AUTHOR: Nikki Harrington
PAIRING: Arthur 'A. J.' Raffles/Harry 'Bunny' Manders
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship
SUMMARY: Bunny is missing and Raffles is determined to find him, even if it involves getting help from the police. However, before he can go to the police he receives information pertaining to Bunny and it is Charleston and not the police who sets out to help Raffles find his rabbit.
WORD COUNT: 11,570
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for balinese_baby: L - Love letters
DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters created by E. W. Hornung, nor am I making any money from them; I merely borrow them from time to time. I do, however, own the original characters.
I awoke to a very well lit room, even though the curtains were pulled. I looked at my watch and saw it was somewhat later than the time I normally awoke, but then it had been a particularly late night and an extremely pleasant one and I had slept very well.
I stretched and then lay for a moment or two as I thought back to the previous night. It had indeed been a very enjoyable evening, both before and after Bunny and I had returned to the Albany. We had dined at the club and dined very well indeed, after which we had spent half an hour in a house that did not belong to either of us before returning to the Albany. I ventured to guess that the proceeds from last night's little venture into someone else's home would keep us in funds for a month or two.
However, although both dinner and a spot of burgling had been enjoyable, the best part of the evening had been after we had returned to the Albany and retired, after spending a pleasant hour or so on my sofa, to my bed. In fact the only thing that had been wrong with last night was that, once both of us were completely sated, my rabbit had insisted upon returning to his own flat.
I had tried very hard to persuade him to stay - and I can be very persuasive. However, it was his will, for once, which had prevailed and thus at a little after three o'clock in the morning, he had got out of my bed, dressed and left me alone in my bed. Again it had been he who had been adamant that I remain in bed rather than getting up, putting on my dressing gown and seeing him out of my rooms. He had told me quite firmly that there really wasn't any point, given I would be returning to my bed again once he had gone.
Thus, rather than argue with him - and to be completely honest given how sated, how relaxed, how contented I had been, I really had not wished to get up from my nice, warm bed, not even to see my beloved rabbit out - I had indeed remained under the covers and had watched him dress. When he had sat down on the bed to kiss me goodbye, I had made one more final attempt to convince him to stay with me, but again it was he who insisted he must go. His reason was that given that he had spent the previous three nights with me, he really should go home least Parker wonder quite why he spent so many nights with me.
I had argued that I was quite certain Parker thought nothing about Bunny staying with me (if I am honest I actually believe that Parker might well suspect that Bunny and I are not merely best friends, however I wouldn't worry my rabbit by telling him). However, my rabbit was determined he would return to his flat, and so after one final, rather protracted kiss I allowed him to leave me.
I decided that as pleasant as lying in bed reminiscing about the previous evening was, it really was time I got up, bathed, shaved and dressed, because it wouldn't be too long before Bunny arrived and we would decide where we would have luncheon. As I brushed my teeth and waited for the bath to fill I began to wonder if it really was not time I looked for a set of rooms with two bedrooms and suggested to Bunny that we might share them.
After all, given we spent so little time apart, it really did not make a great deal of sense for him to have his flat in Mount Street and me to have rooms at the Albany. Gentlemen share rooms all of the time and thus it would not be considered strange or unusual, especially given what good friends Bunny and I are, for us to do so. And that way, no one would give any thought as to quite why Bunny did spend so much of his time, including his nights, with me.
Although, once again I believed more than one of our acquaintances might well have more than one or two passing suspicions as to the true nature of my relationship with Bunny. A time or two, the odd comment has been made which on the face of it was perfectly innocuous, but if one really thought about, one might draw the conclusion that it wasn't quite so innocuous.
However, given Bunny and I were free to walk the streets of London, visit our clubs, our tailors, the Turkish baths and anywhere else we cared to venture, it appeared that if any of our acquaintances did indeed believe I buggered my best friend, then they thought it was none of their business. And if the truth was told, I would far rather people knew I buggered Bunny rather than I stole from my acquaintances - despite both things being illegal. I believed the former would be far more forgivable in the eyes of those who knew us than that latter - indeed I was quite certain it would be.
