"and so, you obstinate creature, you persist in denying your guilt?"
"but i didn't take it, madam, i didn't! i swear i didn't!"
mrs morthwicke did not conceal her contempt. "what say you, mister stanforth?" she asked the lean, somewhat wolf-faced gentleman standing on her left.
"i am afraid it's as plain as a pikestaff, madam," he replied, with his long fingers firmly clutching the gray lapels of his frock coat. "the spoon is missing. no one else had the opportunity to take it. if there is only one possibility, it must be acknowledged, no matter how distasteful. therefore - ". he gave a rueful shrug.
"do you hear that, miss?" mrs morthwicke asked the weeping maid. "mister stanforth solved the case of the jackberry diamonds. he saved the life of the queen from the mad turkish anarchist. am i to take your word, or his?"
"oh, but please, madam, please," the girl cried. she looked around wildly. outside the windows tall trees could be seen waving in the wind, amid a few gusts of snow. "it's so cold out! and i didn't take the spoon, i swear!"
hanson, the butler, was a bit disconcerted by the proceedings, and not from any sympathy for the maid, whom he had regarded as a sniveling, incompetent creature, with no personal charms to offset her inefficiency. it troubled him that the missing spoon had not been found, either in the girl's chambers, on her person - thoroughly searched by mrs allen, the housekeeper - or anywhere else. but in the face of mrs morthwicke's cold fury, and mr stanforth's reputation, he kept his peace.
"please, madam, at least let me stay until morning! listen to the wind outside! how it howls!"
"i am afraid i can not allow you in the house a moment longer. take her away, mrs allen."
mrs allen stepped forward and escorted - virtually dragged - the weeping maid away, followed a few paces back by the solemn chanson.
"an unpleasant business, mister stanforth," mrs morthwicke observed, when they were gone. "i thank you for your assistance."
"unpleasant indeed, " mister stanforth replied. "but from my perspective, a trifle."
"i see no reason to further inconvenience the other guests. shall we join them?"
"if it is your pleasure."
mrs morthwicke rose from her chair, and mister stanforth followed her across the long room. as he did so he passed his hand over his inner vest pocket, ever so gently caressing the outline of the small silver spoon contained in it, and the hint of a smile crossed his lips.
for while it was true that mister stanforth had indeed solved the case of the jackberry diamonds (among many famous cases) and had saved the life of the queen on more than one occasion, it was also true that he enjoyed playing malicious pranks, especially on the more anonymous members of society.
a sheriff with a big gut hanging over his belt, a floozie with a heart of gold, santa claus (he wasn't really santa claus, he was just dressed up as santa claus to stand beside a black kettle all day and solicit money) and two nuns who had also spent the day asking people for money.
and joe the jolly bartender , who was trying to keep everybody in a good mood, in spite of the winter storm raging outside.
the door opened, letting cold air and a little snow in.
reed came in.
"whiskey, reed?" joe asked him.
joe poured the whiskey.
"you know what i just did?" reed asked him.
"no, reed, what did you just do?"
"i just killed a man."
"i do tell. i just did an honest day's work." reed looked around the bar. "which is probably more than any of you parasites can say. a man paid me to do a job and i did it."
reed threw the whiskey down his throat and slapped the glass on the bar. "the son of a bitch begged for mercy. i told him to look in the dictionary under 'm'".
"i think you've used that line before, reed," joe told him.
joe looked over at the sheriff. "did you hear that, sheriff, reed says he just killed a man."
the sheriff didn't look up. "in what county?"
"hell, " reed answered, "i don't know. it was down the road. way down the road."
"the county line's just across the street," the sheriff told him.
reed ordered another shot of whiskey.
they all fell silent.
the door opened again letting in more cold air and a little snow and a seventh customer.