by John M. Joyce (April 2009)
Detective Chief Inspector Sir Michael Lushkins of the B—-shire Constabulary was deeply puzzled by his Chief Constable’s insistence that his small division should investigate the murder of Mr. Jonathan Soames on the previous evening. Granted, Mr Soames was a well known pillar of the community, and a wealthy one at that, and further granted that he was a well respected, and generous, member of his local community but nothing which DCI Lushkins and his small, and not very expert, team had uncovered so far pointed to his murder as being anything other than a routine case of homicide by a chance armed burglar. A crime of burglary gone wrong; a sad event for Mr. Soames’ family; but not, as far as DCI Lushkins could see, anything other than that. What was really worrying about the Chief Constable’s decision was that there hadn’t been a murder in B—-shire for the last fifty years and, frankly, he knew that his squad simply did not possess the type of expertise needed to investigate this crime.
There was, of course, a missing item from Mr. Soames’ silver collection – one of a set of four very large table centre candelabra was no longer on the sideboard in the dining room where Mr. Soames’ body had been found according to Mr. Gregory, the butler. He also said that they were a very valuable set but couldn’t hazard a guess as to just how valuable because his late master had never mentioned the exact amount in his hearing.
‘Well,’ thought D.C.I. Lushkins, ‘while I’m waiting for the ballistics report on the bullets which killed Soames it seems that I should find out just how valuable that silver candelabra set actually is.’
Upon that thought he left his desk and walked out into the warm sunshine of an English summer day. He strolled gently down the High Street to the large and elegant antiques emporium which was owned by one of his good friends, Mrs. Samantha Fox-Talbot. She, as he had cause to know from his own experience of purchasing items from her and with her, had a well-nigh encyclopaedic knowledge of all things antique and collectable.
Mrs. Fox-Talbot was a fine featured, tall and beautiful lady with a head of floaty, silvery gold hair who dressed well and becomingly. She wouldn’t see fifty again but she seemed to all who met her to be ageless and happy with her lot in life.
“Well, hello Michael!” she called to him as he entered the shop, a sincere smile of welcoming lighting up her face, “I was just about to ‘phone you. I think that I might have found a genuine Regency clothes press and I know that you asked me to tell you if I ever did so. It’s quite lovely and in very good condition. If you step through to the furniture room I’ll show it to you.”
“Hello Sam! I’m afraid I don’t really have the time at the moment and I need to pick your brains about something completely different.”
Briefly he outlined the story of Soames’ death for her and told her about the missing candelabrum. Just as he was about to ask her the likely value of the set and of the missing one when she interrupted him.
“You don’t want to talk to me about silver,” she said, “You need to talk to young Mark Simmons. He knows more about silver than almost anyone else in Britain.”
“Well where do I find this fount of knowledge?” he asked.
“Through in the back shop making tea,” she replied with a slight, mischievous smile, “Go through and introduce yourself to him. You know the way.”
Slightly puzzled by her smile Lushkins did as he was bid. As he stepped into the small, but comfortable, staff-room with its brocade hung windows looking out over the shop’s loading bay, he was very surprised to encounter a tall, very thin, devastatingly beautiful, teenaged young man.
“Excuse me! I’m looking for Mark Simmons.”
“You’ve found him,” the teenager replied.
“Good grief!” Lushkins ejaculated before he could stop himself, “You don’t look old enough to be an expert in anything.”
“You must be D.C.I. Sir Michael Lushkins,” Mark stated, adding to Lushkins’ surprise, “Samantha said you would come here almost as soon as we heard the news about Jonathan. Oh, don’t look so surprised. That old fool Ted Gregory just couldn’t resist ‘phoning everybody with the news. No, that’s not fair of me. Ted was very upset and he just needed to talk to people. Now, I suppose that you want to pick my brains about the missing candelabrum? And, by the way, I’m nearly nineteen and I’ve been collecting and learning about silver practically from the day of my birth. I can assure you that what I don’t know about my subject is either so obscure as to be irrelevant or is as yet undiscovered.”
“Oh, sorry, your youth and your looks just took me surprise and yes actually, I would like to pick your brains.”
