.
“This one really bothers you,” his lover observed, physically backing him towards the bed until Murdoch had no choice but to sit down. “Because it is your faith being attacked?”
“Yes, but also because it seems so random. There are dozens of Catholic churches in Toronto, and we don’t know why these three were chosen. Some of the other parishes have asked for volunteers to watch over their premises at night, but we don’t know if more churches will be targeted or when. We can’t even be certain that churches from other denominations won’t be burned.”
Pendrick stripped himself even more efficiently that he had his partner, then joined him under the covers. “You haven’t found anything that the three churches have in common?”
“No, we’ve compared lists of attendees, but there are no common names. The parishes aren’t adjacent. And you’ve left the light on.” Murdoch waited for the other to open his eyes. “Sorry.”
They’d taken to leaving both lavatory doors open in hopes they’d hear if one of their houseguests found a reason to come wake her host in the middle of the night, and Pendrick had as usual forgotten to turn off the lamp in his room. With a sigh, he went to douse it, then hurried back.
“How did dinner go?” Murdoch asked, finally able to tear his mind from the case.
“It went rather well,” Pendrick said. “I’ve hired Jerold.”
“That’s good news.”
“He has some ideas for the workshop that I might explore. For instance, he’s been experimenting with light bulbs, using different types of gas inside them to achieve greater burning time, even colors.”
“Colored light bulbs? I’ve read about those. They’re supposed to be quite festive.”
“Indeed, although too expensive to mass produce and impractical for most purposes. Still, I look forward to seeing where he takes his research once the shop is finished.” Pendrick turned to kiss Murdoch quickly on the cheek before resettling beside him. “Sleep well, my dear. Perhaps you’ll have an inspiration in your dreams.”
Murdoch prayed that an inspiration was the only thing that occurred over night.
His prayers weren’t answered, not even close.
When Murdoch arrived at the station next morning, he was greeted by long faces: another church had been burned to the ground. When he heard which one, Murdoch sat down hard on the nearest bench.
“Hell, man, was Saint Joseph’s your church?” Brackenreid exclaimed, eyes round. “Why do you attend way over in Leslieville?” He didn’t pause for an answer. “I’ll send the men over to the site while you get yourself to City Hospital. The priest apparently went into the wreckage this morning to find some relic or other and had the bad luck to be standing by a wall when it collapsed.”
Murdoch was out the door before the inspector finished speaking.
He was vastly relieved to find Father Lanahan awake in his hospital bed and talking to a half dozen or so of his parishioners who’d come to pay their respects. Other than a large bandage covering the top half of his head, he didn’t look injured, and his face lit up when he saw Murdoch enter the room.
“Could you please give us some privacy?” Murdoch asked the crowd in general. He flipped his lapel to display his badge. “I need to talk to Father Lanahan about the fire.”
While they left eagerly to spread this new kernel of gossip that one of their own flock was investigating, Murdoch sat down beside the bed.
“I’m so sorry,” he began.
Tears came to the old man’s eyes, but he ignored them. “I’ll be fine, my son, and the church was just a pile of brick and mortar. A well-loved pile, I’ll grant you, but she can be rebuilt.”
“Were you able to find the relic you went in to get?”
“Relic?” He shook his head, then winced. “To non-Catholics, I suppose every church item is a relic. I went inside to get the parish registry. The fire was out, and it seemed safe enough.” He gestured in satisfaction at the bedside table where a large, badly singed book sat. “I found it.”
“Can you tell me anything about last night? What time did you leave the church?”
Father Lanahan had retired to his residence around ten o’clock. He’d planned to sit up in a rocker at a window facing Saint Joseph’s in order to keep watch for anyone up to no good, but by midnight he’d fallen asleep. The first he knew of trouble was when he heard the bells clanging as the fire wagon pulled up. By then the church was ablaze. According to the fire brigade, entry had been gained via a broken window on the other side of the church, so Father Lanahan might not have seen the arsonist even if he were wide awake.
“I saw no one other than a few of the neighbors come to watch the show,” he said sadly. “Thank the Lord I know for a fact that there was no one inside. I searched every room and locked every door and window before I left, for all the good that did.”
“I’m sorry to have to ask you this, Father, but can you think of anyone who might wish you or Saint Joseph’s harm? Anyone you’ve had an altercation with? Have you received threats of any sort?”
“Nothing serious enough to lead to this.”
Murdoch had to phrase his next query carefully. “Have you heard in confession of any act that might cause the confessor to later change his mind and decide he can’t risk you knowing of it?” Father Lanahan pursed his lips in disapproval, but Murdoch was well aware of his strictures. “I’m not asking you to reveal the act, Father, or the confessor. I just need to know whether it’s a possible avenue to explore. Could your life be in danger for a reason such as that?”
“No.” The priest shook his head decisively, and winced again. “Nothing of the sort.”
“All right. Thank you, Father. I’ll leave you to rest now.”
Murdoch clasped his hand in farewell, then turned to find they had an audience. Rory Malone stood in the doorway where he’d evidently been for several minutes. He was as well-dressed as he always was in church and carried a bible. When Murdoch would have merely nodded politely as he passed by, Malone trailed him into the corridor.
“I hope your ‘possible avenue to explore’ wasn’t in reference to me,” he said amiably.
Murdoch met his eyes, honestly able to assure him it wasn’t, and was again disconcerted by the man’s colorless gaze. “No, I have to follow all lines of inquiry. I’ll be asking the other three priests the same question.”
“Surely you don’t expect an answer?”
Actually, his question was meant to elicit a response, not a direct reply. Murdoch hoped to gage by each priest’s level of tension whether there was any reason to pursue that angle. “Even so.”
“Have you been by Saint Joseph’s yet?”
“I’m going there next.”
“Allow me to give you a ride.”
Malone had gone into Father Lanahan’s room to leave the bible and make his apologies before Murdoch could protest. When the taller man came out, he led the way to his carriage without giving Murdoch a chance to decline, and since it would certainly be quicker than going by bicycle, Murdoch surrendered.
Saint Joseph’s was unrecognizable as the church it had once been. Murdoch crossed himself automatically at first sight of the blackened timbers and water-soaked rubble, because it truly seemed as if a living spirit had been lost. Not one wall stood, and Murdoch marveled that Father Lanahan had risked going inside what must have been a catastrophe waiting to happen. A handful of firemen still poked at the ashes and debris, but there couldn’t be much left to salvage.
Where he felt sorrow, the man beside him apparently felt only anger.
“You’d better find the bastard, Detective Murdoch, before I do,” Malone muttered, large fists clenched.
“If you interfere with my investigation, I will arrest you,” Murdoch reminded him sharply. “Give me time to do my job, Mr. Malone.”
“If he burns another church, if he so much as tries, you won’t be able to protect him. I promise you that.”
“And I promise you that I’ll find the person responsible before it reaches that point.”
“You and your people have done naught so far.”
“That is not true.”
They were facing each other down now, oblivious to anyone else in the vicinity. Malone had opened his mouth to up the ante, when a female voice interrupted.
“The male bull in his natural habitat,” Ruby remarked loudly, strolling over while pulling a little notebook out of her handbag. “I can’t wait to see which one charges first.”
Murdoch recovered himself in time to turn to her with a glare. “Miss Ogden, what are you doing here?” He noted the young man she was with and gave an internal groan; they’d only met once but he guessed how Julia would react to hearing who her sister was consorting with. “This is a crime scene.”
“And I’m a crime reporter,” Ruby announced. “May I get that interview now?”
Malone meanwhile had turned to his nephew with a similar scowl. “I told you to wait for me at home.”
Ryan Malone didn’t look worried. He was as handsome as his uncle, and from what Murdoch had seen of him at Sunday services, cocky enough to disobey orders and likely to find Ruby’s antics amusing. Murdoch foresaw nothing but trouble deriving from their association.
“I don’t have time for an interview,” he told Ruby. “The investigation has barely begun.”
“Excellent. I’ll have a chance to watch you at work.”
“That will not be possible.” Murdoch glanced around, wishing Crabtree were at hand to waft her away; he was so adept, and so experienced, at it. “I must ask you to leave, Miss Ogden.” She opened her mouth, but he raised a hand, predicting what argument she was about to voice. “Mr. Malone and his nephew will also be leaving. My men will arrive at any moment, and we need the site to be uncontaminated while we process it.”
“Surely the presence of one little lady won’t taint any evidence waiting to be found,” the younger Malone said with a gleaming smile and what Murdoch was certain was an exaggerated Irish accent. Ruby batted her eyelashes and tried to look harmless. The elder Malone was starting to seethe again, and the firemen had wandered over to see what the fuss was about. Murdoch was tempted to place the lot of them under arrest for interference in a police investigation.
“Sir!” Constable Crabtree suddenly called, bicycling over the grass at a fast pace. “I’m sorry we’re so late. I didn’t realize how far Leslieville is from the station.” He rode smoothly between Murdoch and Ruby, and dismounted with a quick nod in her direction. “The rest of the lads came by carriage, but they parked on the other side of the churchyard. Ah, there they are.”
Murdoch turned to see his squad approaching the ruins of Saint Joseph’s from the street beyond. In no time they’d cordoned off the site and convinced the firemen and any other onlookers, including both Malones, to clear the area. Crabtree moved eagerly to escort Ruby away, and Murdoch was near enough to see the bewilderment on his face when she chose to leave on Ryan’s arm instead.
“I hope I didn’t offend Miss Ogden,” he began uncertainly, watching her leave.
“No, George. Any offense she’s taken can be laid at my door,” Murdoch assured him.
Together they went over to what was left of his church and began to sift for clues.
Despite the efforts of his team, they found nothing to point them toward a suspect. The window had most likely been broken with one of the rocks edging the pathway, and there was no way to determine what had taken place inside the church after entry. For all Murdoch knew the fires could have been set to cover robberies, although none of the priests claimed to have anything of monetary value on the premises.
Outside the shattered window the ground was now saturated from the fire hoses, myriad shoe marks covering any that might have been left by their culprit. There were no witnesses till after the fire had grown large enough to be seen from nearby homes, and none of those reported having noticed any strangers in the area. After several fruitless hours, Murdoch was forced to conclude that they would have to find a lead via some other method than evidence collection.
Sending Crabtree back with the rest of the men to their respective stations, Murdoch borrowed his bicycle and road slowly in the direction of Station No. 4. The loss of his church had struck him as he was combing through the ashes, and he couldn’t help feeling the arsonist had wounded him personally. No matter how faithful or generous the parishioners, Saint Joseph’s could not be rebuilt in less than six months, and Murdoch’s heart ached at the thought of being unwelcome in his church even for that long.
He ended up at the morgue, where Julia had moved on to a new corpse, one that had died in a fall and therefore held few mysteries for her. She came forward as soon as Murdoch appeared.
“I’m so sorry, William!” She grasped and squeezed both his hands. “Is there anything I can do?”
“No. Thank you, Julia.” Murdoch was glad he’d come, since she was one of the few people who would understand why he was so despondent. “We’ll have to start at the beginning again. There must be some connection between the churches that we’ve missed.”
“The only connection might be the ease with which they could be set on fire without being seen,” Julia said, then looked sorry for suggesting it when Murdoch became even grimmer.
“I’ve considered that,” he admitted. “Three of the churches, including Saint Joseph’s, were in outlying areas that could be expected to be deserted at night, but one was downtown. It was pure chance that no one saw anything.” He mentally reviewed what he’d just said, a glimmer of inspiration peeking through. “In fact, that was the first church to be burned. The others could have been chosen afterwards for their locations.”
“Then for whatever reason the arsonist is doing this, it’s related in some way to the first church?”
The glimmer blossomed into a brilliant smile. Murdoch kissed her cheek, his heart rising for the first time since he’d arrived at work that day. “Yes, and it’s there we’ll find the answer.”
He spent the afternoon calling on the priests from the other three churches, saving Sacred Heart for last because it had been the first to burn. All three clergymen answered his questions readily until he brought up the possibility of confession being involved; all were more offended than alarmed however, so Murdoch didn’t really think he’d need to pursue that angle. The first two weren’t able to add anything to their previous stories, although Father Clyde had now accounted for every member of his flock. It seemed the John Doe found in Saint Helen’s basement had been an unfortunate transient.
Father Gregory of Sacred Heart was a thin, haggard man who apparently hadn’t found a reason to shave since the first fire. He looked as if he intended to shoulder the full burden of all four losses, and Murdoch found himself wishing he could reassure him. The direction of his inquiries did not make that easy.
After reviewing the priest’s statement in hopes he’d have remembered additional details, Murdoch hesitated. They were seated in the parlor at Father Gregory’s residence, a room that somehow looked as sad as its occupant. “Father, under ordinary circumstances I would never ask you to reveal what is said between you and a member of your congregation. These circumstances are anything but ordinary.”
“I cannot -”
“I’m not asking you to break the sanctity of the confessional,” Murdoch promised. “What I’d like you to do is think back over the past few months and write down for me the contents of every meeting you can recall having with anyone from your flock outside of the confessional. Every conversation, even if it doesn’t seem important. There must be something we’ve overlooked.”
Father Gregory might have shaken his head if he had the energy. “My members speak to me in confidence. They’ll lose trust if they hear that I’ve repeated their concerns to someone outside the clergy.”
“You have my word that no one but I will read it. If I discover something relevant to the investigation, only that portion will be entered into evidence.” Murdoch saw no choice but to open himself up to scrutiny. “Father, I am Roman Catholic myself, so I understand that it seems to be a gross invasion of privacy. If something I’d told to a priest in confidence were spread, I’d be…” He reflected for a moment and finished truthfully, “I’d be mortified. But we have no other clues at present, and I’m certain there is something related to Sacred Heart that will lead us to the arsonist.” When the priest merely tightened his lips in dismay, Murdoch made one more attempt. “Would you be willing to do what I’ve asked without revealing any names?”
