* * *
“Good morning, Róisín,” Lady Felicia said at a low volume and took her usual seat. “Oh! Good morning!” she repeated in surprise when Róisín’s eyes opened slowly. “Welcome back.”
Róisín let out a deep breath and blinked, moving her head lightly in an indication of a nod. “...Sid,” she got out, her voice hoarse and weak.
“He’ll be here shortly,” Lady Felicia told her. “I’m sure Mrs. McCarthy isn’t letting him leave without a proper breakfast.”
“Key an,” she whispered, eyes fluttering as she was struggling to stay awake.
“What key and?” Lady Felicia reached for Róisín’s hand and leaned in closer. “Which key do you mean, Róisín?” But Róisín’s eyes had already closed as the little strength she had faded out. Lady Felicia frowned, keeping the other woman’s hand in hers as she remembered that the doctor had also said that Róisín had been mumbling about a key when she had been brought in. But which key? Which key could be this important?
At the presbytery, Mrs. McCarthy was bustling around the kitchen making sure that the two men that had just taken a seat at the kitchen table were suitably provided with tea and breakfast before she sat down herself. Sidney seemed just as pensive as he had since his release and the Father seemed to be in thought as well, holding out his cup of tea towards her absently as she had the bowl of sugar currently. She added a few spoonfuls, more than she cared to acknowledge, and put the sugar bowl to the side, beginning her own breakfast.
Then she stopped with a gasp.
Sidney and the Father looked at her immediately, seeing several thoughts pass over her face before she spoke.
“What is it, Mrs. M?” Sidney asked equal parts worried and eager.
“When I put the sugar in the Father’s tea just now, without thinking like it was second nature,” she explained breathlessly. “I remembered something that happened yesterday while I was going ’round the shops yesterday.” She looked stricken just thinking of it and Father Brown exchanged a concerned glance with Sid. “Someone greeted me in Irish and I replied in Irish without thinking like it was second nature.”
Sidney frowned and the Father looked intrigued.
“It did strike me as odd for a moment but there was no one but locals there when I turned back so I didn’t think much of it until now,” she explained, shaking her head. “I know all the Irish people in Kembleford and surrounding areas and none of them have ever greeted me in Irish nor I them!”
“Was it a man or a woman, Mrs. McCarthy?” the Father asked calmly, the cogs in his head already whirling, you could tell.
“A man,” she answered decidedly. “He knew my first name too.”
Sid’s frown deepened. “It’s got to be him. Whoever is after Róisín’s family. It has to be him.”
“Possible,” Father Brown allowed with a slow nod. “What is of more pressing concern at the moment is that if this is the man we are looking for, he knows Mrs. McCarthy as well.”
Mrs. McCarthy pressed her lips together and nodded.
“It does seem to confirm our assumption that this is family related,” the Father added thoughtfully. “Lady Felicia is with Róisín and neither you, Mrs. McCarthy, nor you, Sidney, should be going anywhere on your own.”
Sidney grumbled under his breath at that but didn’t outwardly protest which struck both the Father as well as Mrs. McCarthy as odd. They were interrupted by the telephone ringing though so no one asked.
“St. Mary’s presbytery,” Father Brown answered the call. “Ah, good morning, inspector.”
Both Sid and Mrs. McCarthy sat up at that.
Another morning, another day on which he was not going to get the requested files from the Irish authorities, Sullivan was sure. The files he did have had taken up permanent residency on a spot on his desk he would never admit to having cleared specifically for them. He had other cases as well, of course, but these were…
He had just opened a new one that had just come in about a… suspected arson two towns over? When the telephone rang.
“Kembleford police, Inspector Sullivan speaking,” he answered it, skimming the report at the same time. A fishing shed by the river this time. His eyes went to the board he had made up with the fires in the area that he had found suspicious, even if the fire chief may not have. This one fit perfectly into it.
“Good morning, inspector, this is Liam Walters from the haberdashery,” came through the receiver. “I do hope I am not inconveniencing you but I remembered that you had asked about a particular pair of buttons a few days ago.”
“I did, Mr. Walters, do you have any more information about them?”
“Not so much about the buttons themselves, inspector, but a man came in this morning asking about them as well to replace two that were missing on his jacket.”
Sullivan sat up ramrod straight. “A man with a jacket with the same buttons but two missing came to your shop this morning?” he confirmed, waving to Goodfellow to come in quickly.
“Yes, inspector. I couldn’t get his name as I had to tell him the same as I told you – that I do not carry the buttons and cannot order them without knowing their manufacturer, but I did get a good look at him so I can give you a description.”
“Thank you, Mr. Walters, we will be there shortly.” Sullivan slammed the receiver down and stood quickly, reaching for his jacket. “A man came looking to replace his two missing buttons at the haberdashery this morning,” he informed Sergeant Goodfellow curtly and hurried out of his office.
“I don’t remember in that much detail!” Mrs. McCarthy insisted, giving an annoyed look to Sidney and shaking her head. “Oh, Father, what did the inspector want?” she asked when Father Brown came back into the kitchen after his call with the inspector.