As I got into the bath and sat down in the perfectly temperate water and began to wash, I decided that once Bunny arrived I would suggest to him that we find and take rooms together. I rather fancied it would mean leaving the Albany, as although there are a few sets of rooms with two bedrooms, I was not aware of any of the tenants who occupied such sets of rooms who desired to leave. However, it would be worth having a word with Parker, if anyone knew anything it would be Parker.
After I had bathed and shaved I returned to my bedroom where I swiftly changed the sheets on the bed before proceeding to dress. As I dressed I listened for the sound of the door either being knocked or opened, thus heralding the arrival of my rabbit. However, as I donned my coat and adjusted my cuffs, Bunny still had not arrived.
I decided to make a pot of coffee, and for half an hour or so I sat drinking coffee and perusing the newspaper, before I once again took out my watch and looked at it. Even allowing for the fact that Bunny would have fallen asleep a little later than I had done, given he had to walk home, and thus might have awakened somewhat later, I still felt it somewhat strange that he had not arrived.
I wondered if he might have been taken unwell, but unless he was so sick he could not manage to get out of bed - the thought of which worried me somewhat - then I was certain he would have rung to tell me. Now that I had given consideration to the possibility of him being unwell and in need of being looked after or in need of a doctor, I knew I had to go to his flat. I hurried out into the hall way and grabbed my hat and went down the stairs.
"Good morning to you, Mr. Raffles, sir," Parker said, touching his hat as I stopped to speak to him.
"Good morning, Parker."
"It's a beautiful day out, sir."
"Oh, good. Parker?"
"Yes, Mr. Raffles?"
"I don't suppose there has been any kind of message from Mr. Manders, has there?"
Parker looked slightly hurt. "No, sir. I'd have brought it straight up to you if there had been one, Mr. Raffles."
I smiled reassuringly at him. "I know you would have, Parker. It's just I find I am a little concerned about Mr. Manders."
Parker looked at his watch. "It is later than his usual time for arriving. But it was rather late when he left last night, sir."
I nodded. "Yes, it was. I'm sure that's all it is. However, I am going to go around to Mr. Manders's flat. If he arrives whilst I am out, please tell him to go to my rooms and wait for me."
"I'll do that for you, Mr. Raffles."
"Thank you, Parker." I nodded and turned to leave.
"It's my pleasure, Mr. Raffles."
I took a cab to Mount Street, even though it was within easy walking distance and let myself into Bunny's flat with the key he had given me. Even as I opened the door, I knew he was not there. Nonetheless I called out to him. "Bunny? Are you here, my rabbit?" No one answered me. I hurried into his bedroom, which was empty and the bed was made.
I turned down the covers and felt the bed and the pillow, both were cold. However, I couldn't be certain if it had been slept in or not, Bunny could easily have got up early and gone out - but gone out to where? And why hadn't he arrived at the Albany?
At that thought I left his bedroom and returned to the hall and placed a call to the Albany. "Ah, Parker," I said, "It's Mr. Raffles."
"I thought it was you, sir."
"Has Mr. Manders arrived yet?"
"No, sir. I'm sorry to say, but he hasn't."
It was a warm day, Bunny's flat was fairly warm, but I felt suddenly chilled. "Thank you, Parker. I will be on my back shortly. In the meantime -"
"If Mr. Manders does turn up, sir, I'll tell him to go up to your rooms and wait for you." Parker spoke in a reassuring tone.
"Thank you, Parker." I put the receiver down and stood for a moment as a feeling of dread began to seep through me.
I turned on my heel and returned to Bunny's bedroom where a swift look in his wardrobe confirmed what I had feared: his evening suit was not there. He had not returned home to Mount Street after he had left my rooms.
"Oh, Bunny, oh, my dear little rabbit, where are you? What has happened to you?" I did a swift search of his flat, looking for evidence, even though I knew there wouldn't be any, that he had in fact returned home or as to where he might be.