For the first time Father Gregory brightened. “That I can do, but how would it help?”
“Please write down as much detail as you can remember. If while reading it I come across something I suspect is relevant, I’ll discuss it with you, and only if you agree that it might be worth pursuing will I ask for a name.”
Murdoch left the priest in front of a blank sheaf of paper, hopefully dredging his memory.
He returned to the station, but there were no new developments. Julia and Ruby were invited to dinner again, so he went by the morgue to collect the former, planning to swing by their house to collect the latter en route.
“Ruby will not be joining us this evening,” Julia told him once they were in a hired carriage. Since she’d become such a frequent guest, she’d stopped taking the time to change into dinner attire. No one at the Pendrick house minded her appearing in her work clothes, which were invariably elegant enough for most occasions anyway. “She’s found a new beau and begs to decline your kind invitation in favor of his.” Julia’s smile said that wasn’t quite how Ruby had phrased her apology. “What is it?”
Murdoch hadn’t known he’d winced. “I believe I know who her new beau is, and he isn’t the wisest choice.”
“We’re talking about Ruby,” she reminded him, still smiling. “When have any of her choices been wise?”
“Rory Malone has a nephew,” Murdoch said, and described their meeting that morning as Julia lost her amusement. She was silent for a moment when he finished, then clearly decided to be optimistic about it.
“My sister is a grown woman,” she stated. “This isn’t her first ill-advised liaison, and I’m sure it won’t be her last. I trust her not to become involved in anything illegal; beyond that, how much trouble can she get herself into?”
Murdoch preferred to consider that a rhetorical question.
Pendrick had heard about the latest fire, and as soon as he could he took Murdoch aside to commiserate. “I’m so sorry, my dear,” he said, embracing him quickly. “Will Father Lanahan be all right”?”
“Yes, I expect they’ll release him from the hospital tomorrow.” Murdoch couldn’t help sounding glum.
“What does a priest do when he loses his church? Will he hold services at a different location?”
“I’m sure other priests will offer him the opportunity, and his parishioners will be welcome anywhere.”
Pendrick met his eyes in understanding. “But he may not be available for confession.”
“Most likely not, and it isn’t customary to request a specific priest. I may have to forego confession until Saint Joseph’s is rebuilt.”
“Perhaps Father Lanahan could recommend another priest who shares his tolerance, one who still has a church.”
“That’s possible.” Murdoch lingered within his arms for another minute, then ordered himself to stop dwelling on it. “How was your day?”
“Good. I’ve been looking into the feasibility of installing central heating in the workshop. The convection method we use in the house won’t work because there won’t be a basement, so I’m exploring other ideas.”
They took their discussion into the dining room, where the ladies were just sitting down. Mary’s assistant Gerta had laid out the meal, and Pendrick did the honors of serving. Since both Julia and Catherine were curious about his work, the conversation continued regarding the construction of his shop, then segued into what would be needed to rebuild Saint Joseph’s, then into the latest news of the investigation. Lisette didn’t have a lot to contribute, but she listened with friendly interest and Murdoch was reminded again why they’d agreed to her request to stay.
Afterwards Julia pleaded fatigue in order to leave early. Murdoch drove her home, in better spirits than he’d been on the way over, although he didn’t imagine that would last.
Back at the house he found Pendrick and Catherine sitting on the back terrace talking about the various ways she and Lisette had been spending their days.
“We’ve seen all the recommended sights,” Catherine was saying, pausing to acknowledge Murdoch with a nod as he joined them. “We’ve shopped, we’ve seen shows, we’ve been to museums. Frankly I’m running out of ways to entertain the girl. She has boundless energy.”
Murdoch suspected that wasn’t true, or Lisette wouldn’t have retired so early. She very likely considered herself responsible for entertaining Catherine. “Perhaps a day trip to Montreal?”
“Or perhaps Julia could suggest some activities,” Pendrick added. “She keeps abreast of any lecturers who come to Toronto: authors, artists, professors. There might be someone in town who will appeal to you and Lisette.”
“That’s true,” Murdoch said. “Julia could be busy every night of the week if she wished.”
Catherine looked from one to the other. “I’m glad to hear you both speak so highly of Julia. I feel I’ve gotten to know her quite well over the last two weeks, and it’s apparent to me that she is lonely. Let me finish.” She forestalled their protests, whether there would have been any or not. “Julia Ogden is an exemplary woman, and she needs an exemplary man. Someone who will challenge her intellect, without challenging her independence. I think I have found the perfect candidate.”
“You have?” Pendrick asked. He and Murdoch exchanged a confused glance.
She shook her head at their obtuseness. “James, I am referring to you of course.”
“Clearly you are in need of someone in your life to replace that dreadful Sally.”
Murdoch cleared his throat, then looked away quickly to avoid having to explain what had made him choke. His partner seemed to be choosing his next words very carefully.
“Catherine, I thought you’d given up interfering in my romantic life years ago,” he said tightly.
“I would if you had a romantic life to interfere in,” Catherine retorted. “It’s all very well to be obsessed with your work, but you need a partner to share it with. Julia would be ideal. She is an extremely intelligent woman who could undoubtedly inspire you to even greater accomplishments. You in turn are progressive enough to allow her to make her own choices and pursue her own career.” She sat back as if she’d won the debate. “I’m sure William would agree with me.”
Murdoch opened his mouth, but Pendrick didn’t let him put his foot in it.
“William knows Julia better than any of us, and I predict he would disagree. If Julia had any interest in me, she would have demonstrated it by now.”
“Why do you suppose she foregoes other engagements to come to dinner so often?” Catherine asked.
“Because she is a good friend of ours.”
“Nonsense. Men and women aren’t friends unless there is some romantic interest on one side or the other.”
Murdoch again started to speak, reluctant to admit to his failed relationship with Julia but unwilling to let his partner fight a losing battle. Pendrick again spoke first.
“That is nonsense,” he told her. “Men and women today can be friends and colleagues without any ulterior motive. You’re living in the wrong century.”
“And you’re living in a dream world if you think you can win back that woman you married!” Catherine stood up, a bit flushed. “It’s time to move on, James! Find someone good for you, who will love you for who you are!”
She swept majestically into the house, leaving Pendrick and Murdoch in speechless frustration.
After a few moments, Murdoch let out his breath. “You never told her the truth about Sally.”
“There didn’t seem to be a point.”
“We’ll have to tell her about us.”
Pendrick closed his eyes. “I’d forgotten till now why I stopped corresponding with her.”
“We’ll have to tell -”
“I heard you. She may insist they leave at once.”
“If we don’t, she’ll insist on throwing you and Julia together.”
“We could warn Julia.”
“It’s not fair to expect her to go along with our lie.”
“Then we may have to think up a different one to explain why Julia and I are not suitable.”
Murdoch faced him, puzzled. “Do you believe Catherine would have us arrested if she knew?”
“Not deliberately, but the woman isn’t exactly subtle in her opinions. If she knew about us her behavior would change, and others would notice. Sooner or later, our secret would be out.”
Murdoch had to accept his interpretation of their predicament. He wasn’t yet willing to test it.
Next morning he stopped by Father Gregory’s residence on the way to work. When the father met him at the door with a thick envelope of papers, Murdoch’s mood instantly lifted.
“That’s the first month,” the priest told him. His eyes were as bloodshot as if he’d been up all night. “You said to go back three months, didn’t you? I’m working on the second month now.”
“It will take me a while to go through these, Father. Get some rest.” Murdoch read stubbornness on the man’s pale face. “You don’t want to miss something due to lack of sleep.”
Father Gregory nodded reluctantly. “I’ll nap for a bit and have the next month ready for you this afternoon.”
“That will be fine.”
Murdoch took the papers to the station and closed himself into his office. He needed to give them his full, undivided attention.
Two hours later he was longing for a distraction. Father Gregory was nothing if not thorough, and he appeared to have gone through not only his datebook but his roster of church members and written down in scrupulous anonymity every interaction he’d had over the course of the month. His memory was excellent for a man of his age, and his penmanship thankfully good. Murdoch now knew that eleven of Sacred Heart’s congregation had children who tended to skip school, six of the wives had difficulties with their mother-in-laws, and eight of the men were prone to drink too much. Most of the rest of the priest’s writings were along the same lines, and Murdoch was forced to start keeping a running tally on a separate sheet. He had no way to determine whether any of the concerns he was reading about were connected to any others, and by lunchtime was wondering whether this was a waste of time. There were no other leads however, so he kept at it and was gratified to learn that three of the congregation had missed services the previous week in order to attend a football match.
There was one disruption during the afternoon when Constable Crabtree returned from a short break wrinkled and scuffed. He was pressing a handkerchief to his left eye and had the bad luck to literally run into Brackenreid as he tried to duck into the gents. Murdoch, aware of chortling coming from the main room, looked out in time to hear the inspector lay into Crabtree for disrespecting his uniform. Crabtree was sent to clean up and change into the spare one he kept at the station.
“That’s what I was attempting to do when he saw me,” he complained to Murdoch later, his eye a swollen and vibrant purple. Murdoch had called him into his office to give him respite from his colleagues’ teasing. “Far be it from me to disrespect my uniform, Sir. I didn’t intend to get into fisticuffs while wearing it.”
“I was fighting for the honor of a lady.”
“Would that lady’s name be Ruby, by chance?”
“I see you know the situation.” Crabtree was perfectly serious. “Sir, I didn’t realize it at the time, but those men at the site of the fire yesterday were none other than Rory and Ryan Malone.” Murdoch nodded solemnly. “Well, I could hardly let Miss Ogden associate with a criminal. I met her in Queen’s Park this afternoon to warn her. Unfortunately, she failed to mention that Ryan Malone was waiting for her nearby. He overheard my warning and took umbrage.”
“And you had to settle the matter with your fists?”
Crabtree managed to look sheepish even with only one eye. “I wasn’t expecting it, Sir. Malone got the first punch in, then while I was getting up, Miss Ogden convinced him to leave with her.”
Murdoch hadn’t the heart to point out that Crabtree’s idea of fisticuffs hadn’t involved him landing a single blow. “It’s just as well, George. You clearly had an unfair advantage, being a policeman. How would it have looked for a uniformed constable to knock down a civilian?”
Murdoch sent him over to Sacred Heart to pick up Father Gregory’s next batch of papers, then went over to the morgue to give Julia an update on her sister’s activities. She listened to his description of the one-sided battle with a sigh.
“I haven’t had a chance to say anything to her,” she said. “She got in very late last night and wasn’t awake when I left this morning.”
“Hopefully she’ll remember George’s gallantry if and when she loses interest in Malone.”
“If not, I’ll remind her. How is the investigation proceeding?”
Murdoch didn’t have much to report. He meant to read every word Father Gregory provided, but he no longer hoped for enlightenment. Julia seemed to share his discouragement.
The next month worth of writings was more of the same, and Murdoch spent the rest of the day going through them, adding to his tally sheet. He now knew that two of the younger members of the congregation were suspected of spiking the holy wine, seven others hadn’t been able to donate when the plate was passed, and three more were expecting children they weren’t prepared for. He’d begun to wonder how Father Gregory kept all their circumstances straight.
Around six o’clock Higgins came in with a message from Pendrick. It merely said, ‘It’s not an emergency, but you’re needed at the house as soon as possible.’
Baffled, Murdoch decided that the third month could wait till next day.
He got home to find Pendrick in the ballroom going through their recordings. When Murdoch walked in, the man came forward with a welcoming smile and kissed Murdoch full on the mouth, something he hadn’t done outside their bedroom since his relations had descended upon them.
“Julia has given us a priceless gift,” Pendrick declared. “She has taken Catherine and Lisette to a meeting of a women’s suffrage group. They will be out all evening.”
Murdoch couldn’t help grinning too. “All evening? We have the house to ourselves?”
“She’s promised they won’t get back till after ten o’clock, so I’ve given Mary and Gerta the night off.”
Their next kiss occurred spontaneously and lasted quite a while, only breaking off when Murdoch recalled he was still wearing his hat. He removed it and his jacket, then noticed the glint in his lover’s eye.
“Which recording were you about to play?”
“That new tango, El Choclo. Are you ready to attempt it?”
“I am if you are.”
They’d been practicing the tango on and off for months. Murdoch was still uncertain on some of the intricate step-work, but Pendrick was patient. They’d reached the point of being able to complete an entire dance without stumbling right around the time Catherine and Lisette had arrived, and hadn’t had an opportunity to practice since.
El Choclo was the most romantic piece they owned, and Murdoch soon discovered that taking a recess from lessons was just what he’d needed. He didn’t care how graceful their dance looked; he only cared that it felt smooth and sensual, the moves bringing their lower bodies into far more intimate contact than a waltz. By the time they finished, he and Pendrick were ready to combust right there on the floor.
“Dinner?” Pendrick asked, barely moving his lips from Murdoch’s throat.
“Me,” Murdoch gasped.
“Did you lock the door?”
“I don’t know.”
They fell across one of the divans and dispensed with most of their clothing as rapidly as possible. Murdoch was as hard as if he hadn’t had sex in weeks, which wasn’t actually the case; they just hadn’t dared have loud, uninhibited sex in that long. Tonight they threw caution to the wind and brought each other to climax with shouts of ecstasy that echoed around the ballroom. Afterwards they collapsed in a half-clad heap, breathless and limp.
Murdoch was the first to recover the power of speech. “That was… We’re not done, are we?”
Pendrick had resumed tenderly kissing his neck. “Is it ten o’clock?”
“Then need you ask?”
“Yes.” Murdoch’s other appetite suddenly re-awoke, and for the next hour they satisfied their hunger with the taste and scent of each other. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed being able to meld together and forget the rest of the world existed. It was a sensation almost as intense as having sex and what he privately thought of as making love, whether or not orgasm was reached.