“What do you not remember in that much detail, Mrs. McCarthy?” he asked instead.
“What the man looked like. Sidney has been trying to hypnotize me into remembering but that obviously won’t work, such nonsense.” She shook her head disapprovingly.
“The inspector called to let me know that a man came to the haberdashery this morning looking to replace two buttons on his jacket that had the same buttons as the inspector inquired about recently. Mr. Walters remembered and called the inspector. We now have a description of the man and a composite sketch. Inspector Sullivan requested for you to come to the station to have a look at it, Mrs. McCarthy.”
“Of course.” Mrs. McCarthy stood immediately, Sidney following suit.
“One thing we already know is that the man has an Irish accent,” the Father added and Sidney gave Mrs. McCarthy a meaningful look.
At the hospital Lady Felicia was reading the book she had brought when she noticed that Róisín was coming to again. She wondered why Sidney hadn’t been by yet but was determined to stick by Róisín’s side until someone else came to relieve her. There had to be a good reason for his absence and she made herself not think about it too deeply lest the coil in her stomach curl any tighter than it already was.
“Hello,” Lady Felicia said softly, giving Róisín a smile. Róisín’s gaze was more focused this time and she tried to sit up. “Easy there.” Lady Felicia helped her sit up slightly, fluffing up the pillow behind her back.
“Sidney,” Róisín whispered, coughing after the two syllables and scrunching up her face in pain.
“Here, have a drink.” Lady Felicia reached for the glass of water on the small stand next to Róisín’s bed, helping her take a few sips before Róisín sank back into the pillow again
“Where?” she asked, eyes trained onto the other woman.
“He’ll be here shortly,” Lady Felicia tried to assure her but Róisín shook her head.
“He… not safe…” she got out and had to take a few moments break while she gathered the strength to continue.
“He’s careful, he promised,” Lady Felicia told her but again Róisín didn’t seem to agree.
“Key an,” she repeated from before. “Key an fire.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand, Róisín. What key do you mean? A key and fire?”
Róisín shook her head but had to close her eyes for another few moments, the frown between her brows telling that she had not fallen back to sleep though.
“Sullivan,” she said next and Lady Felicia was even more surprised. “Get Sullivan.”
“Uhm. You want me to get the inspector?”
“I’m not sure that’s the best idea yet, Róisín, you’re still-”
“Get Sullivan,” Róisín repeated and the look she gave the other woman spoke for itself. Even if she rested back against the pillow in exhaustion afterwards.
“I’ll phone the station,” Lady Felicia promised, standing and waving for a nurse to come. “I have to make an urgent phone call to Inspector Sullivan as Róisín wants to tell him something. Would you stay with her until I’m back? Thank you.” She hurried off.
“Yes, Lady Felicia, I’ll come right away. I’m just waiting for Mrs. McCarthy and-”
The trio entered the station to find Inspector Sullivan on the phone at the counter with Sergeant Goodfellow hovering nearby. Sullivan gestured for them to come closer while he was still speaking.
“I’ll bring the sketch, of course. – Yes, of course. Whatever she is able to tell me will be the most helpful even if it is just a few words. – Bye.” He hung up and shook his head. “No movement on anything in a week and today everything is happening at once. Lady Felicia just called and told me that Róisín asked to speak to me.”
This was met by surprise but also concern by everyone.
“We’re going to the hospital now so I can speak with her and I’ll also show her the composite we have. I’ll show it to you there as well, Mrs. McCarthy.”
“Of course, inspector,” Mrs. McCarthy nodded dutifully.
Sullivan gestured for them to exit the police station then and then the trio squeezed onto the backseat of the police car so they could all go together as quickly as possible.
Lady Felicia was awaiting them in the corridor when they got there and the expression on her face was one of concern.
“Sidney,” she said first, giving him a small but warm smile. “Mrs. McCarthy. Father. Inspector Sullivan.” She greeted one after the other.
“What did she say?” Sidney asked right after, searching his boss’ face closely.
“Your name, she mentioned the key again and the fire. Then she asked me to get the inspector,” Lady Felicia explained and gave a small shrug. “She nodded off again but she made it very clear that she wanted to speak to you, inspector.”
Sullivan gave a curt nod. “I’ll show her the composite as well.”
“A composite?” Lady Felicia looked at him questioningly.
“This is the man that inquired at the haberdashery about replacing two missing buttons from his jacket. Mr. Walters recognized the remaining buttons as the ones that I had shown him,” Sullivan explained and opened the case folder he had brought. “Do you know this man, Mrs. McCarthy?” He showed it to her.
Mrs. McCarthy put on her reading glasses and examined the sketch very closely, a frown forming and deepening. “He does seem familiar but I can’t put my finger on why. I’m sorry, inspector,” she said finally.
“Let me know if you remember anything,” Sullivan instructed her and she nodded. “It would probably best if a familiar person was there while I talked to Róisín.” He glanced at Sidney but also Lady Felicia.