Ten minutes later I left his flat, hailed another cab and returned to the Albany, where Parker looking more than a little solemn and worried now, informed me that Bunny had not arrived. I thanked him and hurried up to my rooms, took my hat off and moved to the phone.
A few minutes later - it had taken me longer than I would have thought to be put through to the person I wished to speak to - I was talking to Charlie. I asked him if anyone matching Bunny's description had been admitted to his hospital in the last eight hours and quickly explained why. It took Charlie no more than a minute or two to give me the news, news which, I wasn't altogether certain, I considered to be good or bad, that no, Bunny had not been admitted.
Charlie told me he would make several calls and ring me back within the half hour. One of the many good things about having a close friend who is a doctor is that he can get information it would have taken someone who wasn't a doctor considerably longer to get. If indeed they could have got it at all.
I paced up and down the hall, smoking Sullivans until, twenty minutes later, Charlie called me back to tell me he had contacted all of the London hospitals and that no one matching Bunny's description had been admitted during the past eight hours. Once more I did not know whether to be glad or afeared. I confessed as much to Charlie, who tried his best to reassure me and told me there was almost certainly some logical, non-worrying reason as to why Bunny was not by my side. He tried very hard; however, I've known Charlie since we met at prep school and I knew only too well, he did not believe what he was telling me. He knows Bunny quite well, he knows nothing short of not physically being able to, would have kept Bunny from my side.
He offered to come around to the Albany immediately and then we could decide what to do next. However, I knew he had a very important board meeting - his secretary had told me thus several times whilst he had refused to put me through to him - one I knew he really did need to attend. Thus, I convinced him to attend the meeting before he came to the Albany; I even managed to suggest that by that time Bunny almost certainly would have arrived. However, I did not believe what I said and I was quite certain Charlie didn't either.
It was with more than a modicum of regret that I finally replaced the receiver. Charlie had again, before he had hung up, tried to reassure me that nothing had happened to Bunny. He had also offered for a final time to explain to the members of the board that an emergency had arisen and thus he really had to leave the hospital. However, once again I refused and with him once more assuring me that everything would be all right, he hung up.
I went into my sitting room, poured myself a brandy, lit another cigarette and pacing around the room tried to decide what to do next. I tried to tell myself that it had only been eight hours and I tried to believe what Charlie had told me that there was a perfectly rationale explanation. However, it seemed even more ludicrous when I told myself than when Charlie had told me.
Finally, I made a decision. I would go to the police; after all they were there to assist the innocent, were they not? And in this respect at least neither Bunny nor I were guilty of anything. Thus, I would go to Scotland Yard and speak to Inspector Mackenzie and ask him to find Bunny. However, before I did that I decided I should return to Bunny's flat and remove one or two things I would really rather the good Inspector didn't find. I didn't know for certain that he would wish to look at Bunny's flat, after all I had found no evidence of a struggle or indeed any evidence that Bunny had returned there. However, I was not a detective; I could quite easily have missed something.
The thought of possibly disturbing evidence, made me hesitate. What if I did return to Bunny's flat and in the process of removing evidence of our crimes, I also disturbed evidence of what had happened to Bunny? I did not often spend the night in Bunny's flat, we both preferred my rooms, however there were one or two things, a toothbrush that remained with Bunny's and a change of underclothing as well as a clean shirt, that might all point to - Well, to someone spending the night with Bunny, and whilst I did not believe Inspector Mackenzie would ever actually catch me and be able to prove I was a cracksman, I actually thought him somewhat more intelligent than I led Bunny to believe I thought him to be. Thus, he might quite easily assume the person who spent the night with Bunny was indeed I.
Plus, it wasn't just evidence of my spending nights with Bunny which I needed to remove. Bunny had, as did I, a few pieces of family silver, shall we say, that did not actually come from our families. Given that I really did not know if Mackenzie would wish to visit and search Bunny's flat, removing things might be rather a waste of time. However, given quite what such things would reveal if I did not remove them, I decided it was a potential waste of time which was worth it.
"Hello again, Mr. Raffles." Parker stood up as I went into his small office. "Has there been any word from Mr. Manders, sir?"