When they finally sat down to dinner, the food was cold and they didn’t even notice. They soon abandoned it in order to go upstairs to their bed, this time coming together slowly and with much attention paid to each other’s pleasure. For Murdoch, being entered and deliberately stroked with long, languid thrusts was like being married all over again. He no longer left gouges in his lover’s back when they did this, but he frequently left teeth marks on Pendrick’s shoulders when he came. Pendrick never complained.
At last, spent and weary, they fell asleep wrapped in each other arms.
Next morning Murdoch rode by Father Gregory’s residence to pick up the last of his papers. The priest appeared better rested today, perhaps because he’d done all he could toward identifying the arsonist. The ball was now in Murdoch’s court.
His next stop was at a flower stand near the station where he purchased a small bouquet of violets. He presented them to Julia as soon as she arrived at the morgue.
“I thought these would brighten your work area,” he said with a smile he couldn’t hide. He felt energized and optimistic today, partly thanks to her.
Julia’s eyes twinkled. “What a nice surprise.”
“You and the others had an enjoyable evening, I hope?”
“Very enjoyable. Catherine actually spoke to the group for a few minutes. I didn’t realize she’s been active in the suffrage movement in Manitoba. She was able to share some insight into their struggles.”
“I wish we’d thought of it sooner.”
“Yes, I can see it was just what everyone needed.”
Murdoch felt himself start to blush at that point, so he excused himself with a bow and went on to the station.
He spent the morning perusing Father Gregory’s writings with renewed enthusiasm. In the past month, Sacred Heart’s parishioners had been very active in seeking their priest’s counsel, mostly regarding births, deaths and marriages. Two young women had to arrange nuptials on short notice due to romantic indiscretions. One gentleman had to bury his wife when she succumbed to complications during childbirth. Three older church members were forced to allow their married children to remain living with them for lack of funds to set up separate households.
His only interruption was an unwelcome one: Murdoch received a note around lunchtime from Rory Malone reminding him that time was running out. Till now the arsonist had struck every two or three nights, and there was every chance the coming night would see another church burned. Murdoch didn’t respond, angry at the man’s effrontery, but also worried that he might be right.
Mid-afternoon he called Crabtree into his office and explained what he’d been doing. He’d promised Father Gregory that only he would read his papers, but he was getting bogged down in irrelevant detail and needed a fresh pair of eyes. Crabtree’s single one would have to do.
“George, I’d like you to read through the notes I’ve taken and look for anything that could conceivably be considered a motive for revenge against the Catholic Church, or even just against a priest. Essentially, anything that might be worth following up on.”
Crabtree looked at the notes he’d been given in comparison to the sheaf of papers Murdoch had in front of him. “May I make notes on your notes, Sir?”
He delved right in while Murdoch returned to his own work. After an hour or so of scribbling, pencil chewing and staring into space, Crabtree turned to him with a frown.
“Detective Murdoch, am I correct in assuming that the burning of a church would be one of the most heinous acts a Catholic could commit?”
“Then it stands to reason that the incident that triggered the desire to burn a church must be equally serious. Out of everything you’ve listed here, the only incidents serious enough would be those related to a death in the family, and there are only six of those.”
Murdoch saw his reasoning. “Go on.”
“Of those six, one was an elderly woman who’d been ill. Father Gregory performed last rites, so I’m guessing her passing wasn’t unexpected. One was the death of a small child as a result of pneumonia. One was an accidental death, a mishap with a carriage. One was during childbirth. Only two were questionable, a man who apparently drank himself to death, and a woman who somehow electrocuted herself in her own kitchen.”
“Which leads you to conclude what?”
“I have no idea.”
Crabtree began to squirm under Murdoch’s stare, but Murdoch wasn’t seeing him; he’d been correct that he’d become mired in too much information. No one in the congregation had pointed fingers after the fire, and if none of them suspected their neighbor of any wrong-doing beforehand, it must have taken a life-altering event to make him or her angry enough to destroy one church, much less four. Little short of a needless death would have done so, ergo one of the six deaths was not what it seemed.
“George, your help has been invaluable,” he said suddenly. “I need to visit Father Gregory again.”
The priest received him eagerly, still at loose ends without a church to tend. His memory came in handy again: for each death Murdoch listed, Father Gregory had a ready explanation.
“Yes, that was the mother of one of my oldest parishioners. She was seventy-nine and had been bed-ridden for years. It was a mercy that her heart finally gave out… The child was two years old and not very robust. Weak lungs run in the family, I understand. All three children contracted pneumonia, and it was a wonder only the youngest died. The parents were thankful the other two survived, because it was touch and go for a while… The carriage accident was certainly a needless tragedy. Something spooked a horse and it got away from its handler. My parishioner was crossing the road, not paying attention, and was struck down. Died on the street, I’m sorry to say. He wasn’t a family man, so the church ended up paying for his burial… The young mother was a sad story. She left behind four other children, all under the age of seven. Her husband was distraught, but someone told me that his aunt is able to help him care for them… “
Father Gregory hesitated when Murdoch mentioned the final two deaths. “I can see where you’d wonder about the fellow who died of drink. He was an incorrigible, I’m afraid. His wife gave up on him years ago. Many times he was found passed out in an alley, and the police claimed they had a cell with his name on it. His luck gave out one night, and the drink finally did him in.”
“And the woman who died in her kitchen?”
“Another tragedy. She was a good enough church-goer, but a terrible cook. Had a habit of losing her temper in the kitchen and throwing pots and pans around, even if they were full. That day she threw a kettle of soup and it knocked a lamp over. She stepped in the puddle without thinking. Horrible thing for her husband to come home to. He moved out of the house after that, left Toronto in fact.”
Murdoch looked at his notes, somewhat at a loss. He’d hoped one of the deaths would immediately trigger his detective's instincts, but all six were unfortunately not terribly suspicious.
“Father, if you had to guess at a potential arsonist based on the death of one of these people, which would you choose?”
The priest raised his eyebrows. “None of them. Their surviving family members are all good Catholics.”
‘Would you be willing to give me the names of the man who was killed by the horse and the woman who died in her kitchen?”
“Why those two?”
“Because they’re the two who don’t,as far as we know, have family in the area. There may be someone we don’t know about, doing this for motives we have yet to discover.”
Father Gregory waffled a few minutes more before writing down the names of both deceased. He added the address of the boarding house where the man had lived and the address of the woman’s husband in Ottawa. Returning to the station, Murdoch felt like he might finally be making some progress.
Two hours later, he was back to square one. The man had no criminal record, and no one had come looking for him after his death. The owner of his boarding house had known him for years and concurred that he had no family and no money. He was a retired salesman whom she had allowed to live there in exchange for doing odd jobs around the place and tending her garden. By all accounts he was simply an elderly gentleman who was living out his final years quietly and for the most part alone.
The woman had been known for her temper, although it had never been directed at a person. She apparently confined it to inanimate objects, and her husband had actually joked about it while having a drink with his mates. After her passing he’d moved to be near his brother in Ottawa and joined the church there. He hadn’t been back to Toronto, and since there hadn’t been any fires reported in his new parish, Murdoch had to conclude that the widower held no grudges.
That realization changed the course of his inquiries. It wasn’t enough that a death had occurred; the arsonist had for some reason to blame that death on an act or omission by the priest or by the Catholic Church itself. Assuming the elderly woman died of old age, that left three other deaths that could conceivably be blamed on a third party: the child, the young mother, and the drunkard. Any or all of their deaths might have been preventable, at least in the eyes of the arsonist, had the priest or church intervened.
Murdoch went back to Sacred Heart as quickly as possible. This time Father Gregory took less persuasion to provide names and addresses; he too was feeling the pressure of finding the culprit before another night brought another fire.
“I honestly don’t see how I or the church could have made a difference in the death of the child,” he said as he wrote. “The attending doctor had been with the family for years, and although he too is a Catholic, that had no bearing on his treatment. As I said, the other two children recovered… The young woman and her husband did come to me several months earlier to ask if they could use birth control because there had been complications with her previous delivery. Of course I had to refuse. All I could suggest was either abstinence or close medical attention if she did conceive… The fellow who drank himself to death had attempted to dry out more than once, but it never stuck. I counseled him myself when his wife threatened to leave, but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t help him if he couldn’t help himself.”
Murdoch looked at the list, and the answer suddenly jumped out at him.
“The young father, Danny Hooper. Have you seen him since Sacred Heart burned down?”
Father Gregory frowned and shook his head. “No, but there are other members I haven’t seen either. You suspect him?”
“I do. You said an aunt is looking after the other children. May I have her name and address?”
“I don’t have them. The woman isn’t Catholic. It was the wife who was raised in the Catholic Church. Danny converted when they married.”
“Give me everything you know about him.”
Notes in hand, Murdoch left as rapidly as he’d come. He didn’t have time to question all three other priests, so he went directly to Father Lanahan at his residence.
The father had been released from the hospital with only a small bandage on his head and a great deal of time on his hands. He greeted Murdoch in relief, which turned to concern as soon as he heard the name.
“The Hoopers attended services at Saint Joseph’s about a year ago,” he stated. “I never got to know them well. After a few weeks they came to me in private to discuss the possibility of birth control. They had reason to think Ellen might not survive another delivery. I advised them to abstain from having relations until they could talk to a doctor.”
“Did you know that Ellen died in childbirth last month?”
“No, I hadn’t heard. I’m so sorry.” Father Lanahan nodded sadly at Murdoch’s conclusion. “Danny seemed a passionate young man, and it was clear they were still deeply in love after seven years of marriage. He wouldn’t have accepted her death easily.”
“Have you seen him since that meeting?”
“No. They stopped coming to Saint Joseph’s after that. You’re thinking I wasn’t the only priest they spoke to, trying to find one that would sanction the use of contraceptives?” Father Lanahan sighed heavily. “That is one issue the church will not bend on. They were doomed to disappointment.”
Murdoch thanked him and dashed back to the station. It was already after six o’clock, and it would take time to communicate an alert to all Toronto officers to keep an eye out for Danny Hooper. He meant to visit the man’s last known address, but in the meantime, night was falling.
Brackenreid authorized the alert immediately, and several constables got on the phones to the other stations with their suspect’s description. When Murdoch would have grabbed Crabtree and set out again the inspector waylaid him.
“I’m sorry, Murdoch. It may not matter now, but Margaret and I aren’t going to make it to dinner this evening,” he said. It took Murdoch a moment to recall that the Brackenreids were invited to dine at the Pendrick house that night. “Female troubles.”
“I’ll let Mr. Pendrick know, Sir,” Murdoch said, unwilling to ask what that meant. “Another time, perhaps. Please give Mrs. Brackenreid my best.”
He was again about to grab Crabtree, when he realized that it would be a good idea to let Pendrick know he might not be home in time for dinner either. He called the house and spoke to Gerta, who promised to pass along the message. Only then were he and the constable able to get on the road.
As he’d feared, there was no sign of Danny Hooper at his workplace or at his dwelling. The small house appeared deserted and in fact a neighbor claimed that neither he nor the children had been seen there since Ellen had died. Inside they found a photograph of him to circulate along with the alert.
The neighbor was able to direct them to the aunt, who had no idea of his whereabouts either. A lively middle-aged woman, she seemed quite capable of handling four young children, although she made it clear that she’d expected to have the assistance of their father. Her assumption for the policemen’s presence was that they were seeking Danny for child abandonment, and Murdoch chose not to correct her.
“Sir, I can take Hooper’s photograph back to the station,” Crabtree offered as they remounted their bicycles. “All available men will be on watch tonight at every Catholic church in the city. You don’t need to wait with us; we’ll call you the instant he’s spotted.”
“That’s thoughtful of you, George.” Murdoch really wanted to go home, but he wasn’t likely to be a good dinner companion. “I still need to talk to Father Clyde and Father Bader to confirm that the Hoopers approached them with the same request regarding contraception. And we need to find out whether they went to any other priests whose churches haven’t been targeted yet -”
“All things the other men can do, Sir. If we bring Hooper in tonight, you’ll need to be rested in order to interview him.”
Murdoch conceded, since that was the one task he definitely wanted to do himself. “I’ll just swing by the morgue to let Dr. Ogden know what’s happening.”
Julia, when he arrived, was just preparing to leave. Ruby was with her, and their destination was the Pendrick house. To Murdoch’s surprise, Pendrick pulled up in his carriage a few minutes later to drive them.
“It was Catherine’s idea,” he told Murdoch with a sidelong glance once they were under way, “when she heard that the Brackenreids couldn’t come. We thought you were going to be delayed.” Murdoch read between the lines that Catherine had intended to do some match-making that evening. He’d forgotten all about her misconception regarding Pendrick and Julia. “What changed to allow you to join us?”
“We have a search on for a suspect in the church fires,” Murdoch explained. “There’s no more for me to do till he’s found.”
Ruby leaned forward eagerly from the back seat. “Who is it?”
“No one you’ve heard of.”
“How will you catch him? Have the police set traps at the churches?”
“No, we’re not using churches as bait.”
“How did you find out about him?”
The rest of the trip passed while she asked questions and Murdoch provided non-answers. Both Pendrick and Julia were obviously curious too, but he hadn’t decided yet how much to tell them about Danny Hooper’s motive. Birth control was a delicate subject whether or not the Catholic Church was involved.
At the house Catherine greeted Julia and Ruby with her smile fixed firmly in place; apparently the latter’s appearance there was as much of a surprise as Murdoch’s. Pendrick merely raised one eyebrow when she glared at him, and invited Murdoch into the library for a moment.
“What is it?” Murdoch asked after they’d kissed hello.
Pendrick had an odd expression. “Do you know where the necktie is that you wore yesterday?”
Murdoch had to think about it. He hadn’t actually seen it since Pendrick had removed it the day before in the ballroom. “No?”