“My youthfulness will solve itself given time, as, probably will my looks. OK. The missing candelabrum is one of a set of four candelabra – actually, strictly speaking they were not originally candelabra as we understand that term, but multiple taper holders – made in Persia in the early years of the sixteenth century – I would say, based on their style, sometime between 1510 and 1515. The set is known as The Chiming Stars of Persia. They arrived in Britain in 1737…”
“How can you be so certain of that date?” Lushkins interrupted.
“Because a London silversmith, Robert Abercrombie, altered the top taper holders into candle holders and submitted the four of them for assay. They bear the London hallmarks – the crowned leopard head, the date letter ‘b’ in a square shield with straight cut-away corners and Abercrombie’s mark, his uppercase initials under a crown, as well, and the lion passant which indicates Sterling, rather than Britannia, silver which places the date quite firmly after 1720, and I doubt very much that they would have hung around for long after arriving here before being altered to take a standard English beeswax candle. I can’t tell you who they were altered for because not much survives of Abercrombie’s records and what does survive doesn’t tell us about those particular pieces, but I can tell you that they were auctioned at Christies in London twenty years ago by the Duke of B——shire and that Jonathan bought them then.”
“How much is the set worth?” Lushkins asked.
“In today’s market, unaltered probably about half a million pounds, altered, as they are, probably about £350,000. But one from the set wouldn’t be worth more than £40,000 at the very most – and they are not that heavy so the melt down value of the silver in any one of those candelabra won’t be worth more than £4,000. The value, Chief Inspector, is in the art, in the craft which made them and in their beauty, rarity (they are unique) and age.”
“You’ve obviously seen them?”
“Yes, Jonathan is my Godfather. He gave me my first piece of silver as a Christening gift and he taught me about silver as I grew up.”
Suddenly Mark crumpled into a chair and began to cry. Lushkins sat down opposite him completely nonplussed by the sudden change from confident, competent, knowledgeable teenager to grief stricken relative. Lushkins collected himself. As a policeman he knew that he didn’t need to say anything, he just had to wait for the inevitable questions. Sure enough, as Mark’s sobs died down to more gentle tears of grief, the first question came.
“How did he die?” Mark asked.
“He was shot four times but any one of those shots would have killed him instantly.”
“Is that a kind lie or the truth?”
“The truth,” Lushkins responded as sincerely as he could, devoutly hoping that it was so, for there was no autopsy report as yet, but impressed by the young man’s grasp of reality.
After a few minutes Mark mastered his emotions. Lushkins saw the change but he knew that there would be many quiet, private moments of grieving in the years ahead. It was obvious to him that a relationship had been prematurely severed by an act of wanton violence and, once again as a policeman, he knew just how difficult it would be for Mark to remember his Godfather without thinking of, and wondering about, his Godfather’s sudden and violent end.
Mark stood up and walked with shoulders hunched across to the kettle and flicked the switch.
“What puzzles me,” said Lushkins, seizing the moment and valuing this young expert and his opinions, “is why the thief only took one candelabrum? Why not take all four candelabra since they are so valuable as a full set and not so heavy as to be impossible for one man to carry?”
There was a long silence and then, slowly, Mark’s slumped form straightened as his naturally questioning nature re-asserted itself.
“Hmmmn! Wrong question I think, Chief Inspector.”
“So, what’s the correct question, then?”
“Oh, that’s an easy one,” Mark replied, “Why did the thief, the murderer, take that particular candelabrum? All of this stupid mess hinges on what he did take, it’s not about what he didn’t take, I think.”
“Well, that’s interesting,” Lushkins responded, noting the emotional ‘stupid mess’, “What do you think is so important about that one missing candelabrum?”
“I have a suspicion but I can’t confirm it until I’ve handled the three remaining candelabra,” Mark replied, calmly, “If you can arrange that then I might be able to tell you something useful.”
“We could go out Salby Manor right just now, if you want. Forensics should be just about finished at the scene, I would think.”
“I’ll just check with Samantha that she doesn’t need me for anything and I’ll be right with you.”
Mark went off in search of Mrs. Fox-Talbot and returned within seconds. He grabbed his jacket from the Victorian oak coat stand.
“Right, let’s go,” he said decisively.
They went back to the Police Station to collect Lushkins’ car. As they were about to get into it a young Constable rushed out of the building and handed the D.C.I. a couple of sheets of paper.