"No, Parker. I'm rather afraid there hasn't."
"Oh, dear, sir. I know it's no business of mine and I hope you'll forgive me if I'm presuming, but have you thought of contacting the hospitals, sir?"
I nodded. "Thank you, Parker and there really is nothing for which I need to forgive you, quite the opposite in fact and you are not presuming. However, I have indeed contacted the hospitals; another good friend of mine, a Dr. Charleston, owns one and he was good enough to in fact contact them for me and Mr. Manders has not been admitted to any of them."
"I see, sir. Well, it's good news, isn't it, sir? Mr. Manders not being admitted, I mean."
I managed a partial smile. "Well, Parker, yes, in one way it is indeed good news. However, in another way I'm rather afraid it isn't because well, you see, had Mr. Manders have been admitted to one of the hospitals, at least we would know where he is."
"I see, sir. I'm that sorry, Mr. Raffles, I didn't think of that, sir. What, if you don't mind my asking, are you going to do?"
"Firstly I'm going to return to Mr. Manders's flat just in case . . ." I fell silent as to be honest I couldn't think of what to say.
"Oh, I know, sir," Parker said, "maybe Mr. Manders got - you know, sir, when someone forgets."
"That's it, sir. Amnesia. Maybe Mr. Manders got that and wandered around for a bit before going back to his flat, but he don't know where to go now."
Parker seemed so pleased with his thought that I didn't have the heart to ask him how he thought Bunny would suddenly remember where he lived if he had suddenly contracted amnesia, nor indeed how he might have suddenly lost his memory. Thus, I gave him another partial smile and said, "Maybe you are right, Parker."
"And when you get to his flat, you'll find him and I'm quite sure, Mr. Raffles, that as soon as he sees you, he'll remember. And you can bring him back here and then he'll remember even more."
I nodded. "Let us hope that is indeed the case. Right, I shall go to Mr. Manders's flat, I don't imagine I shall be that long. However, here is Mr. Manders's telephone number," I handed Parker a piece of paper. "If Mr. Manders does by any chance turn up here, please ring me."
Parker took the piece of paper and put it down on his desk. "I'll do that thing, Mr. Raffles."
"Thank you. Also, should Dr. Charleston arrive, I am expecting him, although probably not just yet, please ring me and let me know he is here. And then show him up to my rooms and ask him to wait for me."
"Dr. Charleston. Yes, sir. I'll do that."
"Thank you, Parker." I nodded to him and left his office. If he wondered quite why I had my cricket bag with me, he clearly thought it to be none of his concern.
I let myself back into Bunny's flat. The sun had gone in since I had last been there and now it felt chilly and empty - but that might have been just how I felt. I put my toothbrush and clothing along with the items I did not wish the good Inspector to discover into my cricket bag and closed it.
I was about to leave and return to the Albany to leave my cricket bag before I headed for Scotland Yard, when I decided I would have a further look around Bunny's flat. I was quite certain I had removed all incriminating evidence of our duel crimes, but when one is involved in any kind of illegal activity, it pays to be extra vigilant.
I don't know quite what made me pull out the very heavy and cumbersome drawer from the bottom or Bunny's wardrobe, but pull it out I did. It was only when I had pulled it out that I realised it was somewhat shallower than the wardrobe. I manoeuvred it onto the floor and dropped back down onto my heels and reached into the space the drawer had occupied. My hand made contact with what felt like a wooden box and I pulled that out and stared at it.
Now I believed I had at some point or other seen everything Bunny owned. However, this I had never seen before. It was locked, but of course that did not trouble me and it was a matter of seconds before I had undone the lock and was about the lift the lid. However, I paused for a moment telling myself that as close as Bunny and I were, no matter how deeply he loved me (and I he) no matter how intimate our relationship and how much I knew about him, he was entitled to some degree of privacy, thus, I really should not be contemplating opening the box.
But what if by not opening the box I didn't find something that might explain what had happened to my rabbit? What if something in the box held a clue to where he was? Thus, even though I was quite certain that would not be the case, I opened the lid and looked down that the contents of the box.