“I found it hanging on your bedroom doorknob this afternoon.” Pendrick’s mouth quirked when Murdoch blinked in confusion. “Presumably Fiona found it while cleaning and was returning it to you. The fact that she didn’t leave it inside your room is a bit puzzling.”
Murdoch’s interaction with their maid these days was limited, the way he preferred it. “Perhaps she meant it as an admonishment to be more circumspect.”
“Perhaps. Are you ready to face what may be an interesting evening?”
“I’d rather re-experience last night’s instead.”
Pendrick grinned. “As would I, my love. But it’s only for a few more days. Then we can resume having torrid sex in every room of the house.”
Murdoch was still controlling his blush when they entered the dining room.
It was a very pleasant meal for the most part, and eventually Murdoch stopped counting the minutes till he was called back to work. The gentlemen got to hear more about the women’s provincial suffrage movement, and the ladies got to hear about the latest advances in radio wave transmissions culled from Pendrick’s reading. It wasn’t until Julia inquired how Catherine and Lisette had spent their day that anyone found cause for disagreement.
“I attended a lovely luncheon with some of the women I met last night,” Catherine enthused.
“I listened to some of your recordings,” Lisette said just as eagerly. “You have so many. I’d never heard a tango before. Uncle James, do you know how to dance to it?”
Pendrick barely hesitated. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. My ex-wife and I learned in South America.”
Catherine’s lips pursed. “Just what I would expect of that woman. The tango is a most risqué dance, Lisette. Not something a young lady would be interested in.”
“No? The music sounded so intriguing. I would love to see the dance performed.”
“I forbid it.”
Lisette started to speak, then evidently thought better of it. Ruby, seated next to her, leaned over and whispered something that made the younger woman perk up. Seeing Catherine about to intercede, Murdoch decided that perhaps an update on his case wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
“We think we’ve discovered the motive for the arsons,” he said, immediately capturing the attention of everyone at the table. Ruby in particular focused on him with an anticipatory gleam in her eyes. “One of the members of the first church that burned lost his wife recently in childbirth. The couple expected her to have difficulties if she tried to deliver again, and they spoke to their priest about the possibility of using contraception. The priest had to refuse, of course.”
“I imagine he recommended abstinence,” Julia murmured. Murdoch knew she had a strong opinion on the subject, but she left it at that.
“Yes, as would any priest,” he continued. “We’ve evidence that the couple spoke to two of the four priests involved. When the wife died, the husband blamed the church, at least that’s the assumption we’re operating under. He hasn’t been seen in weeks, but there’s a search out for him.”
“Have you any idea where he plans to strike next?” Ruby asked.
‘It is our intention to prevent him from striking again,” Murdoch stated. “I fully expect him to be in custody by morning. In fact,” he glanced at Pendrick, “there’s a good chance I’ll be called away this evening if and when he’s found.”
Ruby wasn’t ready to let it go. “How did you discover he’s the arsonist?”
“Thorough police work.”
“Does anyone else know about this? Any other journalists?”
“I don’t believe so. We’re not ready to share information with the press.”
“Then I have an exclusive?”
“No, you do not -”
“Ruby, you can’t presume upon a social acquaintance for your stories,” Julia said quickly.
“Detective Murdoch volunteered -”
“Miss Ogden, I’ll have to ask you to refrain from publishing anything I’ve said here until we have our suspect in custody. You wouldn’t want your story to assist this man in escaping our manhunt.” Murdoch spoke as earnestly as he could, hoping to appeal to Ruby’s better instincts. “Once he’s behind bars, you may publish anything you like, as long as it’s truthful.” Ruby looked piqued, but she didn’t protest, which assured Murdoch that she would seek a way to get around his request. He elaborated, “If any of this information finds its way into tomorrow’s newspapers, under your byline or anyone else’s, I’ll know who is responsible.”
“All right, you’ve made your point,” Ruby said rather tartly. After a moment she resumed whispering to Lisette, leaving Murdoch to mentally cross his fingers.
“The husband must be inconsolable,” Julia remarked. “This is an extreme example of why birth control should be accessible to people who have a medical reason for requesting it.”
“I think in this case the church’s restrictions would have overridden a doctor’s judgment,” Murdoch pointed out mildly.
“You said the woman had delivered before? There’s another child?” Catherine asked suddenly.
“Four others, now living with a relative.”
“Soon to be orphans. It’s a shameful business all around.” She turned to Pendrick. “I can understand why you left the Catholic Church. Their views are entirely too narrow. It may once have been vital that married couples produce multiple children, but with lower infant death rates, it’s often just a needless hardship. Women are not animals good for nothing except producing babies. They should have a choice. The Catholic Church’s thinking hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages.” Catherine noticed that everyone was staring at her for one reason or another. “I beg your pardon. I find it hard to hold my tongue when I see injustice being done.”
Murdoch was torn between defending his church and questioning the comment she’d directed at his partner. Pendrick did not look pleased.
Julia however jumped into the discussion with both feet. “It’s ridiculous that medical experts aren’t even allowed to teach women about birth control, as if knowledge itself were a crime. The only women who regularly make use of contraceptive devices are prostitutes; most women are forced to either bear unwanted children or resort to equally illegal measures to terminate...” She stopped and colored a bit. Exchanging a look with Catherine, she added, “I too find it difficult to keep quiet on this topic, but perhaps it should be continued in a different forum.”
“Yes, that’s a prudent idea,” Pendrick said at once. Since everyone had finished dining, he rose and directed the ladies toward the parlor. “I believe I’ll enjoy a walk around the grounds before retiring. William, you should perhaps remain here in case your station calls.”
“Yes, I should.” Murdoch knew very well that the man was avoiding him, but he couldn’t deal with it at that moment. The telephone had not rung during the meal, but now that Gerta and Mary would be leaving, he would need to stay near it just in case.
The women moved to the other room, and Murdoch retreated to the library where he would hear the telephone if it rang. Since the door was open, he could also hear bits of the ladies’ conversation, a spirited discussion of the failure of the social and medical systems to provide women with the care they needed.
He was reading when Pendrick returned from his stroll and offered to drive the Ogdens home. Julia looked in to say good-night, still quite animated from her part in the debate.
“I’ll talk to Ruby again,” she assured him, “to make sure she means to abide by her agreement not to publish anything related to the arsonist or his motive.”
“Thank you. “Murdoch said. “I’ll leave word for you at the morgue if anything happens tonight.”
She seemed about to say something else, then merely smiled and turned to leave. Murdoch heard the front door close, followed a few minutes later by footsteps going up the stairs. He was startled therefore when Catherine appeared in the doorway of the library. She looked around the room with interest, but didn’t venture over the threshold.
“So this is the gentlemen’s private domain,” she remarked. “How unchivalrous of you to keep all of these books to yourselves.”
Murdoch had to invite her in or appear even less chivalrous. It occurred to him that he’d never had a one-on-one conversation with her in all the time she’d been there.
“I thought you and Lisette had retired,” he said for lack of anything more pertinent to say.
Catherine sat down behind Pendrick’s desk, frowned slightly at its charred surface, then ignored it. “I’m far too wound up to sleep. Julia is clearly a woman after my own heart, and I’m looking forward to having her in the family. I believe Lisette would also benefit from her association.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t count too heavily upon that eventuality. Dr. Ogden has demonstrated a preference for men in the medical field till now.”
“And we’ve seen how well that worked out. She and I will be lunching together tomorrow, and I hope to get a better sense of how she feels about James.”
Murdoch hid a wince. “She is not the sort of women who will be swayed by someone else’s opinion.”
“Obviously not. I wouldn’t admire her as much if she were.” Catherine stopped gazing around the library in curiosity and focused on him. “Detective Murdoch, I sense that you are not fully behind this union. May I inquire why?”
“I don’t believe that she is James’ type.”
“Thank goodness for that. I gather you met his first wife, Sally?” She must have deduced from his expression that he had. “Almost any type would be an improvement over her. Julia is her antithesis, and I’m convinced that she and James would be very happy together.”
Murdoch was at a loss. Since he wouldn’t lie and he couldn’t tell the truth, he asked the question he’d been pondering since dinner. “What did you mean when you said James had left the Catholic Church?”
Catherine looked confused. “Don’t tell me he’s rejoined it?”
“He doesn’t belong to any church that I’m aware of. Are you saying that he was once Catholic?”
“Yes, years ago. Before his marriage.” Her eyes roamed the room again as she searched her memory. “In fact, as I recall, it was Sally who influenced him to leave the church.”
Murdoch felt as if he’d had the breath knocked out of him. “You’re certain it was the Roman Catholic Church he belonged to?”
“Yes. I remember his parents were not pleased when he joined. There had never been a Catholic in the family before then.” She studied him again. “I can see that this has upset you, Detective Murdoch, but I have no idea why.”
“I’m just surprised that he never mentioned it.” Murdoch wanted to leave it at that, but she waited expectantly. “I belong to the Catholic Church myself.” Her eyebrows rose. “And it seems odd that James never told me that he was once a member.”
“His conversion didn’t last very long. Perhaps he doesn’t remember it fondly.”
That made Pendrick’s failure to admit to it even worse.
Catherine had evidently realized that their chat was over, so she excused herself and went upstairs. Murdoch lingered in the library for a while, but when Pendrick didn’t get back in a reasonable amount of time, he too went up to his bedroom. If he was needed at the station that night, they’d have to send a constable for him.
Murdoch was nearly asleep when his partner finally crept into his own room. He didn’t bother turning on his lamp, just came through to where Murdoch lay in the dark. He undressed and slipped into bed in near silence, and only then sighed.
“You’re awake, aren’t you?” he whispered.
“How much trouble am I in?”
“Why do you imagine you’re in trouble?”
“Because I know you hate it when I withhold information about myself.”
Murdoch didn’t know where to begin to dissect that statement. “I don’t understand how you could think this wasn’t something that I needed to know.”
Pendrick found his hand under the covers. “My dear, that isn’t why I was reluctant to say anything. I know very well how important your religion is to you, and I simply didn’t want to admit how unimportant it was to me.” He tightened his grip when Murdoch stirred. “I apologize for running out on you this evening. I needed time to organize my thoughts.”
“Catherine told me that you weren’t raised Catholic. What made you convert?”
“In a word, Pauline.”
“She was Catholic, and when we were together, it seemed appropriate to adopt her faith.”
Murdoch tried to see his face. “You were sleeping together out of wedlock. How did that inspire you to become Catholic?” He curbed his sarcasm and continued, “Was Pauline an active member of the church?”
“Not the way you are. She attended on special occasions, and she liked me to accompany her. She felt more secure in our relationship after I converted.” Pendrick’s fingers inched up Murdoch’s arm till they were caressing his chest. “William, it didn’t mean to me what your religion means to you. I was raised Protestant, but my family didn’t attend church regularly. When I converted my parents were appalled, but it didn’t bother them in a spiritual sense. It made Pauline happy, so it made me happy.”
“And when you and she separated, you lapsed.”
“For lack of a better word. I wasn’t a practicing Catholic, and when I met Sally, I stopped pretending. She followed no particular faith, and after that neither did I.”
“I suppose I should be glad that you didn’t offer to rejoin the Catholic Church when you and I became involved.” Murdoch couldn’t help sounding cool. This was a side of his lover he hadn’t suspected. “After several hours of organizing your thoughts, this is the argument you settled on? You didn’t tell me you twice changed your religion because it just didn’t matter?”
Pendrick sat up a little, his voice rising. “The argument I settled on is the truth. I didn’t tell you I’d changed my religion because my approach to it is nothing like yours. I didn’t become a devout Catholic and then renounce my faith any more than I renounced Protestantism. I joined an organization that meant a great deal to the woman I loved at the time.” He softened his words. “When I met you, I knew that making an empty gesture to convert was not something you’d either want or respect.”
After a moment, Murdoch pulled him back down. “Is there anything else I should know about you?”
“There might be,” the other said candidly, “but I’m not keeping secrets from you, I swear. I’ve done things in my life that even I have forgotten. If you ask, I promise I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
“Tell me something right now. Something about you that I don’t know but ought to,” Murdoch challenged. He sensed Pendrick relax a little at his gentler tone.
“May I think about it for a day?”
“No. That will give you time to eliminate the things you don’t think are relevant.”
Pendrick nipped his ear in exasperation. “All right.” He was silent for a few minutes. “I want to get back to engineering. I miss constructing amazing buildings that I’m proud to put my name on.”
That wasn’t at all what Murdoch was expecting. He knew that Pendrick had been dismayed when his name was removed from the skyscraper he’d helped design and erect years before, the most modern building in Toronto at the time. When he’d lost his fortune and share of ownership, those who’d purchased the structure had given it the name of their company. Other interests and projects had soon captured Pendrick’s attention, and Murdoch had assumed his partner had moved on.
“What’s stopping you?” he asked.
“Funding. Contacts. Location.”
“All obstacles you’ve overcome before.”
Murdoch was suddenly engulfed in a tight embrace and kissed until his head swam. When Pendrick released him enough to breathe, he chuckled softly. Pendrick claimed his place against Murdoch’s shoulder.
“If Catherine were the match-maker she thinks she is, she’d see that you are my ideal mate,” he said softly. “I couldn’t love you more.”
“Nor I you,” Murdoch replied, his annoyance fading. He mostly understood why the other had kept his religious history to himself, and it didn’t really affect their life together now. As he drifted into sleep, he managed to forget both their quarrel and the probable grief that awaited him next day.
When Murdoch arrived at the station in the morning, there had been a discouraging lack of developments overnight. Danny Hooper had not been found, nor had any churches been set ablaze. Crabtree reported that the two other priests had both confirmed that the Hoopers had briefly attended their services, moving on once they were refused permission to use contraceptives. There seemed no doubt that Danny was the arsonist, but his whereabouts remained a mystery.