“I thought that you should see this as soon as possible, Sir,” he said.
Lushkins scanned the sheets and let out a long whistle of surprise.
“Thanks, Dick. You were quite right,” he said as he handed the sheets back to the Constable, “Put them on my desk, will you. I’ll have to have a good long think about this information when I get back.”
He got into the car where Mark was already waiting for him. As he started the engine and turned out into the traffic he debated sharing the contents of those two sheets of paper, which were the ballistics report on the bullets extracted from Jonathan Soames, with his teenage passenger but decided against it when he saw the strained look on Mark’s face as he glanced at him.
They were over halfway to the Manor when Mark broke the silence in the car.
“You know there’s something else that puzzles me. What were the candelabra doing on the sideboard in the dining room? Jonathan never took them out of the vault and even if he wanted to he would never have done so without Ted being with him and it was Ted’s night off. He only ever took stuff out of the vault when Ted was with him. Ted is ex-military – Commandos or some such super-tough and highly trained unit – and that’s why Jonathan employed him: more as a security guard and companion rather than as a butler. He just sort of took on the butler role to keep himself occupied when Jonathan was busy.”
“There’s a vault,” Lushkins asked in some surprise, “Nobody mentioned that to me. Where is it?”
“In the cellar. It’s one of the reasons why Jonathan and Helen, his late wife you know, bought the house from John – the Marquis of Raltende – though Heaven only knows what he kept in it because he’s a pretty strange cove. It’s a huge old Mosler imported from the States sometime back in the twenties and put in by the father of the current Marquis – and by all accounts he was a pretty strange cove, too. There are three key locks and two combinations – and it’s time locked. After it’s been closed for the day it can’t be opened for twelve hours and I’m pretty certain that Ted would have made sure that it was closed and locked before he went off for the evening; unless for some reason Jonathan asked him not to but that would be so unusual that Ted would probably have moved his night off. I mean Jonathan and him are more like good old friends than employer and employee. That’s why Ted’s taking this so hard.”
Mark relapsed into silence but Lushkins was thinking furiously as he drove. According to Ted Gregory there had been no one scheduled to visit Soames yesterday evening and Ted had already told Soames that he and his wife would be quite late back as they were going to drive over to the next county and visit their new grandson and his parents. It was on their return at about half past one in the morning that they had noticed the dining room door ajar and the lights still burning. Call it a Copper’s instinct if you want but he didn’t see either of them as the murdering thief. Then there was the matter of that very, very strange ballistics report. He needed to ask Gregory about the locking of the vault and he needed to know what Mark’s suspicion about the one missing candelabrum was.
“And another thing,” Mark said interrupting Lushkins thoughts, “I spoke to Jonathan on the ‘phone at quarter to seven last night and he told me that Ted and Alice were going to leave shortly and I told him to say everything that was proper to them. He was going to have the usual evening that he has when they go out. He was going to lock up then take the supper that Alice had left for him and go up to his bedroom and fall asleep over one of his favourite books. I know he was going to do that because he told me so because I volunteered to go over and spend the evening with him but he said that he was looking forward to curling up with a good book.”
“Why did you ‘phone him?” Lushkins asked.
“Oh, just to find out if the William III Monteith had arrived from the auction house yet. I particularly wanted to see it and handle it. Jonathan bought it last week by ‘phone and he’d arranged for Securicor to pick it up and deliver it to him. And that’s the odd thing, you know. We had to cut our conversation short because as we were speaking Securicor showed up. He promised that he would ‘phone me back as soon as he’d unpacked it but he never did but I didn’t worry about that – I just assumed that he’d gone up with his book and would ‘phone me today.”
“Apart from being a piece of silver, I presume, what on earth is a Monteith?”
“It’s just a large bowl for cooling wine glasses in. This one was rather special, though. It was made by Timothy Lea in 1696 and is absolutely a masterpiece. Jonathan paid forty thousand pounds for it which is little bit more than it’s actually worth but there was stiff competition for it on the day.”
“What would you say it was worth, then?”
“Twenty, twenty-five, thousand. I was surprised when it climbed to thirty and even more surprised when Jonathan had to go to forty to get it.”
“You were with him as he was bidding?”
“Yes. He likes me to be there. He calls me his ‘good-luck-boy’. Reckons he always gets the piece he’s after when I’m with him.”