To my surprise it seemed to be full (indeed overly full) of letters - all of which were in envelopes, none of which had a name or address on the front. I hesitated for no more than a moment or two before I stood up and carried to box over to Bunny's bed were I sat down and put the box on the bed next to me. I picked up the letter that was on top and after once more hesitating for a moment or two I pulled the letter out and glanced at it.
To my surprise it was addressed to me. My surprise increased when I began to read it and discovered it to be a love letter. I knew Bunny loved me - I had always known - but as I read the words he had written to me, I found myself more than a little moved, surprised even by quite how deep that love went; by quite how devoted he was to me; by quite how important, vital even, I was to him.
The letter, written some months after I had taken him to my bed for the first time, written around the time I had in effect given him all of me when I had sworn my fidelity to him for as long as he wished to have it, became more than a little - explicit shall we say, when I read the second page. I do not recall the last time I had actually blushed, but as I read Bunny's description of me, when I read how he saw me, and how much he adored what I did to him and what he would like me to do to him, I felt my cheeks become a little warm.
I had always know Bunny was a fine writer, it was the reason I had, during our time at school when he had belonged to me, fagged him to write my verses for me. However, I had not realised quite how fine a writer he was; quite how well he used words and quite how evocative he could be. I was also, given his reticence and how easily he blushes even after all we had done, more than a little surprised at some of the things he had written.
Once I had finished reading the letter, I pushed it back into the envelope, hesitated for a moment and then opened the next letter and read that. That had been written before I had taken him to my bed and if anything was even more a love letter than the previous letter I had read had been. He didn't speak of what he wished me to do to him, beyond taking him into my arms and kissing me. Instead if focussed much more on his feelings for me, and how he knew I would never love him as he loved me; on how I was everything to him; on how he knew the day would come when I would marry and how on that day his life would in effect cease.
I told myself that I really shouldn't - even though they were all written to me - read any more of the letters. I told myself that I should respect Bunny's privacy, he may have written them to me, but clearly he hadn't intended to send them. Thus, I should put them back into box, lock it back up, take it with me (because obviously I could not risk Mackenzie finding it) and return to the Albany. I told myself that I shouldn't waste time reading love letters when the person who had written them, the person who meant as much to me as I clearly meant to him, the person I adored was missing. I told myself that I should return to the Albany, put my cricket bag back where I kept it and go to Scotland Yard.
I told myself I would read just one more and then I would put them all back into the box, lock it up, put it in my cricket bag and return to the Albany where I would take my cricket bag to my rooms before going to Scotland Yard, where I would insist upon seeing Inspector Mackenzie.
I told myself that and I believe that is what I had truly intended to do. However, just one more led to me reading another and another and another until I reached the bottom of the box and pulled out the final letter - which in effect was the first letter.
It had been written to me during the autumn half term in Bunny's first year at the school. The letters spanned some twelve years, and whilst most had been written once Bunny had left the school for the final time, and the majority of those had been written after we had become reacquainted, quite a few had been written during our shared school days and whilst I had been up at Cambridge.
The love of the terribly young thirteen year old had matured, just as he had matured, into the love of the young man he was now. The basic declarations of love had grown into the far more detailed and intense pronouncements. More than one of the letters included a line or two or even a few lines of verse, verse I recognised as having been composed by Bunny. And the verses, just like the rest of the letters, showed the growth of my rabbit. In one respect - his love for me - the letters differed very little; however, in other respects each was as individual as each person is. One thing was quite certain: they left nothing to the imagination. No one could read even one of them and not know of Bunny's love for me.
As I put the very first letter back into the envelope and carefully placed it back into the box and began to return each letter, I realised I felt quite unworthy of quite how much, quite how deeply, quite how reverentially Bunny loved me. I wasn't the wonderful, perfect man, the Greek god, the zenith of perfection he seemed to believe me to be. I really wasn't. I was - I was just a man, but clearly to Bunny I was so much more. I relocked the box, put it into my cricket bag, placing it beneath the clothing, returned the drawer to the wardrobe and left Bunny's bedroom.