“We did discover an alarming fact,” Crabtree added, reading from his notes. “A Father Scanlon at Saint Cecilia’s says that the Hoopers also spoke to him about using birth control. We had men watching his church last night, but there was no sign of Hooper. We’ll have men there every night till he’s caught.”
“Excellent work, George,” Murdoch said.
He spent most of the day talking to all five priests, pressing for any details they could recall about the Hoopers’ lives. He spoke to Danny’s neighbors again, his employer, his aunt, and eventually to a few of his mates, but none could shed any light on his current location. For lack of other ideas, he assigned a constable to keep watch at Ellen Hooper’s grave, even though the caretaker at the cemetery claimed no one had come to visit it in weeks. Based on his description, the only visitor had certainly been Danny, but he’d apparently not come to pay his respects since resorting to arson.
When Murdoch finally returned to the station, he found the latest edition of the Toronto Gazette on his desk, opened to an editorial with the title ‘Church and State in League against Women’s Health’. Credit was given to Ruby Ogden as the author.
“Been talking out of turn, have we?” Brackenreid asked from the doorway as Murdoch scanned the piece. “Or are you going to tell me it’s coincidence that Miss Ogden publishes a story on birth control right when we’re seeking a killer with the same grievance?”
Murdoch had to be fair. “Sir, I ordered her not to mention the case, and she didn’t. No one outside the investigation will make the connection.”
He actually thought it a well written and well-balanced story, as it had to be in order to be accepted by a reputable newspaper. It presented the arguments Julia and Catherine had made the previous evening, citing both legal and religious obstacles to women’s health needs, and without singling out the Catholic Church as the villain. If Ruby hadn’t so clearly found a way to skirt his request, he would have had nothing but praise for her objectivity.
“It’s got Margaret on my back,” Brackenreid went on irritably. He stepped into Murdoch’s office and lowered his voice ominously. “I haven’t told the lads yet, but Mrs. Brackenreid is in the family way.”
The man’s face reddened. “It wasn’t planned. We thought we were done with nappies. Now with this story in the newspaper, Margaret has taken up the fight for legalizing contraception. How is it going to look for a police inspector’s wife to be championing birth control, especially when she’s expecting?”
“How can she champion a cause that’s against the law?” Murdoch protested. “She’ll be arrested.”
“Who’s going to arrest the pregnant wife of a high-ranking copper? What will happen is she’ll bring the press down on me!” Brackenreid’s attempt at discretion resulted in every constable in the station looking up to see what the ruckus was. “Those women’s rights group are relentless. When they get wind of the reason this Hooper has been setting fires, they’ll make him out to be the victim, you see if they don’t.”
Murdoch saw his reasoning, but he had to believe in the legal system’s efficacy. “Sir, Hooper killed a man, whether he intended it or not. They can’t ignore that.”
“Can’t they?” Brackenreid turned to leave, adding darkly, “Let’s see if that’s how Miss Ruby bloody Ogden tells it.”
At the end of the day, the only thing Murdoch felt he’d accomplished was to invite Father Lanahan to dinner when they’d spoken that morning. The priest had happily accepted, and it wasn’t until Murdoch was on his way home that it occurred to him to wonder whether Father Lanahan knew where he lived. As soon as he arrived he tried calling the father’s residence, but there was no answer.
“This isn’t related to our discussion last night, is it?” Pendrick asked when he set down the telephone. “You’re not planning to try to re-convert me over pheasant?”
“No, I’d simply like you two to meet,” Murdoch told him, confident that he wasn’t serious. “Your past need not come up.”
Catherine had followed her cousin downstairs. “We’ll be a foursome this evening,” she announced. “Lisette has gone to a gathering of some sort with Miss Ogden.” She did not sound happy. “I tried to impress upon her that it is rude to shirk one social engagement for another, but she was determined.”
“She’s sixteen,” Pendrick pointed out mildly. “We can’t expect her to spend all her time with people old enough to be her parents.”
“I don’t expect that. What I object to is her failure to make her excuses directly to her host. She’s behaving like…” Catherine ran out of words, but Murdoch mentally supplied ‘like Ruby’. That thought made him sigh. “What time is your other guest due to arrive?”
“We were just wondering that,” Murdoch began, when they heard a carriage pull up the drive. Since they had been congregating in the foyer, he opened the front door himself. Father Lanahan was just climbing down from a private carriage, assisted by Rory Malone, the last person Murdoch ever wanted to see on his doorstep.
“Good evening, William,” Father Lanahan called with a smile. “Rory was kind enough to drive me here.”
Pendrick stepped close enough to whisper, “Rory? As in Rory Malone?”
“The one and only,” Murdoch muttered. He went to shake the priest’s hand and had no choice but to shake Malone’s as well. After that he had no option but to introduce the man to Pendrick and to Catherine, who was watching from the doorway with great interest. Once Malone was on the threshold, Murdoch knew what would happen next.
“You’re welcome to join us for dinner, Mr. Malone,” Pendrick said easily. “Assuming you have no other plans?”
Malone gave them a big smile. “I have nowhere else to be,” he said. “I’d be honored to dine with you.”
That was one of the most uncomfortable meals Murdoch could recall having. Malone was on his best behavior, but Murdoch was aware every moment that he was entertaining a criminal; he couldn’t relax and talk about his work, he couldn’t ask Malone about his day, and he couldn’t understand why Malone was being so friendly.
“Rory has most generously offered to pay for the rebuilding of Saint Joseph’s,” Father Lanahan said at one point, beaming at his parishioner. “I only hope the other churches have equally generous patrons.”
“Maybe they’ll follow our example,” Malone said rather smugly.
“Are you in construction, Mr. Malone?” Catherine asked.
“And the other times?”
“I dabble in a number of businesses.” Malone cast Murdoch a sidelong smile, clearly aware of and enjoying his discomfort. “I see no reason to confine myself to one industry.”
Catherine nodded. “Much like James. He has ongoing projects in many different sciences.” She was apparently oblivious to the look Malone now bestowed upon Pendrick. Murdoch saw his partner’s eyebrow tilt, but he didn’t say anything. “Are you married, Mr. Malone?”
“Alas, I have yet to find a woman who will have me.”
“I find that hard to believe, an attractive, successful man such as you. All women in Toronto can’t be blind.”
“You’re not from Toronto yourself?” Malone asked, and to Murdoch’s relief, the conversation turned to Winnipeg. It turned out that Father Lanahan had family there, so there was much to talk about.
As they were bidding their guests good-night, Malone pulled Murdoch aside.
“You haven’t found the arsonist,” he accused, his light tone gone. “I give you fair warning, if another church burns tonight, I’ll be taking matters into my own hands.”
“If you do that, Mr. Malone, I will arrest you,” Murdoch promised. “We believe we know the identity of the arsonist and where he will attempt to strike next. Men are watching for him. There is every chance we’ll have him in custody by morning.”
Malone digested that for a second. “Consider this your last chance then. If the Constabulary hasn’t captured him by tomorrow evening, it’ll be my men who are on the streets ‘watching’. And they won’t fail like your people have.”
“If your men break the law, no matter their reason, they will be arrested,” Murdoch said again. He suddenly noticed that the others were silently listening to this exchange. Father Lanahan in particular appeared concerned at their animosity. “Leave this to the police, Mr. Malone. We have it in hand.”
With a final nod, Malone took his leave, and Father Lanahan followed with a reassuring nod to Murdoch. If he hoped to dissuade the man of his intentions on the drive home, Murdoch wished him luck.
“What an interesting gentleman,” Catherine observed once they were settled on the back terrace as usual. The stars shone brightly, and gazing at them, Murdoch prayed they didn’t shine down on a fire that night. “And very generous, to be willing to rebuild your church. Yet I sense that you don’t welcome his offer.”
Murdoch glanced at her. “Mr. Malone is suspected of criminal activities. I’m afraid that any money he donates to rebuild Saint Joseph’s will be ill-gotten gains.”
“Oh dear. Does Father Lanahan know this?”
“I’m sure he gives Mr. Malone the benefit of every doubt.”
She nodded, apparently understanding that he couldn’t do the same.
“Did you by chance read the afternoon Gazette?” Murdoch asked. Catherine hadn’t, so Murdoch had the privilege of describing Ruby’s editorial to her. He’d expected her to be elated that so many of her arguments had made it into print, but Catherine was more disgruntled that Ruby had disobeyed his instruction not to publish anything based on the arsonist investigation.
“What that young woman needs is a husband to tell her when she is overstepping her bounds,” Catherine stated. “Someone who will encourage her journalism career, and not let her get herself ostracized by her own poor judgment.”
Pendrick had opened his mouth to disagree with the first part of her declaration, but the second part left him hanging momentarily. “I believe Miss Ogden is of a generation that would not appreciate match-making advice. She will choose a husband when she is ready, and while it may be a regrettable choice, it will be hers.”
Catherine sighed. She seemed to be in a mellow mood this evening. “That sums up most young people today. If only they would accept counsel from those older and more experienced in the ways of matrimony. My husband, Charles, was not at first glance the sort of man I thought I would want to marry. He was older than I, but he was industrious and quite brilliant when it came to finances. I learned a great deal about investments during our marriage. When he passed away, I was able to build upon the bequest he left me until I had enough to support myself in the manner I desired. I doubt I would have been able to do that had I wed a younger, less qualified man.”
Both Murdoch and Pendrick were staring at her, but it was the latter who spoke up. “You were already a widow when I married Sally. Was it your life with Charles that convinced you our marriage wouldn’t last? Because we chose each other rather than let someone else arrange a union?”
“No, I was convinced your marriage wouldn’t last because Sally was a self-centered, duplicitous vixen.”
Murdoch kept a straight face. “She has you there.”
Pendrick wasn’t amused. “If Sally had been the woman I thought she was, our marriage would have thrived. She was everything I wanted at the time. She supported my work and I supported her interests in the arts. We were perfectly matched.”
“But she wasn’t real,” Murdoch pointed out quietly. “She was a lie from beginning to end.”
“What you needed, James, and still need, is someone who truly supports your work,” Catherine said vehemently. “Someone who shares your interests and can accompany you into the magnificent future you are capable of creating. Someone you can depend on and trust implicitly.”
Murdoch had to turn away or risk revealing far too much. He heard Pendrick clear his throat, and guessed his partner was similarly constrained. After a few minutes, Catherine gave up waiting for a response.
“One day, James, you’ll see that I’m right.” She stood up. “I’ll say good-night now. I’d like to be upstairs when Lisette gets home. She’ll want to tell me about her meeting.”
“Good-night,” Murdoch echoed.
They were silent until she’d left the terrace, then Pendrick ran a hand over his face.
“Just when I thought I had my cousin figured out,” he remarked.
“She has a more progressive view of marriage than I supposed,” Murdoch said. “Do you think she realized why we were speechless?”
“I honestly don’t know.”
They sat in silence for a while longer. Murdoch’s thoughts went automatically back to the many issues hanging over him.
“I hate the idea that Saint Joseph’s is going to be rebuilt by money Malone has acquired through graft and extortion,” he said. “The church should be pure in spirit, built solely for the love of God.”
“As much as it pains me to disagree with you,” Pendrick said, “I got the feeling that Malone truly believes in the church. The source of his money may be irrelevant. It is to Father Lanahan.” He reached for Murdoch’s hand and clasped it warmly. “I’m more curious why the man maneuvered his way into dining with you.”
“I expect he wanted an opportunity to find out how the investigation is going.”
“His interest seemed more personal than that.”
Murdoch shrugged. “He enjoys taunting me, knowing I’m fully aware of his crimes yet can’t take steps against him. He likes forcing a policeman to socialize with a crime boss.”
“Perhaps.” Pendrick was studying him now. “He’s a very attractive man. Smart. Wealthy. I’d wager he’s used to getting what he wants.”
Murdoch’s eyes widened as he understood what his partner was insinuating. “He does not want me.”
“Then he’s a fool.” Pendrick laughed and pulled Murdoch to his feet. “Let’s go to bed. I’d rather not be awake when Lisette gets home and Catherine realizes what sort of gathering Ruby took her to.”
“Why? Do you know?”
“No, but I think we’ve established that Ruby is not the most prudent of companions.”
They went upstairs and locked themselves in their room. Murdoch lay awake for a while, pondering his lover’s suggestion, but he really had no evidence that Malone viewed him as anything but an adversary to be teased. He fell asleep with Pendrick wrapped around him sometime after eleven, and as far as he could tell, Lisette was not yet home.
According to Catherine, Lisette crept in shortly before midnight. She tried to slip into her bed chamber without being seen, but Catherine had waited up and she managed to reach Lisette’s door before the girl could close it. The ensuing discussion was almost loud enough to wake up the household.
“They did not attend a meeting,” Catherine declared stridently over breakfast. Normally it was a quick meal and Murdoch could be on his way, but today their guest required sympathetic ears. Lisette had wisely not made an appearance. “Miss Ogden took Lisette to a club, a dance club. Accompanied by a man she’s been stepping out with.” She turned to Murdoch accusingly. “Mr. Malone’s nephew, according to Lisette. They were there till closing. A sixteen year old girl dancing at a club with a man till all hours!”
“She got home safely?” Pendrick asked.
“That isn’t the point. She danced the cake walk!”
“Is that worse than the tango?”
Catherine threw him a glare. “Thank Heavens you gave me charge of that child. Left to you, I can’t imagine what she’d be learning.” They both received her next scowl. “I assure you, Lisette will not be associating with Miss Ruby Ogden any longer. That young woman is a bad influence. It is beyond me why Julia hasn’t taken her sister in hand and insisted she comport herself like a lady, not some female hooligan. When you’re married, I hope you’ll see that something is done.”
Pendrick nodded solemnly. “The day I marry Julia Ogden, there will definitely be some changes.”