“Did he have a limit on what he was prepared to go to?”
“Yes. By coincidence the limit he set himself was forty thousand pounds.”
There was another prolonged period of silence broken only when Lushkins asked,
“How did your parents know Mr. Soames?”
“They met when my father first set up in practice. He’s Jonathan’s lawyer but back then, as I understand, they were both just young struggling businessmen. They’ve been together ever since and Dad’s practice handles a lot of the Jonathan’s corporate stuff, as well as his personal affairs. If it wasn’t for Jonathan and his success Dad would probably just be another reasonably prosperous country lawyer.”
Just then Lushkins swung the car through the gateway and onto the carriageway leading to the Manor. There were still a few vehicles parked outside but it was obvious that the various specialist teams were beginning to pack up and leave as he drew the car up to the front door.
Lushkins opened his door and made to step out. Some instinct made him glance at Mark. The teenager was just sitting looking at the old house and swallowing convulsively. He reached over and patted the boy’s arm.
“Come on old bean. You can do it. Just be professional. I’m the policeman who has to solve the terrible thing which has happened and you are my consultant expert. I need you and I know that you don’t want your Godfather’s killer to escape justice. Be the expert that you are and stay focussed on that and you’ll be all right. It’s what we policemen have to do all the time.”
Mark gave Lushkins a rather pathetic imitation of a brave smile and climbed out of the car. Inside the house the D.C.I. rapidly established from one of his Detective Constables that the forensics team wouldn’t be finished in the dining room for about another half an hour and so he decided to inspect the vault first. Mark led the way down into the cellar, through the various storerooms and wine cellar until they reached what was obviously the door to the vault – and it was closed.
“Who can open this?” Lushkins asked Mark.
“Only Jonathan and I have the combinations for the locks but I don’t have any keys to it. There is only one set of those and Jonathan keeps them,” Mark replied.
“You have the combinations!” Lushkins said with some surprise.
“Yes. Jonathan often sent me down to get pieces out of here. He told me the combinations just after Helen died. He said it was necessary that someone else besides him should know and that Helen had known but obviously…” Mark trailed off.
Lushkins turned to the D.C. who had accompanied them.
“No keys which would fit this monster have been found anywhere, Sir. Do you want that I should go and ask the butler?”
“That may not be necessary,” Mark stated in that tone of voice which Lushkins was beginning to realise meant that the boy was in his expert mode.
Mark walked across to the vault door and deliberately stood between the policemen and the combination dials. He spun those dials in some sequence which his slight frame prevented either of them from seeing and then tugged on the handle. The great cone door swung open effortlessly – as good in operation today as when it was made eighty-five years ago. He reached inside and turned the lights on.
Lushkins was completely unprepared for the sight which greeted him. Banks and banks of shelves and cupboards and glass fronted display cases covered almost every inch of floor space in that very large vault. Every shelf, every surface, glittered. It was the most dazzling display which he’d ever seen.
“Good God!” both he and the Detective Constable exclaimed simultaneously.
Mark saw their reactions and smiled. “There are 204,319 individual items worth somewhere in the region of £180,000,000,” he told them in his expert voice, “It takes Jonathan, me and Ted and a team of twenty other trusted people about two years to clean them all. This is the greatest collection of silverware ever assembled anywhere at any time by any one. No exceptions. This collection is one of the world’s great collections but, more than that, it is the most important reference collection of silverware ever assembled. The meltdown value is somewhere between twenty and forty million but nobody other than a complete philistine would dream of melting down a single item in this vault. Oh, and you’ll find the keys at the far end of the walkway inside the Edwardian biscuit box made by Thomas Hayes in Birmingham in 1905 and that means that neither Ted nor Jonathan nor I closed the vault. And before you ask it will take me about three months to tell you if anything else is missing from the vault apart from the candelabra.”
Lushkins and the D.C. walked into the vault followed by Mark. At the far end of the very narrow walkway they stopped. Confronted by so many shiny objects Lushkins couldn’t identify the biscuit box. Mark pointed it out to him and when he lifted the lid he saw, plain as day, the three keys to the three locks nestling neatly inside.
“Why?” Lushkins asked Mark.