“I’ll go,” Sidney decided and so the two men went in.
“She kept referring to some sort of key and something else but I couldn’t make any sense of it,” Lady Felicia told Father Brown and Mrs. McCarthy with a sigh.
“You did what she asked for, you got the inspector for her,” Father Brown tried to reassure her but the furrow between her brows didn’t ease.
“Róisín?” Sidney said quietly, coming around his wife’s bed and sitting down. He took her hand and she squeezed back immediately, a small smile forming on her lips even before she had opened her eyes.
“Sid,” she whispered, opening her eyes slowly. The smile slipped and she pulled her hand away, slowly but noticeably, when she saw Sullivan standing at the end of her bed as well. “Thank you for coming,” she croaked, trying to sit up more.
“Careful, careful,” Sidney cautioned her and tried to help her but she pushed his hand away. He frowned at that but her attention was still on Sullivan.
“The fire,” she began but had to cough. Sidney helped her to a few sips of water. “Key an.”
Sullivan exchanged a look with Sidney. “I’m afraid we didn’t find a key anywhere, Mrs. Carter. I only found a button in your hand. I inquired at the local haberdashery about it and this man did as well this morning. Do you know him?” Sullivan held up the sketch for her to see and her reaction spoke more than any words she could have said.
“Key an,” she got out as she started to wheeze. “It was ... him.” She started coughing and a nearby nurse came to her bed immediately. “Un-” she tried to get out but couldn’t finish.
“Please go,” the nurse urged them, calling out for the doctor as well and fitting the oxygen mask over Róisín’s mouth and nose again. “You have to calm down, Mrs. Carter, just breathe.” She cast a pointed look at the two men. “Go!”
Sullivan and Sidney hurried out of the room as more nurses and the doctor ascended to Róisín’s bed to help her.
“It’s definitely him!” Sidney said very firmly and very loudly. “She saw this and she panicked. It’s him.” He stabbed his finger at the sketch he had ripped from Sullivan’s hand.
“Yes,” Sullivan agreed simply. “But the key doesn’t make any sense. No one found any key around either fire site nor on her. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean.”
“What key?” Father Brown asked.
“She kept referring to a key and something. Only she didn’t tell us the something,” Sidney explained, eyes never leaving where the medical staff as still bustling around his wife’s bed. “Key an- I don’t know!” He ran a hand through his hair roughly.
Suddenly Mrs. McCarthy’s eyes went very, very wide and she snatched the sketch from Sidney who had his mouth open to protest until he saw her expression.
“What? What is it? What is it, Mrs. M?” he asked urgently.
“She isn’t referring to a key and something,” Mrs. McCarthy told him impatiently. “It’s a name. Cian. That’s who this is. Cian Doran. Saoirse’s brother and Róisín’s uncle. The last time I saw him he was much younger, that’s why I didn’t recognize him right away.” She stared at the sketch intently. “Yes, this is Cian Doran, I’m sure of it.”
Sullivan and Sidney exchanged a look. “She told us it was him,” Sullivan revealed, taking the sketch back finally. “Cian. It was him.”
“I think she tried to say uncle but couldn’t,” Sidney added, rubbing his face. “Doctor!” he said then as the doctor finally came from the room. “What happened? How is she?”
“Calm down, Mr. Carter, your wife will be fine,” the doctor told him, not without a condescending undercurrent that visibly ruffled Sidney’s feathers. “She had an episode, probably set off by emotional stress. You should have consulted me first before questioning her, inspector.” He gave a disapproving look towards the inspector. “I gave her a mild sedative to calm her so she will sleep for a few hours. We will need to see if this has any lasting impact then.” He gave another look to Sidney before he left.
Sidney swallowed thickly, rubbing his face again. His deep concern for his wife was written all over his face.
“You stay with her, Sid, we will do the rest,” Father Brown told him quietly, giving the younger man’s arm a comforting squeeze. “You go and sit with your wife.”
“But I should be out there getting that-” Sidney broke off, for once not wanting to swear in front of Mrs. McCarthy and Lady Felicia.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Sullivan inserted himself. The look Sidney cast at him was deadly. “I’d prefer my suspect alive after I find him,” he tacked on and though Sidney’s face darkened further, he also gave a curt nod. “We will now need to track down Mr. Doran as quickly as possible. I’ll take this to the Johnsons and ask them if they’ve seen him around the farm.”
“...they had an Irish laborer,” Sidney remembered suddenly, face going into another kind of frown. “I didn’t see him when I was there but I heard Mrs. Johnson talking about an Irish laborer they were having on just recently.”
Sullivan looked at him for a moment but then nodded. “Alright. Thank you. I think we should leave now, we have already caused enough disturbance for today.” He gestured for everyone to leave with him.
“Don’t go alone,” Sidney said suddenly, his voice much quieter and also a good deal softer than before. He didn’t repeat himself and Sullivan didn’t acknowledge it verbally but he did give a small nod.
* * *