“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” Punch yelped, wringing his hands as he leaned over the corpse of William Stover which was spread out on the front steps of No. 65 Belgrave Square. “What happened? How’d this happen?” Punch’s panic was palpable. Robert could feel the alarm radiate from his companion and knew that he had to calm Punch before another of the entities within him—one of those who fed on fear—took over control of the body.
“Dear Punch,” Robert said quickly. “Remain calm, please.”
“Oh dear, oh dear,” Punch repeated. His eyes widened. “You don’t suppose…”
“What?” Robert asked.
Punch rose and hurried to the door of their home, ringing the bell. “You don’t suppose he tried to get inside and hurt Colin or one of…”
Robert took a deep breath and then exhaled. At first he wanted to stop Punch ringing the bell, but, then, concluded that the help of Speaight or one of the footmen would be a beneficial.
“Why’d this happen?” Punch spun around, tears in his eyes. “Beaten all to bits. Not the way I’d do it…”
“Punch…” Robert hissed.
“Well, it ain’t.! I’m all for one quick blow with somethin’ heavy. Not all these sharp whacks…” Punch snorted. “Ain’t humane! One good hit, that’s all ya need.”
“Don’t say those things,” Robert warned.
“Yet, for as beaten as he is, there ain’t very much blood on the steps.” Punch continued. “Oh dear, oh dear. oh dear.” He paused. “Why ain’t there blood on the steps?”
“Dear Punch,” Robert shook his head. “He was killed hours ago by the look of him. Killed and then moved here.”
“Why’d anyone do that?”
“To implicate us in the murder.” Robert growled. “I don’t know.”
“But, we was at the palace. Ain’t no better alibi than bein’ with the Queen’s husband at Buckingham Palace! No one could possibly think we done this, chum!”
“William was killed hours ago.” Robert repeated.
“How do ya know?”
“I can tell.” Robert mumbled.
“Guess you would, bein’ a doctor an’ all.” Punch nodded.
Robert rose and walked over to Punch on the landing. “Listen to me.”
“Sure,” Punch nodded nervously.
“Nothing is going to happen to us.”
“Positive.” Robert nodded. “This is a terrible thing, but we’re safe. We will remain safe. I’ll see to it. I promise you.”
“You must stay calm. Know that I love you and that you’re safe.” Robert continued.
“Sure, chum.” Punch said with more confidence.
The front door of the mansion opened and Charles smiled at first upon seeing the Duke, however, his smile quickly faded when he saw the grisly scene.
“My God!” Charles squawked.
“We came home to find this man—Mr. Stover—dead here, Charles.” Punch explained. “Hutchinson went for the beadle.”
“The beadle?” Charles asked nervously.
“Certainly, the beadle. Why not?” Robert snapped.
“I…I don’t know, Sir.”
“Charles, help me pick ‘im up. We’ll carry ‘im in the house. Can’t leave ‘im out here.” Punch said.
“No!” Robert spat.
“Oh, right. Charles’ wrist.” Punch nodded. “Here, go get Gerry, he can help.”
“No. I don’t want him in our house.”
“We can bring him to the servants’ hall, Sir. I can warn the girls to clear out.” Charles suggested.
“I don’t want him in the house!” Robert snarled.
Punch’s face fell and Charles took a step backward.
“My apologies, my dear. I’m sorry, Charles.” Robert added quickly. “I don’t mean to shout. It’s…it’s too awful. I didn’t care for the man, but…this…no one…”
“But, we can’t leave him here on the street.” Punch whispered.
Within seconds, the constable arrived with Hutchinson. Robert worried that Punch was too rattled to perform his Julian routine, but Punch quickly surprised his companion—yet again.
“Constable,” Punch greeted the man in his best Julian voice.
“Your Grace,” The constable bowed his head for a moment. “Looks as if we got some trouble here.”
“It’s too horrid.” Punch continued. “We had just returned from luncheon with Prince Albert to find this poor soul…”
“Yes, Your Grace.” The constable said, bending over to examine the body. He looked over at Robert who still stood nearby. “You’re the doctor, yes?”
“How long has he been dead?”
“I would say just over an hour.” Robert replied.
Over the constable’s head, Punch and Robert exchanged glances. Punch wondered why Robert said “just over an hour,” when he had earlier said “hours ago.”
“Do you know the man, Your Grace?” The policeman asked.
“We had met him,” Robert responded.
“Begging your pardon, Sir, but I was speakin’ to the Duke.” The constable frowned.
“Yes, Constable.” Punch nodded, still behaving as Julian. “I had been introduced to the man. I would not say I knew him beyond a basic introduction.”
“Now, Doctor,” The Constable smiled. “What about you?”
“His name is William Stover.” Robert answered. “We had first met in ’51. We had a brief acquaintance, but, as is often the case, lost contact. I hadn’t seen him in almost a year until this past week.”
“Was he comin’ here to see you.” The constable asked.
“No. If he was, we weren’t aware of it. As I said, we had a luncheon appointment at Buckingham Palace.” Punch explained. “If he was coming here, he wouldn’t have found us home.”
“Read ‘bout that in the ‘News,’ Sir.” The constable nodded. “What you know ‘bout it, mate?” He pointed to Charles.
“The man has been following the Duke and Dr. Halifax, Sir. I saw him just yesterday in Covent Garden watching us.” Charles responded.
