‘It could perhaps be very well hidden,’ Kai said hopefully.
‘We had our best searchers on the job, Mr Strongrock,’ Singh said, in a tone which closed the subject.
‘So the real book is not in Wyndham’s house,’ Irene reiterated, thinking aloud, ‘and the forgery Bradamant stole couldn’t have been started until Wyndham actually had the book. This would have taken at least two weeks to create. So was it moved during that period or copied before it arrived?’ She turned to Singh. ‘Can we confirm that the book entered Wyndham’s house directly after the auction, and remained in a public place there until it was stolen?’
Singh nodded. ‘We can. And after it arrived, testimony from the servants confirms that the book – or a very good copy of it – was in Lord Wyndham’s study all day every day, madam. The maid who dusted it was quite definite on the subject. Lord Wyndham wanted it kept in perfect condition.’
‘Very good. So . . . either the real thing or an excellent copy was on display throughout, but Bradamant definitely picked up the fake. And the real book cannot have been removed until the forgery was ready. If the forgery was only ready a few days before Wyndham’s murder – given that the auction was a little over two weeks before the murder, and the forgery would have taken two weeks – then the real book must have been taken from the house in those last few days. That is, if it isn’t there now.’
‘An interesting train of thought,’ Vale murmured, and Irene had to work to suppress a blush of pride. It’s nice to have just one little daydream come true. And it’s even better when it’s actually deserved. ‘But why not keep it in the house?’
‘There is a risk of theft – from someone other than Belphegor, that is,’ Singh suggested. ‘His safe might be impregnable to the Fae, given that it was cold iron, but human thieves could have opened it.’ He gave Bradamant a meaningful look. ‘If the real book wasn’t hidden very thoroughly, and it came to light, it would show Wyndham’s display copy was a fake – whatever the reason for all this cloak-and-dagger subterfuge. I wonder what he was up to . . .’ Finally he nodded to Irene. ‘I agree with your theory, madam. Although it does mean we’d have to assume Lord Wyndham handled the book himself, rather than passing it to some agent or third party to deal with.’
‘Let us commence with that as a working hypothesis,’ Vale said briskly. ‘In those three days, where did he go? And when could he have been carrying a book with him? How large is the book, in any case?’
‘A large hardback,’ Bradamant said, sketching the shape in the air with her hands. ‘Leather-bound and illustrated. Perhaps six inches by eight. Impossible to conceal under a fashionable coat. It could be carried in a briefcase easily enough.’
‘Excellent,’ Vale said. ‘That limits the possibilities. Lord Wyndham did not favour overcoats. What can you give us based on that, Inspector?’
‘Just a moment, please, sir,’ Singh said, flicking through the papers. ‘I have some statements here from Lord Wyndham’s valet, concerning his comings and goings over the last few days before his murder. We managed to assemble quite a timetable of the gentleman’s movements while we were establishing who might have wanted to kill him. He didn’t make that many outings during that period, so I believe we should be able to rule out a number of possibilities.’
Tension hung in the room. The seconds went by painfully slowly. Irene considered suggesting that they all help by taking a paper each and checking them separately. Then she decided it was a stupid idea. Then she considered it again. Then she watched Singh’s moustache and beard twitching as he muttered under his breath and turned pages.
With an effort, she glanced towards the window rather than watching Singh read. The weather outside still seemed to be good – for this alternate, anyhow – with high-flying clouds and sunshine. The dream-catcher that she’d noticed earlier was dark against the pale sky.
She wondered what sort of dreams Vale had, that he, sceptic and logician, should hang a dream-catcher in the window.
‘Ah,’ Singh finally said. ‘I think we may have something here.’
‘The day before his murder, Lord Wyndham visited his bank,’ Singh said. ‘It wasn’t a scheduled visit. Apparently he couldn’t be seen immediately, and he made a few complaints, which caused some of the tellers to recall his visit when we were questioning them. While none of the statements there confirm that he was carrying a briefcase, they don’t say that he wasn’t either. It’d be quite the normal sort of thing for a gentleman consulting his banker to be carrying.’
‘Who did he bank with?’ Bradamant asked.
‘Lloyds,’ Singh said. He frowned. ‘I’ll need to get a search warrant if we’re to look inside his safe deposit box, sir. That’ll take a few hours at least. And it’d be easier with a bit of evidence that we could take before the judge.’
There was a glum silence throughout the room.
‘Not impossible, of course,’ Singh added. ‘But it might get us a warrant a trifle faster.’
‘If the Iron Brotherhood were behind last night’s attack on the Embassy, and they’re looking for this book too, then they might try and steal the deposit box from Lloyds,’ Irene offered hopefully.
Singh looked disappointed in her. ‘I said evidence, madam. Not conjecture.’