London– 1952, although the fog appears to be at its worst, I have more pressing matters to attend to. For one, my diamond is still missing. Worse still, my colleagues and I are accusing one another of murder. It began eleven months ago on a bitterly cold morning in January. I was waiting to board a train in Fort William, a town in the western Scottish Highlands on the shores of Loch Linnhe. My destination was Mallaig, a small fishing port and gateway to the Isle of Skye. There I was to meet a man known as The Count. A business opportunity, if you will. While aboard the train and eating what I could only describe as a poorly constructed ham and onion sandwich along with weak tea, a man sat across from me without invitation. He removed his gloves, scarf and hat while I used the time it took to lift my teacup toward my lips to make eye contact. He had the strangest eyes I had ever seen.
'If it's my sandwich you're after, I can assure you it's not worth the hassle.'
'You know my name. And you are?'
'Who I am is not important.'
I thought to myself – very well – and decided I'd call him Mr Winchester. And like me, Mr Winchester was tall, medium build, and we both had sandy-coloured hair, although mine was beginning to grey. Still, I didn't care much for his pencil moustache. Unfortunately, Mr Winchester also had a rather nasty cough which drew the attention of my fellow passengers on more than one occasion.
'Perhaps, some warm water with lemon and honey,' I said.
'Not for me,' Mr Winchester replied.
'Very well. Perhaps – now would be a good time to explain why you are sitting across from me.'
'The Count is dead,' Mr Winchester said.
I imagine I could have pretended not to know The Count, but I am too old for games, a bit like Mr Winchester.
'That is a shame,' I said. 'The Count will be dearly missed.'
'The diamonds are gone, Mr Markham, so dare I say your 86-mile journey looks like a waste of time.'
I said nothing and watched Mr Winchester pull a pocket watch and idle for a long moment before he said, 'In less than one hour, the maid in the Old Mill Bed and Breakfast will discover The Count's lifeless body on the bathroom Floor. I think you'll agree how suspicious it might look if a known London criminal arrived at the same B&B during an ongoing murder investigation.'
'Okay, Mr Winchester, you have my attention.'
'I thought I might.'
After I helped myself to the last of the tea and brushed the breadcrumbs from my lap, I asked: 'The Count is dead?'
'Yes,' Mr Winchester replied.
'And I gather since the diamonds are gone, it is you that possesses them?'
'Correct again, Mr Markham.'
'Then – Mr Winchester, why are you here?'
'A business opportunity, what else?'
'Yes,' Mr Winchester said, smiling for the first time.
'Then, Mr Winchester, I am afraid it is you who has wasted the 86-mile journey. My business was with The Count. And if what you say is true – The Count is indeed dead, then my business dies with him.'
'Mr Markham, you and I both know those diamonds are worth three times what you intended to pay The Count.'
Meanwhile, I pointed to Mr Winchester's hat on the table while the train rolled over older tracks along the line and shook the carriage. The lights inside flickered more than once.
'Something on your mind?' he asked.
'That's a Giuseppe Borsalino, right?'
'You know your hats, Mr Markham. Impressive.'
'I also know my suits. And if I'm not mistaken, you are wearing a tailored Brioni.'
'Not as impressive as the price you paid, I would imagine. You see, Mr Winchester, your attire may imply endless wealth, but your mannerisms and voice tell a different story. Dorset Street, right? Either your father was a thief or your mother was a prostitute?'
Mr Winchester leaned into his chair and, dare I say, looked somewhat uncomfortable for the first since he sat across from me.
'And let me guess, the last place you ever want to see again is Dorset Street? Otherwise, you wouldn't be here trying to strong-arm a gentleman nearing retirement.'
'These suits aren't cheap, Mr Markham.'
'And neither is the price you pay when you steal another man's crust, young man!'
'The diamonds are yours, Mr Markham, and all I want in return is –'
'– three times what I intended to pay The Count,' I interrupted.
Mr Winchester appeared annoyed, pulled his pocket watch for the second time and was clearly pondering something when I told him it was time he left me to enjoy the remainder of the journey alone.
'Very well,' he said. 'But before I go, I need you to know something important. Those diamonds you supposedly no longer wish to possess belonged to Lord William Manners – the 4th Duke of Rutland. In other words, they are the most coveted diamonds in Europe.'
Winchester smiled, stretching his pencil moustache across his top lip. 'But you already knew that, didn't you?'
I waited for the large American who insisted on wearing his Cattleman at all times to shuffle by before I leaned over the table.
'And just who do you think stole the diamonds in the first place? It took three months to plan, and it was over in less than three minutes.'
'I heard the Duke's Estate hired you as a gardener, and after three months of toiling in the field, you hid in the wine cellar until the Duke and his lovely wife retired for the evening. Is it true that because of the holidays, staff on the estate was slim, and the Dukes were there for the taking?'