“Vault safety,” Mark replied, “ There’s only about seven hours of air in here if the door is closed. If someone tries to lock you in by closing the door and spinning the dials then you’ll die before the timer releases the locks again. But if you can unlock the door from the inside then that cancels the timer and the combinations and you can push the door open from the inside. Jonathan changes the hiding place for the keys every two or three months but the routine stays the same – open up then immediately hide the keys inside the vault. Simple when one thinks about it. And the keyholes aren’t straight through, either – you can’t use the holes on the outside to blast the door open because the holes on the inside don’t line up and the levers are shielded and the combination locks operate levers at the top and the bottom of the door not at the sides as the key locks do. Apart from that you can’t put enough explosive, even today, into the key holes to actually blast the locks because, in relation to the door, the holes are too small for any explosive which would fit into them to be effective. This is probably the safest vault which Mosler ever built. Heaven only knows what Raltende kept in here but nothing good, I’ll be bound.”
The D.C. produced a pair of latex gloves from his pocket and carefully lifted the biscuit box and its contents.
“I’ll take this upstairs to forensics, Sir.”
“Please do,” Lushkins acknowledged.
“How safe is the vault on just the combination locks?” he asked Mark once they were alone.
“As safe as is needed as long as all you policemen are around,” Mark replied, “But I would appreciate it if the keys were given to me as soon as possible so that I might secure the vault properly. Oh, and that biscuit box your D.C. just made off with is worth about fifteen hundred pounds!”
“I’ll let you have the keys as soon as forensics have finished with them. I don’t think that Detective Constable Peterson actually appreciates the value. I’ve been a dinner guest in his home: it’s modern and minimalist so I wouldn’t worry. He probably thinks that it is so ugly as to be worthless. Let’s go see if we can get your hands on those candelabra, shall we.”
They went back upstairs and found the dining room guarded by one uniformed Constable who obligingly opened the door for them. The three candelabra stood upon the sideboard covered in finger printing dust. Mark took a pair of white cotton gloves from his pocket and picked up the nearest one by the topmost branch. He gave it a gentle shake which elicited a clear bell-like note from the piece.
“Ah,” he said, “this one is the Light of the Seas.”
He replaced it and lifted the next one and performed the same action. Again there was a different but equally pleasing note.
“And that’s the Light of the Heavens.”
He repeated his actions on the third candelabrum and once again a sonorous note rang out.
“And that’s the Light of the Lands. It’s the Light of Araby which is missing from the set.”
“OK. What’s the significance of that?” Lushkins asked him.
“Well, you see Chief Inspector, legend has it that inside the hollow core of the Light of the Seas is a brass clapper which makes the whole piece ring. Inside the Light of the Lands there is supposed to be a silver clapper and inside the Light of the Heavens is a gold clapper, but inside the Light of Araby there is supposed to be a very large, flawless, uncut diamond weighing about 500 carats. That would make it a very large diamond indeed. Cut and polished it, and its shards, might be worth anything between three and ten million pounds. However, that’s not the end of the story. This is supposed to be the diamond stolen by Mohammed from the Jews of the Khaybar when he put them to the sword. He is reputed to have worn the diamond on his person until the day he died. There’s a long and intricate history as to what happened to the diamond after Mohammed died – most of it’s probably nonsense – and it all ends up with it being secreted inside our missing candelabrum. Now, those candelabra, multiple taper holders as I told you earlier, were commissioned to be made by Esmail, a Safavid ruler in Persia who reigned from 1501 to 1524, and were destined to be a gift from him for the Great Mosque in Mecca. They never got there. The caravan carrying them was robbed and the Chiming Stars of Persia vanished from history for over two hundred years. They were next heard of when they show up in Britain in 1737.”
“So our thief and murderer must have known the legend, you think,” Lushkins interjected.
“Undoubtedly,” replied Mark, “But let me complicate your investigation even more. The full legend has it that whoever possesses the diamond will also possess Mohammed’s power and will rule the world in the name of Islam. Certain Jewish sects believe the diamond to have the power of the Truth of God and that only a Jew may exercise that power and rule in the Holy Name of God.”
“What do Christians believe?”
“Some believe that the stone is evil and must be destroyed.”
“Well, that’s predictable! In all this farrago of superstition what do you believe?”