That pacified Catherine long enough for Murdoch to finish eating and make his escape. He didn’t envy Pendrick his next encounter with Lisette.
At the station, there was still no sighting of Danny Hooper. Either he’d been scared away from Saint Cecilia’s, or he was delaying burning it for his own reasons. Murdoch had been certain he’d be picked up overnight, and he frankly had no ideas what to do next to further the investigation.
After ascertaining that all constables were at their posts watching every location Hooper was likely to visit, Murdoch went to see Julia. He hadn’t spoken to her since Ruby’s editorial was published, and because the women had previously been invited to dinner that evening, he thought it wise to alert her that Ruby was no longer on the guest list.
Julia was busy with a drowning victim, an apparent suicide. Murdoch crossed himself upon seeing the pitiful corpse, wondering if they were eventually going to find Hooper in a similar state.
“You missed some excitement yesterday,” he said when she was able to take a break. He summed up the various confrontations stirred up first by Ruby’s story, then by her behavior with Lisette. Julia listened calmly, apparently done attempting to rein her sister in.
“Ruby was terribly excited that her editorial was printed,” she replied, “so I doubt she’ll be willing to apologize. In fact she went back to the Gazette this morning to see what sort of response it brought in.”
“A great deal of dissension, I would imagine.”
“I’ll remind her that Lisette is only sixteen. Fortunately, from what I’ve seen of the girl, she has more sense than Ruby does, so it’s unlikely any lasting damage was done by a night on the town.”
“The greatest damage, I’m afraid, was to Ruby’s reputation with Catherine,” Murdoch admitted. “Do you think she’ll mind being excluded from tonight’s dinner party? You are still welcome of course. Dr. Roberts will also be dining with us.”
“How delightful,” Julia said with a big smile. “I haven’t seen the doctor in several months.” She considered briefly. “I’ll tactfully suggest to Ruby that she might not want to be in the same room with Catherine so soon. She knows very well Catherine would not have approved of their outing had she known about it in advance.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry to put you in the middle of this,” Murdoch said sincerely.
“Not at all. I might react the same way were I in Catherine’s position. She takes her guardianship of Lisette very seriously.”
“She takes most things very seriously,” Murdoch agreed, and decided that that was the problem: Catherine didn’t seem able to relax and enjoy herself. She’d approached entertaining Lisette during their visit as a duty. She saw everyone she met as a candidate for match-making, and every failure of the system as a cause to correct. Based on her story the previous evening, she’d considered her marriage an educational opportunity. That realization cast a whole new light on her actions.
He returned to his office, but Crabtree had nothing new to report. It wasn’t until late afternoon that the constable appeared in his doorway with a look of impending doom.
“Detective Murdoch,” he said, “Miss Ogden is in the Interview Room with Inspector Brackenreid. He’d like you to join them.” He glanced over his shoulder and lowered his voice. “It’s as I suspected, Sir. Consorting with a criminal has led to nothing but trouble.”
“Miss Ogden was well acquainted with trouble before she met Ryan Malone,” Murdoch pointed out, but he hurried to the back room. Inside Ruby was seated at the desk looking self-righteous and stubborn. She glowered when Murdoch walked in.
“Detective, perhaps you can talk some sense into her,” Brackenreid greeted him. He was already flushed and simmering, and Murdoch wondered how long this interview had been going on.
“I’ll try, Sir. Why is Miss Ogden here?”
“This young lady is withholding information vital to the prevention of a crime -”
“No, I’m not,” Ruby stated hotly. “Danny does not intend to burn any more churches.”
Murdoch sat down across from her. “Danny Hooper? How would you know that?” When she was silent, he turned to his superior. “What is this about?”
“I got a call from an editor at the Gazette,” Brackenreid explained. “He said that one of his free-lance journalists had submitted an article in which she claimed to have spoken to the arsonist. The article supposedly told his side of the story. She wanted to publish it in this afternoon’s edition -”
“It’s a good story,” Ruby said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Any editor would have jumped at it.”
“Except this one, who happened to be Catholic. Wonder of wonders, he put the apprehension of a killer over his newspaper’s circulation. I sent a couple of the lads over to bring the journalist in, and wouldn’t you know, it was none other than this thorn in my side.”
Murdoch was still confused. “Miss Ogden, why would you claim to have spoken to the arsonist?”
“I did speak to him!” She ignored Brackenreid and addressed Murdoch. “When I arrived at the Gazette this morning, there was a note waiting for me. It said it was from the man the police are looking for and that he’d read my editorial and wanted me to write a second piece explaining why he’d done what he did. Of course I went to meet with him. This would have been the biggest story of my career!”
“Where did you meet?”
“At a bookstore on Larchmont. It doesn’t matter, because Danny’s not there now. We went to a café and he told me his side of the story, which I wrote down nearly word for word.” She paused. “He never intended to kill anyone. He was angry at the Roman Catholic Church, but he said he never meant to cause harm to any person. That’s why he stopped setting fires; once he heard that a body had been found, he was so distressed he couldn’t continue.”
“He gave you his name?”
“Yes, but I promised not to include it in my piece.”
“Do you know where he is now?”
Ruby pressed her lips closed rather than answer, which set Brackenreid off again.
“We can arrest you for withholding information, Miss Ogden. We can arrest you as an accomplice if Hooper commits another crime.” He suddenly stood up. “Hell, I’m going to arrest you anyway.”
Ruby looked startled, but she didn’t fold. “I promised him I wouldn’t reveal his location. He’ll turn himself in once my story is printed.”
“Well that’s not likely to happen, now is it?”
“You’ve done all you can,” Murdoch reminded her. “As soon as the afternoon edition comes out, he’ll know you weren’t able to have his story printed. He may very well flee the place you left him. Our best chance of catching him is if you tell us where he is right now.”
“I gave him my word I wouldn’t send the police.”
“Crabtree!” Brackenreid called. “Get the keys to the cells!”
“Miss Ogden, this is not a game.” Murdoch tried once more. “This man is dangerous. If he hurts another person, even unintentionally, you will be tried beside him.”
“My journalistic integrity is at stake here, Detective Murdoch,” Ruby said seriously. “If I betray my very first informant, who’s going to come to me with their story? I cannot tell you where Danny is.”
Murdoch gave up. He stood aside while Brackenreid had a very reluctant Crabtree type up the charges against Ruby, and watched in exasperation as they led her back to the cell area. She had gone a bit pale, but the set of her jaw told him she didn’t mean to surrender. He imagined she was composing her martyrdom speech even as the cell door was locked behind her.
Brackenreid came over, his spirits somewhat restored by having her behind bars. “I suppose you’d better call Dr. Ogden. Maybe she can talk some sense into that one.”
He called Julia on the telephone this time rather than go over to the morgue again. When he’d explained what had led up to Ruby’s incarceration, Julia was silent for a full minute before promising she’d come to the station as soon as possible.
While waiting, Murdoch had Crabtree and Higgins attempt to track Ruby’s movements from the time she left the Gazette’s offices that morning until she returned with her story that afternoon. He didn’t have high hopes since all they had to start with was a nameless bookstore, but he once again felt that time was running out. Even greater now than the fear that Hooper would do something desperate was the fear that Malone’s men would hit the streets en mass that evening and cause a riot.
Julia arrived within the hour and went straight to the cells. Murdoch hung back to let her talk to her sister in private, but he could hear some of her more heated remonstrations.
“Ruby, you’re breaking the law!” Julia stressed more than once. “This is not some lark that will be forgotten tomorrow. There will be consequences!” Ruby’s answer was made in a surprisingly reasonable tone. “No, having a police record will not advance your career!” After a few more minutes, “Have you considered that your new suitor is a Roman Catholic? He won’t take kindly to your protecting the man who’s been destroying churches.” This time Ruby’s reply was almost audible. “That’s exactly what you’re doing, shielding an arsonist and a killer. That’s not demonstrating journalistic integrity; it’s demonstrating naïveté and a lack of moral character!”
Ruby’s response to that sent Murdoch ducking back into the main room.
When Julia reappeared shortly, her color was a bit higher than normal, but otherwise she seemed composed. However, after hesitating outside Murdoch’s office long enough for him to get worried, she merely shook her head and left the station.
“Sir,” Crabtree said, watching her go, “might I take a stab at changing Miss Ogden’s mind?”
“Be my guest,” Murdoch told him. He didn’t accompany the constable, because he really didn’t expect any different results.
Almost a half an hour later, Crabtree hurried out with an alarmed expression. He came straight to Murdoch, the words practically bursting from his lips.
“Danny Hooper is hiding in Dr. Ogden’s cellar,” he announced.
Murdoch didn’t bother to rise from his desk. “Do you know how unlikely that is, George?”
“I know it wasn’t the craftiest place she could have chosen, but I believe her, Sir.”
“Why would she tell you when she refused to reveal his location even to her sister?”
“Because I promised she’d have the exclusive on his capture, and that once he’s in custody, she’d be free to resubmit her story to the Gazette.” Crabtree caught himself and rephrased his statement. “I mean to say, she won’t be free unless Inspector Brackenreid says she is, but she’ll be able to resubmit her story without interference from the police.”
“Only if the inspector is feeling more kindly towards her than he was earlier.” Murdoch hated to consider it, but it was entirely possible that Ruby would take her informant home with her. “Are you certain she’s not sending us on a wild goose chase?”
He reached for his hat. “Gather the men.”
Crabtree moved to block his way. “Detective Murdoch, Miss Ogden says she left Hooper in a miserable state. He was crying and carrying on about his soul being damned, and she says she was afraid to move him anywhere else. I don’t think a squad of police will be needed.”
“We can’t take any chances.”
“Understood, Sir, but if a large number of police invade Dr. Ogden’s house in broad daylight, her neighbors will wonder why.”
“That’s a very good point.” Murdoch said. “And a very thoughtful one. Dr. Ogden is sure to appreciate it.” He contemplated their options quickly. “Did Miss Ogden by chance give you her house key?”
Crabtree held it up. “She suggested we enter the yard through the back gate and use the back door. She also told me how to find the cellar.”
“All right. Bring two other constables. We’ll do this discreetly.”
While Crabtree rounded up his most trusted colleagues, Murdoch again called Julia. As reluctant as he was to add to her tribulations, he couldn’t imagine telling her after the fact that they’d raided her home. As a professional courtesy he even offered to let her accompany them, but Julia declined.
“Are you keeping Ruby in jail until you’ve captured this man?” she asked tightly once the shock of having a criminal harbored in her home had worn off.
“Yes, of course.”
“Can you keep her overnight?”
“You don’t mean that.”
She exhaled heavily. “No, I don’t. Please let me know when she’s going to be released.”
Murdoch had to be frank. “My guess is that she’ll have to be released into someone’s custody, and since that will be yours, you will definitely be the first to know.”
“Charming. Thank you for the forewarning, William,” Julia said, and rang off before he could ask whether she still thought she could come to dinner. Upon reflection, he decided that was probably for the best.
Murdoch had been inside Julia’s house a few times, but never through the back door, and he’d never set foot in her back yard. It was compact, containing a single rocking chair that didn’t appear to have been occupied in several seasons. One section of the yard had been optimistically set aside for a garden, but whatever had been planted there had long since died. Murdoch couldn’t really imagine Julia having time in her busy schedule to tend to it.
Crabtree let the way into the house. All four men moved silently, and Murdoch found himself trying not to leave any trace of their presence. Logic said it was too late to matter, but he hated the idea of strangers being inside her home in her absence. He was careful not to touch anything, and when one of the constables brushed against a cloth covering the small table where Julia’s telephone sat, he made a point of straightening it before going on.
The cellar door didn’t creak, but the mere act of opening it cast light into an otherwise dim area. Their quarry would have to be blind or asleep not to notice.
“Danny,” Murdoch called from the doorway. He had no idea whether Hooper was armed, so he and his men had brought pistols just in case. The constables had orders to keep them concealed unless Hooper produced a weapon. “My name is Detective Murdoch. I’m with the Toronto Constabulary. May I come down and talk to you?” After a pause, a candle was lit in the darkness below. Murdoch took that as assent, and he slowly began to descend. “Miss Ogden wasn’t able to publish her story, but she was concerned about you. From what she told us, it sounds as if you need help.”
“I’m beyond help,” a shaky voice replied.
Murdoch waved Crabtree and the others back. “That’s not true, Danny. You’re in a serious situation, but as long as you have faith, you’re never beyond help.”
“What would you know about it?”
“I know that there are priests who will listen to you and offer consolation.”
“I’ve killed a man!” Hooper cried. “My soul will be going to hell, no matter what a priest says. I didn’t mean to harm anyone, I swear it!”
“I understand that. Your grief took control of you. You felt the Church could have prevented Ellen’s death, so you tried to hurt the Church by destroying its earthly representations.” Murdoch had reached the bottom step and could now see the man he was speaking with. Danny looked as if he hadn’t slept or bathed in days. Thin, bedraggled and unshaven, he squinted at Murdoch in the faint light from his candle and the narrow window behind him.
“Are you Catholic?” he asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Then I’m sorry.”
“I know that. Let me take you to the police station. I can bring Father Gregory or Father Lanahan or whichever priest you prefer to hear your confession.”
“That isn’t what I meant.”
Murdoch took another step toward him. He could sense that someone, most likely Crabtree, had come halfway down the stairs. “What did you mean?”
Danny held up a sheet of paper. “I was writing to my children,” he said, his voice breaking on the last word. “My little ones. They’ve lost their mother, and now they’ve lost their father. I never meant to abandon them. They deserve better.” He held the letter out, and Murdoch went forward to take it. By the sunlight slanting through the window he could read the first few words: ‘to be delivered after my death’.
“Danny, this is premature. Your children will be able to visit you in jail.”
“I’m not going to jail!”