I truly did have every intention of going to Scotland Yard once I had returned to my rooms and put my cricket bag away. However, as I arrived back at the Albany, Parker called to me. "Mr. Raffles?"
I stopped. "Yes, Parker."
"I've got a letter for you, sir. Hand delivered."
I took the plain white envelope that had 'A. J. Raffles' printed on the front. "Did you recognise the person who delivered it?"
Parker should his head. "It was one of the street urchins. Said a gent had given him a shilling to deliver it. He couldn't or maybe wouldn't describe the gent. He just kept repeating he was a gent just like all the other gents. I'm sorry, sir."
I shook my head. "It's not your fault, Parker." I managed to smile at him as I turned and headed up the stairs to my rooms.
After depositing my cricket bag in its usual place, I went into the sitting room, lit a Sullivan and carefully opened the envelope. It wasn't actually a letter, not as such. It was a single piece of paper with a rather badly drawn map with an 'X' in the top right hand corner.
Underneath the map were instructions. 'Come tonight at eleven o'clock. Do not go to the police or your pet rabbit will suffer.'
I stared at the map; for some reason despite how badly drawn it was, it looked somewhat familiar. I believe I had seen it before somewhere, but I couldn't recall where. Well, I had a few hours to figure it out and I had to do so without the help of the good men of Scotland Yard - I had no intention of risking any harm befalling Bunny by disobeying the order not to go to the police.
I turned the map around several times, looking at it from different angles. I did know it; I was certain I knew it, but I still couldn't bring to mind why I knew it and where it was. Each time I turned it around, the large X taunted me; it clearly was meant to depict where my rabbit was being held and somehow I had to figure it out and rescue him.
Ten minutes went by and still I stared at the map and still I could not remember. And then I began to wonder if indeed I did recognise it or merely thought I did - but no, surely whomsoever had abducted my rabbit wouldn't have given me so little to go, would he? Or did he want me to fail? Had he deliberately given me so little to go so that I would fail and he would -
The sound of the door knocker made me jump; I put the paper down on my desk and hurried out into the hall hoping against hope that it might be - "Charlie!" I cried, pulling him inside and closing the door behind me. "I'm so glad to see you."
He frowned as he looked at me and took my arm. "Has something happened, A. J.?"
I nodded briefly before catching his hand and pulling him into the sitting room where I handed him the piece of paper. Unlike me, I saw his eyes go firstly to the words before moving up to look at the map.
"I'm sure I recognise the area, Charlie. I'm certain I've seen it before."
Like I had done a short time ago, Charlie turned the map around carefully studying it from each angle. Then he looked at me, "I'm certain I know the area as well, A. J., and I know something else."
"Whoever has abducted Manders was at school with us."
I stared at him. "What makes you think that?"
"This." He pointed to the words 'your pet rabbit'. "That's what a lot of the other boys used to call Manders, isn't it?"
"Well, yes, but - How can you be certain though, Charlie?"
He looked at me and put one hand on my shoulder. "You tell me, A. J., have you ever heard any of your acquaintances, people who know you and Manders, refer to him as 'your pet rabbit'?"
I shook my head. "No."
"I presume you do still refer to him as 'my rabbit' at times, do you not?"
I glanced away from Charlie. I had told myself more than a few times that I really should cease to use the term, at least unless we were alone as it was a little deeming to call an adult man 'my rabbit'. However, I was so used to using the term that it was very difficult to break the habit. "Yes," I said and then added swiftly, "Bunny doesn't mind."
Charlie squeezed my shoulder. "I'm sure he doesn't." His tone was kind and soft.
I stared at him. "What are we going to do, Charlie?"
"Figure out where this is and go and rescue Manders," Charlie said calmly, as if I had asked him the simplest question in the world.
I sighed. "What if we can't?"
"We will. We will, A. J." I stared at him. He squeezed my shoulder again before taking out his cigarette case and handing it to me and he went to pour brandy into two glasses. He handed one to me, took back his cigarette case and struck a match to light both cigarettes. "Now come and sit down and let us think about this rationally."