“It’s true,” Hutchinson added. “I seen ‘im, too.”
Behind, the Constable, Robert’s eyes flashed with anger. He hadn’t wanted Charles to share that.
“To be quite honest,” Punch intervened. “I suspect that this man was eager to exploit his past friendship with my companion to gain favor with me. No doubt he was looking for a patron for his porcelain concern. I think he has been lurking about in order to find me alone and ask me for assistance.”
“He got any family?” The constable asked Robert.
“A sister. Eudora, I believe.”
“Eudora Stover?” The constable grinned. “Lots of children?”
“Yes.” Robert nodded.
“Oh, now it’s all clear.” The constable laughed.
“I’m afraid not for me.” Mr. Punch frowned.
“Well, Your Grace. The deceased here comes from a bad element. No doubt he come out here lookin’ for you and got himself knocked over by one of his sister’s…friends who was lookin’ for an easy coin.” The officer replied, looking through William’s pockets.
“That makes sense.” Robert said quickly.
“See, look there. Ain’t no purse. Bloke’s been robbed. There ya have it.”
“Yes.” Mr. Punch sighed. “What a shame.”
“What should we do with him, Sir?” Charles whispered. He pointed to the crowd which had been growing since Punch and Robert arrived.
Mr. Punch snorted softly. He’d been so focused on what was happening right in front of him that he didn’t notice the expanding group of onlookers which ranged from scullery maids to ladies.
“Go to the area and get a sheet.” Mr. Punch said quickly. “Something with which we might cover him.”
Charles did as instructed, and, did so surprisingly fast.
The constable helped Charles cover William Stover’s body.
“Your Grace, I’m awful sorry this happened in front of your fine home.” The constable lowered his head. “When your driver came to fetch me, I sent me partner for the wagon. He’ll be here quick ‘nough. Why don’t you two gents go inside, then, Sir? It’s clear what happened here. We’ll get this cleared ‘way and you won’t need to worry ‘bout it no more.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Punch responded.
“And, doctor,” The constable looked at Robert. There was a sly twinkle in his eye. “If this man were a friend of yours, Sir, I’m terribly sorry for your loss.”
“He was barely an acquaintance.” Robert frowned.
“Well, then, Sir. Glad to know it.”
“Good evening, Constable.” Mr. Punch nodded as Charles opened the door for him.
“Oh, Doctor…” The constable whispered after Punch had gone inside and just as Robert was about to enter the house.
Robert turned around.
“Lucky you’re with the Duke of Fallbridge now.” The officer winked.
Robert could feel the blood rise in his face as the closed the door behind him.
“Sirs,” Charles gasped. “This is dreadful.”
“I know, Charles.” Punch said, finally speaking as himself. “Thanks, for helpin’.”
“I’m afraid I said too much, Sir.” Charles said softly to Robert.
“You told the truth,” Robert smiled weakly, “That’s all you could do.”
“Sirs,” Charles began haltingly. “No one in this house had anything to do with that man’s death.”
“No.” Robert replied firmly. “No one in this house did.”
“Charles,” Punch said, “Would you go on downstairs and ‘xplain to the others what’s happenin?”
“What should I tell them, Your Grace?”
“Just tell ‘em that a bloke met a bad end outside our house and that should anyone ask ‘bout it, it don’t have nothin’ to do with us and we don’t know nothin’ bout it.” Punch replied. “Give me ‘bout ten minutes with Dr. Halifax, and, then send Speaight up to the library. Actually, you Gerry and Speaight should come up. We’ll talk ‘bout what to do next.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Charles said, hurrying off.
Alone in the foyer with Robert, Punch put his hands on his companion’s shoulders and pulled the man to him. Wrapping his arms around Robert’s waist, Punch could feel his companion relax a bit.
“Sorry, Chum.” Punch whispered.
“Why?” Robert rasped.
“I know you liked him once.”
“Not really,” Robert sighed. “I was just lonely. Lonely and dreaming of something which I didn’t think I’d ever have.”
“But, you got it now.” Punch pulled back, smiling.
“That I do.” Robert replied emotionally. “And, I’ve got to protect it.”
“We both do.” Punch whispered. “I didn’t kill ‘im. I woulda done, but I didn’t.”
“Did you ever say aloud that you wanted to kill him?” Robert asked.
“Yes.” Punch nodded. “To Dog Toby.”
Robert smiled slightly, but it passed quickly. “I threatened him—loudly--in the middle of a crowded factory.”
“Oh.” Punch sighed slowly. “That ain’t so good.”
“That’s why you lied ‘bout how long he were dead?”
“Yes.” Robert nodded.
“My Robert,” Punch began…
“I didn’t kill him.” Robert shook his head.
“Well, I know that!” Punch frowned.
“I just wanted you to be sure.”
“And, it were someone what was lookin’ out for us, Chum.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “It were one of the folks here in this house. I know it.”
“Do you think so?” Robert sighed. “I thought just the opposite. I suspect someone killed him and brought him to our house to implicate us in the murder.”
“But, why?” Punch frowned. “Why are folks always out for us?”
“Because we’re different, dear Punch.” Robert sighed. “Because…we are different and we have the audacity to be successful and happy.”
“I ‘spect so.”
“You know this is far from over?” Robert asked.
“Oh, I’m ‘ware.” Punch sighed. “I’m very aware.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-41? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 43 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.