Hooper made a sudden movement, and a large open jar that had been sitting on a bench beside him crashed to the ground, spreading glass and a shiny liquid that quickly saturated the old faded carpet that covered part of the earthen floor. The oily substance radiated a familiar smell, growing stronger by the second. Murdoch caught his breath when Hooper stepped onto the sodden rug, candle extended, but it didn’t immediately ignite the fumes. From the direction of the stairwell, he heard Crabtree mutter something that might have been profane.
“You don’t want to do this,” Murdoch said evenly, inching away from the kerosene-soaked carpet. That unfortunately placed it between him and the stairs. “The death of that man in the fire was an accident. This would be considered murder.”
“I didn’t ask you to come here,” Danny pointed out. “Another twenty minutes and it would have been done. Miss Ogden said her sister wouldn’t get home till late. There was no one else in the house.”
“Danny, you can’t commit suicide,” Murdoch insisted. “That’s the one act God will not forgive.” The other’s desolate expression said he knew that. “Think of your children then. They need you now more than ever. How many do you have?”
“Four. Two girls and two boys.”
“How old are they?”
“Peter is the oldest, he’s six now.” Hooper took a deep breath and his trembling eased a bit, which was what Murdoch had been hoping for. The sight of the flame flickering two meters above the fuel made his heart skip several beats. “Then there’s Mary, who’s five. Martha is three and Thomas is one. The child Ellen was carrying was to be either Matthew or Veronica.”
“They’re very young then, too young to understand why you would take your own life.”
“That’s why I was writing that letter.”
“If you’d burned down the house, the letter would have been destroyed as well.”
Hooper apparently hadn’t thought of that. His face crumpled. “I don’t know what else to do!”
“Let me take you out of here. You don’t have to die today, Danny. There are people who will try to help you.”
“I miss Ellen!”
“Of course you do. She was your partner.”
“She was my life. My rock.” His tone had changed, becoming less determined and more wretched. “I can’t imagine living without her.”
“It won’t be easy. But wouldn’t she want you to try?”
“She was always stronger than me.”
Murdoch could see the candle dipping lower as Hooper succumbed to his misery. “This is your time to be strong, Danny.”
“I don’t think I can be!”
Before Murdoch could prevent it, Hooper collapsed to the floor, releasing his grip on the candle. With a desperate lunge Murdoch managed to bat it away from the thickening fumes while it was still in midair. The candle landed near the far wall among some bits and bolts of cloth which immediately caught fire, and Murdoch was bemused to see Crabtree launch himself from the middle of the staircase, landing upright and in perfect position to rapidly stomp out the flames before they had their chance to ignite the kerosene.
Hooper had curled up and was sobbing quietly, and nothing Murdoch said after that could get a reaction. The constables ended up wrapping him in one of the lengths of charred material and carrying him upstairs to the carriage, while Murdoch tried hopelessly to salvage the other cloth that had been damaged.
“I don’t think Dr. Ogden will mind a bit of singeing,” Crabtree remarked after watching him for a minute. “Not when one considers that the alternative was for her house to burn down.”
“You’re right,” Murdoch sighed. “Thank you for your quick action, George. That was a magnificent leap from the stairs.”
“Honestly, Sir, I was preparing myself to leap at either Mr. Hooper or at you, depending on his next move.”
Murdoch didn’t even want to picture how that would have played out. “I also commend you for managing to persuade Miss Ogden to cooperate. You may have promised her more than Inspector Brackenreid will be willing to give, but once he hears what happened here, I don’t think he’ll complain. If we hadn’t arrived when we did, this house and those around it could have been destroyed.”
Crabtree shrugged a little. “After her sister left, I believe Miss Ogden began having second thoughts. I suspect she would have accepted any compromise we offered at that point.”
“It may have occurred to her that since Danny was in hiding, he would have no way of knowing whether her story was published or not. Perhaps she realized he never meant to turn himself in and what his alternative would be.”
They went out to the carriage, where Hooper was limp in the back seat. Assigning Crabtree to stay at the site to coordinate the clean-up once assistance arrived, Murdoch climbed in beside their prisoner and they quickly returned to the station. While the constables dragged their unresisting charge back to the cells, Murdoch went to his office to make several important calls.
The first was to Father Lanahan. Although Father Gregory probably knew Hooper best, Murdoch knew his own priest had a heart as big as Heaven and the ability to forgive most transgressions. Father Lanahan promised to come immediately to provide whatever aid he could.
The second call was to Julia, to inform her that Ruby would be released soon, assuming the inspector felt she’d learned her lesson. He opted not to describe their encounter with Hooper in her cellar; the news that she’d nearly lost her home was best revealed in person once she arrived to take custody of her sister.
The third call was to Rory Malone, to assure him that the arsonist was no longer a threat. This call Murdoch relished, especially when Malone was forced to acknowledge that the police knew what they were doing. If there hadn’t been a trace of amusement in the man’s voice as he agreed to keep his men on their leashes, Murdoch would have been quite satisfied.
By the time Father Lanahan got to the station, Hooper was completely unresponsive. Inspector Brackenreid had given up trying to get a confession out of him, saying he hoped the priest had better luck. That didn’t seem likely, and Murdoch arranged for Father Lanahan to spend the night in case their prisoner regained his wits and wanted to talk. In the meantime, their case had to rely on Hooper’s letter to his children. It was unfinished and unsigned, but the content made very clear that it was Hooper who’d set fire to all four churches. Between that and what he’d told Ruby, Murdoch was confident the charges against him were solid.
He was watching for Julia’s arrival, and was puzzled when she came in with an older gentleman he’d never seen before. They went directly to Brackenreid’s office and spoke in private for some time. Murdoch had just concluded that the man must be a solicitor when the three came out. Brackenreid and the stranger headed for the cells while Julia came to Murdoch’s office.
She looked tired but not as stressed as he’d expected. “William, Inspector Brackenreid just told me what took place at my house. Thank you!” She gave him a heartfelt hug, then stepped back quickly. “I’ve decided I’d rather not deal with Ruby this evening. She’s being released into our father’s custody.”
Murdoch was surprised that hadn’t occurred to him. “I would welcome a chance to meet your father.”
“Perhaps another time. He’s going to have his hands full tonight.”
“Ruby is being released now?”
“Yes. She’s going to stay with Father for a few days. I believe the inspector referred to it as ‘house arrest’.” Julia shook her head. “I’m so sorry she put you at risk. I don’t know what she’s thinking sometimes.”
“Our capture of Danny Hooper could have been risky no matter the circumstances,” Murdoch said truthfully. “And it might not have happened before he’d burned more property, so I suppose we have Ruby to thank for that.”
“Bollocks,” Brackenreid said from the doorway before noting Julia’s presence. He looked as weary as she was. “Thanks are not what we owe your sister. The only reason I’m letting her go tonight is that the alternative is to leave her in a cell next to Hooper, making up more stories to print next chance she gets.”
“Well, I appreciate it, whatever your reason.” Julia looked out at the front desk, where Ruby and her father were signing some papers. “William, is your dinner invitation still on?”
“Yes, of course.” Murdoch pulled out his watch, dismayed to see how late it was. He excused himself to call the house, and when Gerta answered, told her they were on their way. When he looked up, the inspector had gone and the only Ogden remaining was Julia.
She took his arm with a relieved smile. “Dinner with your family is exactly what I need right now to clear my head,” she admitted. “Especially since I understand Constable Crabtree and his team are still cleaning up my cellar. Does James know yet what took place?”
“Not yet.” Murdoch said, but he’d already vowed to tell his partner the full tale as soon as he got home, midst of dinner or not. He’d learned from experience that leaving it till a convenient moment was unacceptable.
The others were holding dinner for them. Since none of that day’s activities were a secret, Murdoch waited till they were seated and had moved beyond the usual pleasantries, then offered to share his good news. He made the arrest of Danny Hooper sound like typical police business, only catching Pendrick’s eyes once when he mentioned how close the candle had come to igniting the kerosene. Pendrick was expressionless, which told Murdoch more than if he’d blanched.
“My goodness,” Catherine exclaimed. “Julia, did your sister actually supply this madman with kerosene?”
“No, I’m afraid I did that,” Julia said ruefully. “I keep some on hand in the cellar in case the electricity goes off.”
“Very sensible.” Murdoch remarked. “We do that as well.”
Dr. Roberts had listened closely to Murdoch’s story, but his interest took a different form entirely. “Do you think Hooper will be capable of standing trial?”
“Not in his current condition.”
“Will he be safe in jail?”
“At station four, yes.” Murdoch knew what he was asking. “Once he’s moved for trial, possibly not. He’s universally hated for burning places of worship, and there are as many Catholics in jail as any other faith. He’s also attempted suicide once. Unless Father Lanahan can get through to him, his safety is very uncertain.”
“I’ll come by the station tomorrow morning and examine him,” Roberts said. “It sounds as if he belongs in a mental facility rather than a jail cell.”
“That’s very generous of you,” Julia said. “Despite what he’s done, I don’t feel he deserves to be hanged, if only for his children’s sake. Hopefully, given a chance, he’ll be able to heal enough to someday spend time with them again.”
“What I can’t fathom is why he blamed the church for his wife’s death,” Catherine stated. “Even if one of the priests had given permission, using contraceptives is still against the law. If she’d died because they couldn’t legally obtain what they needed, would he have blamed the government and set fire to courthouses?”
“Perhaps,” Julia replied, “but contraceptives are not as hard to obtain as you’d think. I know of several clinics that distribute them under the table, so to speak.” She glanced at Murdoch. “You did not hear me say that.” He just gave her a reproachful look.
“How does one get them?” Lisette asked. Since she’d been quiet till then, even Murdoch started when she spoke up. “Can one just ask?”
Julia hesitated, evidently aware she was venturing onto thin ice. “It’s not that simple. The clinics I’m familiar with only provide them to women who have a valid health reason for needing them.”
Catherine cleared her throat. “Might I request that we change the subject?”
“Certainly.” Pendrick finally spoke up. “I have good news of my own.” He waited till all attention was on him. “I’ve spoken to some of my old investors and they are very interested in my ideas for rebuilding Saint Joseph’s. Father Lanahan has already presented my proposal to the Diocese, and it’s been approved. I have an appointment at City Hall tomorrow, after which I will make the announcement that next month we start building the most modern church this city has ever seen.”
Murdoch didn’t realize his mouth was hanging open until Pendrick gave him one of his rare grins.
“That’s wonderful!” he managed to say.
“It won’t be as ornate as the Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal. My goal is to utilize the newest engineering technology and materials to create a church that will rival the finest office building. It will be an example of what skyscrapers of the future can be.”
“Bravo, James,” Catherine said, her tone a bit odd. Murdoch noticed her watching him instead of her cousin. “A very noble endeavor.”
“And a brilliant marketing ploy,” Roberts added. “Proving what you’re capable of with this church is bound to lead to other opportunities.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Pendrick agreed. “We’ll be able to test our innovations in my own workshop. When I’m busy elsewhere, Mr. Simmons will be in charge, and he’s completely sold on the project.”
“When will it be finished?” Lisette asked.
“I’m estimating it will take ten months to a year.”
“Aunt, may we come back to Toronto to see it?”
Catherine nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, if you maintain your high marks at the academy.”
“This might also alleviate some of the Catholic population’s ill will towards Hooper,” Julia said.
The rest of the dinner passed in discussing architectural styles and necessities. Murdoch didn’t participate much; he was so overwhelmed with love for his partner he could barely look at him without exposing his thoughts. He was literally counting the minutes till they could be alone.
Finally the meal ended. Dr. Roberts couldn’t linger due to his work schedule, and Julia accepted his offer of a ride home. As they left, she was asking about his plan for Danny Hooper, professing a growing fascination with the work he was doing with the mentally ill.
To Murdoch’s relief, Catherine also headed directly upstairs. Lisette looked as if she’d like to remain behind, but a peremptory call from her guardian sent her up to her room. Murdoch and Pendrick were at last by themselves.
Murdoch moved to kiss the other very tenderly. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure. I couldn’t have Rory Malone taking credit for giving you back your safe haven.” Pendrick almost returned the kiss, then stepped back. “Let’s take this upstairs, my dear.”
They closed up the house and climbed the stairs arm in arm, only separating at the landing when they heard footsteps approaching. Catherine appeared around the corner in her dressing gown, face solemn.
“James,” she said. “I’m sorry. As much as I like Julia, I have to request that you not marry her. Not as long as we have an impressionable young lady to raise.”
Pendrick took a moment to control his voice. “But I’ve already begun rehearsing my proposal.”
She snorted. “You may joke, but I’m serious. Between Julia and her sister, our Lisette would be exposed to the most inappropriate ideas. When she’s older, out of school, we can revisit the possibility, assuming Julia hasn’t found another suitor by then.” She included Murdoch in her pointed scowl. “And assuming you haven’t made other arrangements.”
While they stood there in shock, she retreated down the hallway to her own side of the house.
“Did she mean…” Murdoch murmured.
“I really don’t know.” Pendrick stared after her for a moment before leading Murdoch into their bedroom. “I’d concluded that it was Lisette who found your necktie in the ballroom and hung it on the doorknob, but perhaps Catherine saw it.”
“That isn’t enough reason to think…” Murdoch sighed. “Have we been indiscreet without knowing it?”
Pendrick suddenly swept him into his arms. “Who cares? She hasn’t openly accused us, she’s said they’ll be back, and they’re leaving day after tomorrow. I prefer to concentrate on other things tonight.”
“As do I.”
Slipping smoothly from his embrace, Murdoch went to his knees and began unfastening his lover’s trousers. Pendrick was near enough to the door to lock it, but that was the last rational action he performed. While Murdoch demonstrated one of his recently perfected talents, Pendrick haphazardly stroked his hair, his shoulders, his face. When he came, he didn’t try to muffle his cry of delight, and Murdoch had to pull away in order to smile. He licked his lips as Pendrick regained his breath.