I let him guide me to the sofa and I sank down and took a deep swallow of brandy. "Maybe we should," I paused and swallowed before saying quietly, "go to the police."
Charlie shook his head and I stared at him in surprise; I had expected him to say that would be the best thing. "Normally, I would say we should. But in this case . . . A. J., this is personal; it goes back to our school days and whoever has Manders took him to make you suffer."
"You sound very certain, Charlie."
"I am. A. J., there's no demand for money or anything like that. Even the threat against Manders is fairly mild. It's as if," Charlie fell silent for a moment and took a long drag on his cigarette. I sat in silence and stared at him, I could see he was thinking through what he was about to say, it was a look I had seen many times on his face over the years we had known one another.
Charlie swallowed some of the brandy, put his glass down and put his hand on my knee. "A. J., I believe that whoever abducted Manders last night did so, as I said, to make you suffer. However, for some reason he now regrets doing it and he doesn't actually know what to do with Manders."
"He could bring him back to me."
"He could but - A. J.!"
I jumped partly because of how loud Charlie's voice had become and partly because his grip on my knee tightened so much it actually was more than a little painful. "Charlie?"
"Give me the map again." I reached for it and handed it to him. He glanced down at it, turned it around ninety degrees, squeezed my knee again (thankfully not as painfully tightly) and smiled. "I know where Manders is and I know who abducted him."
I stared at him. "Well?"
"Kirkton. Gerald Kirkton. He abducted Manders. That's the family home."
I stared at the map and frowned. "Are you sure, Charlie?"
Charlie nodded. "I'm positive. Look," and he turned the map around. "We went there once, the eleven, to play a cricket match against the local school. The head was a friend of Mr. Kirkton and as their pitch had been badly damaged by floods, he asked if the match could be played on Kirkton's land. The Kirkton we were at school with drew Anderson a map - it was the same as the one you're holding. The X shows the place we changed. It's right on the edge of the wooded area and on the other side is in effect a cricket pitch. You must remember, A. J."
I nodded; as soon as Charlie had started his explanation, it all came back to me. "I do, yes. And I remember Kirkton telling us, well bragging to us, about how isolated the building was and how he used to take the local girls there because he knew his father would never discover him." I stubbed my cigarette out and stood up. "If he's hurt Bunny, I'll -"
"I don't think he has, A. J.," Charlie was also on his feet and had taken my arm.
I glared at Charlie. "You know how many times he tried to hurt him at school. All the disgusting things he wanted to do to him. You haven't forgotten, have you?"
Charlie shook his head. "No, I haven't. But, think about it, A. J., if he had hurt Manders or harmed him in any way, why would be write to you and tell you to go and in effect rescue him?"
"You said it yourself; he wants me to suffer. He hated me at school. I foiled every one of his plans for Bunny - and now he's . . . Charlie, what if he's killed him?"
Charlie put his hands on my shoulders. "Listen to me, A. J., you're not thinking clearly - and that's understandable, given how much you," he hesitated for a second and said more softly, "care about Manders. Gerald Kirkton wasn't the most intelligent boy, you know that - he certainly never went to university. However, even he wouldn't harm or kill Manders and send you a personal invitation to in effect take your revenge on him, would he?"
I stared at Charlie and tried to think about what he had said in a sensible way, rather than as the man who loved Bunny so very much. What Charlie said did, I had to admit, when I forced myself to be slightly less impassioned, make some kind of sense. "I believe you may have a point," I said. "However, if he has -" I broke off abruptly and closed my eyes.
Charlie pulled me into his arms for a moment said, his tone far grimmer than I ever remember hearing it, "You have my full permission to do whatsoever you wish to him - just as long as you let me help. Now, we had better go to the station."
"We?" I asked, moving back and staring at him. "I'm going alone, Charlie."
"No, A. J., you are not." This time Charlie's tone was one I had only ever heard a time or two: it was his non-negotiable tone. For the most part Charlie would always bend to my will, if I wanted something badly enough. However, there had been a time or two during our school days when he had spoken to me in the tone he had just used and I had been the one to bend.