“I’ve heard the Light of Araby chime and I do think that there is a stone inside it but whether or not it’s a very large diamond I couldn’t tell you. I’m not a gemstone expert – or a campanologist. I just know my silver.”
“What did Mr. Soames believe?”
“Jonathan is, oh God, sorry, was…” and Mark dissolved into tears again. Lushkins stepped up beside him and put an arm round his shoulders in that most intimate gesture of sympathy. Slowly Mark regained his composure.
“Jonathan was a practising Roman Catholic and he believed that if the diamond was inside the Light of Araby then it should probably be destroyed but he could never bring himself to open the candelabrum and find out what was really inside. To the best of my knowledge he’s left the full set of candelabra to the Vatican in the hope that they can decide what’s best,” Mark eventually managed to finish.
“I see,” said Lushkins, calmly, “So the murderer could be a common thief or a member of any one of innumerable fanatical religious organisations.”
“Yep,” said Mark, drying his eyes, “That’s your problem, isn’t it?”
Mark deliberately didn’t read any newspapers throughout the week after his traumatic visit to the Manor with D.C.I. Lushkins. He didn’t watch the television news or listen to the radio. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to stay collected and emotionally together if he did so. His relationship with his Godfather had been a very close one – almost as close as his relationship with his own father and mother. Indeed, he realised, he had subconsciously thought of Jonathan and Helen Soames as his third and fourth parents. He buried himself in his work with Samantha and waited for his Godfather’s body to be released to Jonathan’s son and daughter and for the subsequent funeral which he hoped might bring him, and Jonathan’s children, some peace.
After a week or so he realised that that didn’t seem to be imminent so he walked up the High Street to the police station and asked to see D.C.I. Lushkins. Only a few minutes after making his request he was shown into Lushkins’ office and was seated in the guest chair by the desk.
On the desk in front of Lushkins there were four small balls of what looked like lead. Mark couldn’t help himself.
“What on earth are you doing with flintlock pistol shot on your desk?” he asked the D.C.I.
Lushkins didn’t know quite what to say and the silence in the room grew larger and longer.
“Oh my God!” Mark exclaimed, “That’s what killed Jonathan, isn’t it?”
Lushkins nodded his affirmative.
Mark was through the crying stage of grief. He was well into the I’ll-kill-the-bastard-that-did-this stage so it was relatively easy for him to take out his jewellers’ loupe and pick up each of the lead balls in turn and examine them. When he’d finished his examination of the shot he looked at Lushkins.
“They’re all moulded in the same mould so they were all fired from guns made by the same manufacturer. Oh, the rifling marks are slightly different on each shot, but they are all very, very fine and interrupted in the same way, and that’s probably significant, and, I think, hand bored. Probably English pistols from the early eighteenth century – but I wouldn’t put money on that if I were you for the rifling is very sophisticated and could be up to a hundred years later, but the moulding of the shot is crude. No, on balance, though, I’ll go for somewhen between 1720 to 1750.”
“We’d got that much from them,” Lushkins said, indicating the little lead balls, “and Samantha confirmed it. Can you add anything we don’t know?”
“There’s something about that interrupted rifling that bothers me. I know it from somewhere but I just can’t recall it. I’m not a gun expert, you know, so I don’t know why that rifling is familiar. I just examine and date the silverwork on the stocks, you know. Some of it’s magnificent don’t you… Oh good grief! Got it,” Mark finished, triumphantly.
“You need to find out the name and telephone number of a retired Metropolitan Police Constable whom I met at an antiques fair at Earls Court two years ago. He was into antique flintlocks in a big way. He had a picture of just this sort of rifling mark on lead shot up on his stand. I was much more interested in the silver work on the stock of the pistol which he had on display but he prosed on and on about the sophisticated interrupted rifling of the Walton, no Wilsden, no Wilson – oh, grief some name like that – pistol. I didn’t really listen to him because the brightwork was magnificent and wonderfully executed. The hallmark date was 1730. Honestly, it was brilliant fine work – straight from the hand of a master but I couldn’t identify the man. You have to find that Constable. He’ll be able to tell you about the four pistols that fired these shots.”
“Four!” exclaimed Lushkins in some surprise, “By the rifling marks on the shots we thought that probably only two guns were involved. But ballistics on old lead shot isn’t exactly what we’re good at these days. For obvious reasons we tend to concentrate on somewhat more modern weaponry.”