“God,” Pendrick suddenly said raggedly, clasping Murdoch to him, “you could have died today.”
“I didn’t.” Murdoch stood up quickly. “James, I’m fine. I’m here.”
“I still dream sometimes about the night Carducci was going to stab you. If I hadn’t shown up at just the right moment with that gun, you could have been killed and we’d never have had this.”
Murdoch kissed him to silence his fear. “But you did. And I survived today. You know I’ll always take every precaution necessary to come back to you.”
“There are mornings I don’t want to let you leave the house.”
It was so rare for Pendrick to admit to concern over Murdoch’s work that Murdoch had to take him seriously. These days he made a point of telling his lover as soon as possible if his life had been threatened on the job, and Pendrick had seemed to accept it as an unavoidable part of his position. It scared Murdoch to see his partner scared, because it reminded him how unique and precious their relationship was.
“Next week, after Catherine and Lisette have gone, I’ll take some time off,” he whispered. He hadn’t missed a day of work since their trip to Vancouver nearly six months earlier, so he didn’t expect Brackenreid would grouse too much. “We’ll spend some time alone together.” He kissed Pendrick again. “Maybe we’ll learn to do the cake walk.”
That made Pendrick give a reluctant laugh. He fell onto their bed, bringing Murdoch with him. “Never will I do the cake walk. It’s the most undignified thing I’ve ever seen.”
“You mean it’s a dance best performed by young people.”
“Young people who don’t care about their dignity.”
“I love you.”
Pendrick met his eyes. “And I you.”
“I would do anything for you.”
“I would build a church for you.”
That brought to mind why they’d sequestered themselves in their bedroom. Slowly, with a great deal more kissing and stroking, they removed each other’s clothing and got down to some prolonged love-making.
Pendrick dropped Murdoch off at the station next morning on his way to City Hall. While he was finalizing his plans to re-build Saint Joseph’s and Murdoch was wrapping up the paperwork on the arsonist investigation, the ladies intended to enjoy some last minute shopping, followed by an early dinner and early night. Their train back to Winnipeg was scheduled to leave at ten o’clock the following morning, and they had some extensive packing to do.
Murdoch arrived to find Dr. Roberts already there, closeted in the cell area with Hooper and Father Lanahan. He also found a bottle of wine on his desk with a note attached: ‘A small token of my appreciation for your fine police work. RM.’ For the first time Murdoch began to wonder whether Pendrick might have a point about Malone’s interest in him.
He called Crabtree into his office. “For you, George, from a grateful parishioner.” He offered the bottle without the note, and Crabtree accepted it with a big smile.
“For me, Sir? I was merely doing my job.”
“You were able to locate Hooper when no one else could. This is the least you deserve.”
Crabtree read the label and although the brand had meant nothing to Murdoch, he was clearly impressed. “Thank you, Detective Murdoch. I’ll save this for a special occasion.”
For the next few hours Murdoch was able to concentrate on his work. He wasn’t interrupted until Roberts emerged from the back room and shut himself in Brackenreid’s office with the inspector. A few minutes later Father Lanahan came out and joined Murdoch at his desk.
“Such a sad state of affairs,” he observed. His kind eyes were red-rimmed, his face drawn. “Danny hasn’t come back to us yet. Dr. Roberts said he is welcome at his hospital, which I suppose is the best place for him now. In time, perhaps he’ll remember who he is and what he’s done.”
“Dr. Roberts is a very capable man,” Murdoch assured him. “If anyone can help Danny, it will be him.”
Father Lanahan nodded. “I’ll go along to see him settled in. Danny’s children are too young to understand what’s happened, but I’ll be paying them a visit later today, to meet the aunt and see if she’d be amenable to my setting up a charity to help her care for them.”
“That is an excellent idea.” Murdoch shook his hand warmly. “Thank you for coming, Father.”
“Thank you for calling me.” The priest started to go, then turned back. “And please extend my thanks again to Mr. Pendrick for his magnanimous offer. An exceptional man.” Father Lanahan managed a faint twinkle. “You’ve made a fine choice, William.”
For once Murdoch didn’t blush. “I couldn’t agree more.”
He was just finishing his report when his telephone rang. The voice on the other end was familiar, but lacked its usual humor. Even the Irish lilt was a bit flat.
“Detective Murdoch,” Malone began, “some disturbing news has reached me. I’ve heard that the arsonist is not going to be tried for his crimes.”
“No, he’s suffered a mental breakdown and has been taken to an appropriate facility. He’s not competent to stand trial now, and may never be. How did you hear about it so soon?”
“Rumors tend to travel fast,” Malone said blithely, and Murdoch translated that to mean that the man still had someone keeping an eye on the station. “You’re sure it isn’t a ploy by this bastard to escape punishment?”
There was silence for a moment. “May I assume you received my token of thanks?”
“Yes, that was very gracious of you. Since, as you may know, I don’t drink, I’ve passed your gift along to my constable, the man most responsible for finding our suspect.” Murdoch was rather enjoying having the upper hand. When Malone was silent again, he added, “Another interesting rumor may reach you today. City Hall and the Diocese have approved the reconstruction of Saint Joseph’s. Mr. Pendrick will be in charge of the project, with funding coming from several local investors.”
Malone’s tone grew even cooler. “I’d already offered my assistance.”
“And that was also very generous of you. If you still wish to contribute, you might get in touch with Father Lanahan. He’s going to set up a charity to provide for the children of the man who had the breakdown. There are four, all under the age of seven -”
Malone hung up on him.
Murdoch was still smiling when Brackenreid came to his door wearing his hat and coat.
“I’m off,” he announced. “Hooper isn’t our problem anymore. Miss Ogden will keep till Monday, and Mrs. Brackenreid is in need of some pampering. Seems it was a false alarm. She’s not expecting after all.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Murdoch said automatically, although the inspector appeared anything but disappointed. “Sir, would it be possible for me to take a few days off next week? My report will be finished today, and I don’t know of any other cases that require my attention.”
“And you’d rather be miles away when Miss Ogden is charged with obstruction and whatever else I can dream up over the weekend,” Brackenreid guessed. “I don’t blame you. Take the time, Murdoch. I’ll call you if I need you.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
By the time he got home, dinner was ready to be served. Mary brought it in herself, almost teary-eyed at presenting her last extravagant creation. It was goose, with abundant sauces and side dishes, and Murdoch could see from Pendrick’s expression that they had regular dinner parties in their future, if only to keep the cook from becoming depressed.
The announcement at City Hall had gone well, attended by reporters from all the city newspapers. Pendrick had already hired a crew to clean up the burned-out site, and his first meeting with his engineering team was scheduled for a week from Monday.
Even Catherine was in a good mood, evidently eager to get back to Winnipeg. “It has been a delightful visit for the most part,” she said, “but one is always happiest in one’s own home.”
“You are welcome to visit any time,” Pendrick told her. “With advance warning, of course.”
She almost rolled her eyes. “I don’t believe in unexpected visits,” she assured him, and Murdoch could swear she included him again in her next words. “One never knows what one might be interrupting.”
After the meal they said good-night, and Murdoch went to call the THI to make sure Hooper had been safely admitted. He had, but when Murdoch asked to speak to Roberts, he was told that the doctor had gone out to dinner with a colleague. Murdoch would have thought nothing of it, until the receptionist remarked that the colleague, one Dr. Ogden, was also taking an interest in their patient.
The wheels in his head spinning, he started to go upstairs to share this tidbit with Pendrick, only to hear voices from the ballroom. Inside he found Lisette and his partner at the Victrola, battling playfully over which recording to put on.
“Ah, William, you shall have the deciding vote,” Pendrick said upon seeing him enter. “Will we play a waltz or a tango?”
“Choose the tango,” Lisette pleaded with big, innocent eyes. “I still haven’t seen it performed.”
“Choose the waltz, or we shall all be in danger of embarrassment.”
Murdoch laughed. “I’m sorry, Lisette. A waltz it is, but it doesn’t have to be a standard waltz.”
Thus cued, Pendrick put on one of their quicker pieces. He bowed to Lisette and she assumed dance position readily. She easily kept pace with his rapid steps, leading Murdoch to suspect she’d seen them perform it before. He was trying to recall when that could have been when he realized he was no longer alone.
“I haven’t thought about those dance lessons in years,” Catherine murmured, gaze locked on her cousin and ward as they whipped around the room. “I never imagined he would remember my little act of rebellion.”
“He once told me that he tried to dance like that with Sally,” Murdoch admitted. “She was not amused.”
“I’m pleased to hear it.”
“Lisette seems to be enjoying herself.”
They watched for a few more minutes, Murdoch as always admiring his partner’s physique and grace. He wasn’t sure whether the dancers knew their audience had doubled, and was about to comment on that when Catherine leaned a little closer and lowered her voice.
“Detective Murdoch,” she began, “I hadn’t seen James in many years, as you know. The last time we met was just prior to his wedding, and while I could see he was blindly in love, he wasn’t joyous. He was excited and elated and smitten, but not the way he is now. I haven’t seen him smile so much since he was a boy, and almost never the way he smiles at you.” She didn’t face him, to Murdoch’s relief; he wasn’t sure what his expression might be revealing. “At first I couldn’t be certain whether you recognized his feelings, but now I’m convinced you do and that you return them. Am I correct?”
Catherine sighed, but plowed onward. “I promised I wouldn’t interfere in James’ romantic life once he had one, and I meant it. I firmly believe that everyone, man or woman, needs a helpmeet. He has again not chosen someone I would have suggested, but this time, I think he got it right.”
Murdoch replied softly, “He did.”
She nodded, then straightened with a smile. “Very impressive. But are you sure that is how a waltz is meant to be danced?”
Murdoch hadn’t noticed that the music had ended and the dancers were approaching. Lisette was practically bouncing with energy; Pendrick was watching them with a raised eyebrow.
“I have it on good authority that that is exactly how a waltz is meant to be performed,” he said to his cousin and held out his hand. “I believe I’m next on your dance card.”
Catherine dodged his grasp. “I think not.”
“Do, Aunt,” Lisette urged. “It was such fun.”
“I haven’t danced in ages.”
Pendrick caught and positioned her with a smirk. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how?”
She seemed to take that as a challenge. When Murdoch re-started the recording, they set off in a perfectly timed quick-step, whirling around the ballroom as if they’d been dancing together for years. Lisette clapped her hands in glee, then grinned and curtseyed when Murdoch bowed to her.
“May I have this dance, Miss Simone?”
They followed the others across the floor, weaving around them and more than once narrowly avoiding a collision as Pendrick and Catherine attempted to dance them into a corner. Lisette displayed more enthusiasm than finesse, but she kept up all the same, and Murdoch suspected she could have continued to dance all night, whereas he and the others were ready to collapse at the end of the piece. Catherine sank onto a divan next to Pendrick, fanning herself with her hand. Her neatly pinned hair had come loose and trailed down her back, but she was chuckling.
“I’d like to see Sally do that!” she declared.
Pendrick laughed too, then paused, his thoughts turning serious. He pulled Catherine to her feet again. “Will you excuse us?” he said to Murdoch and Lisette. “Catherine and I have a little more catching up to do.”
He led his puzzled cousin from the room. Murdoch, rightly guessing that he meant to finally tell her of Sally’s true nature, stayed behind with Lisette, who didn’t seem especially interested in his meaning.
“I’ve had a wonderful visit,” she said. “Will you give my regards to Ruby and Julia? I’d hoped to see them before I left, but we’ve run out of time.”
“Of course. I know they would have liked to see you again too.”
“Perhaps you and Uncle James can come to Winnipeg next?”
“I’ll suggest that to him.”
She jumped to her feet. When Murdoch rose as well, she stretched upward to kiss him on the cheek. “Good-night, Uncle William.”
She left him there bemused and touched.
When Pendrick joined him in their bedroom, he had a curious look on his face. He undressed and crawled into bed before explaining. Murdoch was already there, comfortably contemplating the various surprises he’d had that day.
“Catherine has promised to stop trying to find me a suitable wife,” Pendrick stated. “After hearing about the grief Sally caused me, she says I would do well not to get involved with another woman. I assured her there are few women in the world like Sally, thank God, but that didn’t sway her.”
“That’s because she knows about us.” Murdoch described the unexpected, albeit brief, conversation they’d had. Pendrick was thunderstruck since she hadn’t given him a hint during his confession regarding his ex-wife. “My guess is that she’d rather keep it unspoken between you.”
“That’s fine with me. She probably isn’t aware that Lisette knows too.”
“Probably not. Lisette is clever enough not to say anything even if Catherine brings up the subject.”
“At least Julia never guessed what she had in mind.”
Murdoch shook his head. “Julia’s attention seems to be elsewhere. Did you ever notice that Dr. Roberts is her type?”
“Dr. Roberts?” Pendrick considered it while Murdoch explained why he’d come to that conclusion. “Of course, she could simply be interested in his work.”
“That’s possible.” Murdoch privately hoped that wasn’t the case. He felt Julia could do a lot worse than Paul Roberts.
“Did you get some time off?” Pendrick turned out the light and rested his head on Murdoch’s shoulder. “I scheduled my first meeting assuming you would.”
“Yes, a few days. Rory Malone was not happy about your announcement, by the way.” Murdoch grinned in the dark. “We spoke on the phone. If he was interested in me before, he certainly isn’t now.”
They were quiet for a few minutes, then Pendrick stirred. “I think I’ll actually miss having Catherine and Lisette here.”
In reply, Pendrick nuzzled Murdoch’s neck. “No, not really.”
Murdoch smiled and kissed him back. They were too tired to make love that night, but it wouldn’t last. He fell asleep writing a mental note to give both cook and maid some time off, because having the house to themselves again was going to be a powerful aphrodisiac.