Corrigan Blake sprang lightly into his sleekly polished six-litre Brighouse Special, pressing the starter. As the Brighouse roared into life, Blake deftly flipped her into first gear, dropped the clutch and headed for the Great North Road.
With the speedometer often pushing twenty miles per hour he weaved his way through London traffic, mind racing even faster than the car. As Blake swerved past trams and plodding horse-drawn delivery vans he ruminated on the urgent message he’d received on the telephone that morning in his bachelor flat just off Bond Street.
The call had come through as Blake was reading the Times, breakfasting on his usual coffee, toast and scrambled guinea-fowl eggs. Prunes the butler had just served coffee when the operator put through an urgent trunk call. It was Captain Trellis so Corrigan Blake immediately sensed a sharp whiff of trouble in the cool morning air.
‘Sorry about this Blake,’ said Trellis over a crackling line, ‘but it seems Lady Bostocke’s priceless necklace has been stolen.’
‘Again?’ said Blake gruffly. He sipped at his cup of ferociously strong Javanese coffee personally imported through Langley and Mill his Bond Street supplier.
‘I’m afraid so,’ said Trellis. ‘Looks like an inside job too. Or possibly an opportunist thief. Or she just lost it again. Must be something like that don’t you know.’
‘Well I know which one my money’s on. Right-ho Trellis I’ll meet you at Coldewyck Hall in a couple of hours and we’ll see if we can’t get to the bottom of this business of the stolen necklace once and for all. I’ll take the Brighouse to save time.
Blake’s steel-blue eyes narrowed as he drove the Brighouse out of London, reflecting on that phone call from Trellis. He fished in his pocket for his briar pipe and tobacco pouch, driving one-handed as he filled the pipe with black shag, specially prepared by his tobacconist. By now, Blake was headed out of London, leaving behind neat rows of suburban villas sprawling out from the great metropolis.
He made for the back roads to avoid early traffic and also for the sheer pleasure of guiding the powerful Brighouse Special through winding country lanes with the speedometer needle rarely below thirty.
Blake lit his pipe and inhaled deeply on fragrant smoke as he flicked the car with expert skill through quiet villages, past golden cornfields, down winding leafy lanes.
The exhaust growled as the Brighouse ate up the miles. Showers of tiny sparks danced away from the brightly smouldering tobacco in Blake’s briar. They swirled away in the slipstream of the speeding car to settle gently back to earth among dry grass, fallen leaves and hedgerows. Small roadside fires marked the progress of the thundering vehicle.
After two hours of hard motoring, Corrigan Blake brought the Brighouse Special to a graceful halt on the huge semicircle of pure white gravel gracing the venerable entrance to Coldewyck Hall. Trellis had obviously just arrived as he was still standing by his rather flamboyant maroon-coloured Ripley Cabriolet two-seater with white leather seats and the Trellis family crest emblazoned on each door.
Lady Bostocke herself waited at the door while behind her stood only daughter Francoise, riding crop in one hand and a haughty smile on her beautiful face. There had been a time, thought Blake as he caught sight of Francoise - but no – he was here on business and those days were over. He pushed thoughts of what might have been back into the furthest recesses of his mind, steeling himself to concentrate only on the matter in hand.
‘Mr Blake, thank you for coming. I simply did not know who else to turn to.’ Lady Bostocke extended a translucent, jewel-encrusted hand. Blake shook it firmly, failing to notice Lady Bostocke’s wince of pain as his iron grip crushed heavy rings into delicate fingers.
‘It is a pleasure as always,’ said Blake absently. He wondered vaguely why two tears furrowed their zigzag way down Lady Bostocke’s powdered cheeks - why she blew on the fingers of her right hand as if she’d just snatched it back from a flame. Arthritis perhaps? Was there a clue there?
‘Francoise will show you through,’ gasped Lady Bostocke, dabbing at her eyes with a lacy white handkerchief. Francoise turned on her elegantly immaculate heel to lead the way.
‘I won’t shake hands Mr Blake,’ said Francoise over her shoulder, ‘if you don’t mind.’
‘Where’s whatsisname - the butler?’ Blake demanded, following Francoise into the vast hallway and on into an elegant Georgian drawing-room.’
‘Purdy? He’ll be around somewhere – why do you ask?’ Francoise raised a polite eyebrow.
‘It’s always the butler,’ announced Blake. He strode across to the fireside and gave the bell-pull a hefty yank.
Within a minute, Purdy glided into the room. ‘You rang, madam?’
‘No - I rang, Purdy,’ Blake said, puffing away at his briar, showering hot little sparks onto a priceless Aubusson rug. ‘Hand over the jewels and we’ll go easy on you.’
‘The jewels sir?’
‘Er that’ll be all Purdy - Mr Blake was having a little joke.’ Captain Trellis stepped forward to ease Blake away from the indignant butler.
‘I damned well wasn’t joking,’ Blake complained. ‘What the devil are you up to Trellis?’
It wasn’t Purdy, Blake.’
‘Of course it was. The man’s a butler – it’s always the butler. Don’t you read any of those detective stories I send you Trellis old man?’
‘Purdy came back from his holiday in Cornwall only this morning Blake. Thank you Purdy; that will be all.’ The butler glided from the room, head held even higher than usual.
‘Oh well, I didn’t realise we were going all analytical old man,’ Blake announced, freeing himself from Trellis’ grip. ‘I suppose I’ll have to think up another of my famous theories now you’ve scotched my favourite butler angle.’
‘I think we’d better look at the evidence first old chap.’ Trellis said. He smiled at Lady Bostocke.
‘Evidence?’ Blake scratched his ear with the stem of his briar.
‘If you’d just give us the details in your own words Lady Bostocke,’ Trellis continued.
‘Well Captain Trellis, I first realised the necklace was gone late last night. I was about to lay out my breakfast jewels when to my horror -’
‘Own up old girl, it was an insurance swindle wasn’t it?’ Blake glared at Lady Bostocke.
‘Oh good lord, I do apologise Lady Bostocke,’ Trellis tried to bundle Corrigan Blake out of the room as Lady Bostocke swooned onto the still smouldering Aubusson, conveniently putting it out.
‘I say Trellis, this is too much,’ shouted Corrigan Blake, struggling to release himself from Trellis’ arm-lock.
‘You really can’t keep saying these things,’ Trellis grunted, tightening his grip on Blake’s arm.
‘Well somebody stole the blasted necklace it and I’ll feel his collar in no time if you’ll only let go of my damned arm. What about you Francoise my dear? Short of a few bob are we?’ Blake shouted while still struggling with Captain Trellis. There was a loud scrunching sound from somewhere on the floor.
‘Good heavens.’ Captain Trellis released his hold, bending down to pull something from under Blake’s large, but elegantly-shod foot. Trellis held up the remains of a crushed necklace, pearls and twinkling diamonds scattering their way across the antique Persian carpet.
‘It was under the sofa all the time, Lady Bostocke,’ Trellis explained. ‘You must have dropped it and Mr Blake seems to have found it for you. There is a little damage of course -’
‘Told you I’d find it,’ said Blake. ‘Don’t bother to thank me Lady Bostocke – it’s all in a day’s work for Corrigan Blake.’ He ducked as a small Ming vase whizzed past his head. Surely Lady Bostocke hadn’t thrown it?