“Yes, four,” Mark responded, “Flintlocks are single shot guns, don’t you know. They take some time to re-load. That means that there were probably two men involved in my Godfather’s killing, or the killer reloaded and fired again at his corpse. A little unlikely, I think. I doubt that one man would carry four antique flintlocks so I posit two men and four guns!”
Lushkins reached for his ‘phone. It took about two hours to track down the retired Constable and get him on the ‘phone. The information which he gave Lushkins, and which he shared with Mark, was quite surprising. The fine interrupted rifling which Mark remembered from the Earls Court Fair was from a flintlock pistol made in London round about 1730 by Wilson but the surprise was that only five such pistols were ever made by Wilson. Constable Healey owned one of them and the other four were owned by one Mohammed Haroun al-Metta who lived in B—–shire.
Lushkins hung up and looked a Mark.
“I know Haroun. He’s a silver collector not a gun collector and he was a friend of Jonathan’s,” Mark volunteered.
Lushkins turned to his computer and after a minute or two he turned he turned back to Mark.
“You’re right. Mohammed Haroun al-Metta does not collect guns, nor does he have one – a modern one I mean. However, Mohammed Haroun al-Metta junior does and he lives right here in town. Did al-Metta senior know about the candelabra?”
“Oh yes. Jonathan even showed them to him a few years ago. In fact al-Metta senior offered him £400,000 for them.”
“So al-Metta junior could have been told about them by his father. I think I’m going to take some men and pay him a visit.”
Six months later Mohammed Haroun al-Metta junior was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Jonathan Soames. His accomplice, Ali Abd-al-Hamid – a known terrorist wanted in connection with other crimes – was similarly sentenced. When Lushkin and his men had entered the house on Bridge Street he had found both men just about to cut the Light of Araby open to get at the stone inside. He also found the four antique Wilson flintlock pistols used in the commission of the murder along with many other antique firearms and the mould used for making the shot for the Wilsons.
It emerged during the court case that the thieves had merely been lucky. Had it not been for the delivery of the Monteith Ted Gregory would have closed the vault before leaving. As it was, Jonathan Soames had said that he would close it in just a few minutes after he had put the Monteith inside. The pair had taken some other items from the vault but it had taken them some time to find it after they were disturbed by Soames as they broke in through the French doors in the dining room. Both men had fired their flintlocks and Soames had died instantly. They had used the flintlocks because they thought that the shot from such old guns could never be traced.
When Jonathan Soames will was read it was found that he had indeed left the Chiming Stars of Persia to the Vatican. He had also left his entire silver collection, Salby Manor and one hundred million pounds in cash and securities to Mark Simmons.
So Lushkins was very surprised to find him still working with Samantha Fox-Talbot when he called in to see her after the sentencing hearing.
“Gosh I thought that you would be off somewhere enjoying the millionaire lifestyle,” he said to Mark after they had exchanged greetings.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Mark asked.
“I’ve got one heck of a lot of silver to clean!”
“Yes, well, talking of silver: have you any idea what these are?” Lushkins asked, handing him two small knife-like silver instruments, “I didn’t think that you would be here so I was going to ask Samantha but you still being here is a bonus.”
Mark took the two pieces of silver and examined them carefully for a few moments.
“This one,” he said, holding up the one with the strange little half-moon blade on the end of a stalk projecting from a finely worked handle, “is a sterling silver orange peeler made by Gorham and Company in 1900 in Providence, Rhode Island, and it’s worth round about £300.”
“And the other one?”
“Is a silver marrow scoop,” Mark answered, taking out his jewellers’ loupe and examining the marks, “made by George Adams in London in 1843 and worth about £350. Are these pieces significant in some way?”
“You could say that. They were both found rammed into the neck of a very dead Sir Bernard Harks of Teal Hall.”
“But Bernard doesn’t collect silver, he collects antique furniture. He’s one of Sam’s best customers.”
“Would Sam know what was in Sir Bernard’s collection.”
“She most certainly would because she catalogued it for him just a month or so ago. I’ll go and find her for you,” he volunteered, as he shot the D.C.I. a huge grin, “Here we go again.”
With that he sped off in search of Mrs. Samantha Fox-Talbot.
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