'You didn't just hear that,' I said. 'The Count clearly spilt his guts before you killed him. Furthermore, he lied to you.'
'About the robbery?'
'About me paying him anything for the diamonds. Those diamonds were mine, and he double-crossed me.'
'I'm curious. If you tied up the Duke and his wife, stole the diamonds and fled under cover of darkness, how did the diamonds end up in The Count's possession?'
'Because I gave them to him.'
'If you were investigating a robbery on the Duke of Rutland's estate, where is the first place you would look?'
'I see,' Winchester said, nodding. 'Your place and anywhere else that has your scent.'
'And the last place?'
Winchester considered this.
'Oh, how clever of you,' he said. "Who in their right mind would think to question a man such as The Count and all the good he's done for this country? Did he know you were on your way to kill him?'
'I doubt it. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been in the Old Mill Bed and Breakfast when you killed him, would he?'
'I believe he was planning to leave for Canada tomorrow morning aboard an unregistered fishing vessel.'
I was tired of talking and desperately needed a decent cup of tea when I stood up and appeared to catch Mr Winchester off guard. I extended my hand.
'Where are you going?' he asked, unsure if he wanted to shake my hand.
'Congratulations, Mr Winchester. Well played. Now, if you don't mind, I must find a way off this train before it arrives in Mallaig.'
'The diamonds – what about the diamonds?'
'They're your diamonds now, and you may do how you please. I bid you a good day.'
I wore a fake beard, a chauffeur's cap – naturally, tinted spectacles and drove a Rolls Royce Phantom undisturbed until I felt a tap on my shoulder.
'Yes, Mr Ratzinger.' I said.
'I left my cigarettes in the hotel lobby. Perhaps, you could spot me one for the journey?'
I took a box of cigarettes and a lighter from my inside jacket pocket and passed them over my shoulder.
'Must you, Carl. I mean, look outside. I'm surprised we're still breathing, let alone moving.'
'You're not from around here, are you?' I asked.
'What's that supposed to mean?' the young lady replied.
'Us Londoners are well accustomed to fog, Ma'am. It'll pass in a few days – trust me.'
'I beg to differ and call me Margot. I'm far too young to be called – Ma'am. Anyway, Daddy says it's more smog than fog.'
'You sound concerned,' I said.
'I am,' Margot said. 'Before last night's supper, Daddy said the fog was beginning to seep indoors. People have died because of it, you know?'
I watched in the rear-view mirror as Carl shook his head and lowered the window enough to expel a ball of cigarette smoke.
'You'll have to excuse her,' Carl said. 'This is not how she imagined her wedding day.'
'It's a disaster! And you promised me the fog-smog, whatever the bloody hell it is, would be gone by today.'
I didn't see it happen, but I was pretty sure Margot clocked Carl on the shoulder with her fist.
'How was I supposed to know it would last this long?' Carl asked.
'Mummy said pictures of any sort will have to be taken either in the drawing room or the entrance hall.'
'Either that or you could all wear gas masks,' I said. 'Something to tell the grandkids, eh?'
Carl found my quip amusing while Margot did not. From what I could see, she was sulking with her head leaning on the glass.
'How long more?' she asked. 'The guests will be wondering where we are.'
'Not long,' I said.
'Oh, look,' Margot said. 'It's the police. I do hope there hasn't been an accident.'
Margot had no sooner placed her head close to my shoulder for a better look when a police officer wearing a cloth mask over his mouth knocked on the driver's side window, and I lowered it with hesitation.
'Don't you listen to the radio – essential travel only!' he said.
Meanwhile, I pointed to the backseat.
'I give you Mr Carl Ratzinger and Ms Margot Rutland, daughter of the Duke of Rutland. It's their wedding day, and we're en route to Salisbury House for the reception.'
'You don't say,' the police officer said. 'Still, it's far too dangerous to be out. We've had over one hundred smash and grab raids across the city and one stabbing.'
'Oh my,' Margot said, not realising two more cloth-wearing police officers had approached the car from either side. A moment later, the car's rear doors opened, and Carl and Margot were facing down the barrel of a gun. Margot screamed, and when Carl lunged forward without thinking, his nose met the butt of the gun and bled. Margot screamed again while I kept my hands on the steering wheel.
'The ring – give me the ring. Now!'
Margot heard the word – Ring and immediately tried to hide her hand.
'Please … No … Not my ring.'
They wrestled; the smaller of the three police officers lost his cloth mask while the one who struck Carl across the nose lost his hat, and not long after, the man had what he wanted.
'I got it. Go!'
All three men posing as police officers disappeared into the fog, and Margot continued to cry.
'You can stop now, Margot. The bad men are gone,' I said.
'My ring – myyyy ring. Nooooooo.'
I adjusted the rear-view mirror. Carl was white, holding his nose and close to passing out.
I removed my glasses and fake beard and smiled when Carl's eyes met mine.
'Mr Ratzinger, or should I say – Mr Winchester.'
Carl said nothing and looked at his wife.
'Carl – Carl, what the hell is going on?' Margot asked.
'Thanks to your husband, I now possess the most valuable pink diamond stone in all of Europe,' I said.
'I don't understand,' Margot said.
'I do,' Carl interrupted, wiping blood from under his nose. 'Mr Markham there stole The Duke's diamonds less than a year ago. The key word being – diamonds.'
'Correct – Carl … Diamonds. But who wants Diamonds when I can have one pink diamond stone worth a helluva lot more.'
'How did you know?' Carl asked.
'It was all rather simple, you see. After the planned robbery on the Duke's estate, it was safe to say he was somewhat embarrassed. So, to save face and downplay the importance of the diamonds stolen, the Duke produced the boldest one of all - the pink diamond stone. And what better way to show the world the Duke was no fool than to put it on the finger of the most photographed woman in Great Britain?'
'And me?' Carl asked.
'My guess is you have already offered to resize the ring after the wedding,' I said.
'What? I don't understand.' Margot said. 'How does he know you offered to resize my ring?'
'Because he was going to replace the diamond with a fake and disappear while you slept. Next time you agree to marry someone on a whim, Margot, I suggest you do a little digging.'
I turned, and I caught Margot rubbing her belly when I did.
'Oh,' I said.
'I wanted a Summer wedding,' Margot said. 'But Daddy insisted we get married before the baby arrives.'
Margot turned to Carl, who couldn't bear to look her in the eyes.
'Was it ever about me, Carl? Or was it always about Daddy's diamonds?'
Margot also had a question for me, but when she looked again, I was gone.
Max Boden took his last breath on the living room floor in a red brick house not ten miles from the crime scene.
'What the hell did you do?' James Borthwick asked.
'Me?' Mickey Hartman replied. 'He was like that when I got here.'
'He's dead, Mick. Someone killed him.'
'What makes you think I did it?' Mickey asked.
'You were the first one here.'
'What's to say one of you didn't get here before me and leave again to make it look like you arrived after me?'
'Easy, fellas,' I said.
'Maybe he just –died,' Mickey said.
'He's half our bloody age, Mick. He hardly just keeled over. I mean, look at him.'
'Don't you listen to the news,' Mick snapped, pointing at the window. 'That there is killing people left, right and centre.'
'Where's the bloody ring?' I asked.
Mickey dropped to his knees and searched Max's pockets inside out.
'Who's idea was it to give him the ring, anyway?' James asked.
'Mine,' I said.
Fog – smog, whatever you choose to call it, was never part of the plan, but it sure helped. The plan was simple; lift the ring from the Duke's daughter and give it to Mickey until the heat died down – three days to be exact. The police would never think to search Mickey's place because the police didn't even know Mickey existed. I caught James by the chin and turned him.
'What happened to your face?' I asked.
James ran his fingers over his cheek. 'The bride did me good, didn't she?'
'It's not here, fellas. The ring – Max doesn't have it.'
'Now what?' James asked.
'Who else knew? Mickey asked.
'I don't like the way you're looking at me, Mick,' I said.
'Max was your idea. You said it yourself.'
'Are you implying I killed the kid and took the ring?'
'It has to be around here somewhere,' James said, frantically opening drawers and tossing hardback books off shelves. Meanwhile, I spotted a newspaper open on the sofa – and it looked like Max was reading a piece in the paper concerning The Duke of Rutland.
'What – what did you find?' James asked, noting my reaction to the paper.
'Says here the Duke was offering a hefty reward for the return of the ring.'
I handed the paper to James so he and Mick could see the photo of the Duke holding a piece of paper with a phone number.
'That's a mistake,' Mickey said.
'The kid, he sold us out,' James said.
I found a phone in the kitchen and called the number the Duke was holding.
'What are you doing?' James asked.
A moment later, someone answered the phone.
'I have the Duke's ring,' I said.
'One moment, please.'
Another moment later and the person on the opposite end cleared their throat and said,
'Mr Markham, I knew you'd call.'
'Mr Winchester,' I said. 'Or is it Carl Ratzinger?'
'Please, call me Leslie Fenwick.'
'I saw your picture in the paper. How's the nose?'
Leslie Fenwick laughed. 'I can't believe the kid fell for it.'
'He's dead, you know?' I said.
'I'm not surprised,' Fenwick said. 'It's hard to breathe out there. The ring is gone, Mr Markham, so dare I say your 10-mile journey looks like a waste of time.'
I heard police sirens and immediately thought about the way Leslie Fenwick said: 10-mile journey.
So they knew where we were.
'Well, played, Mr Fenwick,' I said. 'Well – played.'