I was not going to Kirkton's alone.
The sun had long set by the time we arrived at the rather remote village in which Kirkton's parents had their home. I had insisted upon us taking the first train from London, even though it was deemed to be a slow train, and even though it would actually get us to our destination a little later than had we waited in London for a later train.
However, I had know I could not just sit around and wait; I had to do something and if that meant sitting on a train for far longer than was necessary then that is what I would do. Charlie tried once to persuade me that we should wait; telling me it would be both sensible and logical to wait - which it would have been. However, once I had just looked at him and said simply and sincerely, "I cannot wait, Charlie," it was he who had purchased the tickets, after he had squeezed my shoulder and given me a sympathetic and understanding look.
We had, at Charlie's insistence, dined on the train. I hadn't been interested; indeed I hadn't even been hungry. However, one of the negative things about having a doctor as a close friend is that he can use his doctor's logic to persuade you. Thus, dine we did.
It was a little after ten by the time we reached the grounds of Kirkton's boyhood home. We had walked from the station; it had taken us the better part of an hour, but we were in good time and also did not wish to alert anyone by taking a cab. I was all for heading towards the place Kirkton was holding Bunny. Charlie, however, insisted we wait and thus give Kirkton no reason to panic. He had said eleven and Charlie felt it was better to obey. Not for the first time that day, I fell in with Charlie's wishes.
As the church clock struck the half hour, Charlie took my arm and we carefully made our way through the wooded area. Our eyes had adjusted fairly well to the dark but the journey was not a particularly easy one and more than once we stumbled slightly. I wondered if Bunny and Kirkton had made the same journey in darkness and if so how many times my beloved rabbit may have stumbled or even fallen.
We finally reached the building and could see a faint light burning inside. I glanced at Charlie, but I couldn't see him at all as the moon had vanished behind the cloud. I moved a little nearer to him, reached out and found his arm and then his shoulder and murmured as closely to his ear as I could, "What time do you think it is?"
"About ten to," he said softly. "I can't be certain, but I believe it took us about twenty minutes to get here."
We were in accord as that would have been my guess as well. "Do we wait or go now?"
"Wait. The church clock will sound the hour."
So once again we waited.
As the clock began to sound the hour, I took Charlie's arm and we began to walk towards the building. Suddenly the light became brighter and I could see a figure, whom I believed had to be Kirkton, standing in a doorway. I put my hand into the pocket of my overcoat and felt for my revolver which I had taken from my desk drawer whilst Charlie had paid a visit to my lavatory. Except it wasn't there.
I turned my head sharply to look at Charlie, but even with more light coming from the building I couldn't really see him. Quite when he had taken it from me I had no idea, nor did I know how he had known to search me. However, one thing was clear, if Charlie ever tired of being a doctor, he would make a very fine cracksman. I would have bet good money against anyone (even the finest pick-pocket) being able to pick my pocket without me being aware of it. Yet, Charlie had done so.
Charlie and I continued to walk towards the building. By the time we reached the door, Kirkton had vanished back inside. I glanced at Charlie, whom I could now see quite clearly, and saw that just as I was, he was prepared for - well, for anything.
I let my arm fall from his and led the way inside. I heard Charlie close the door behind me and I waited for a moment until he was once more by my side, then together we went into the main room.
Kirkton sat at a table, a half empty bottle of whisky in front of him. I barely spared him a glance as my gaze instantly fell on Bunny who sat on the floor against a wall. His feet were bound in front of him, his hands were bound behind his back and he was gagged. Just for a fleeting second I let my gaze move from Bunny onto Kirkton and I wanted nothing more than to go to him and -
"Untie Harry, A. J.," Charlie said calmly but firmly.
I shook myself, wondering why I hadn't instantly done that rather than contemplate hitting Kirkton and hurried over to where my rabbit was starting imploringly at me. I dropped down onto my knees next to him and swiftly but with care, began to remove the gag and binding. To my surprise none of them were particularly tight, thus whilst Bunny would not doubt have been in some degree of discomfort, it could have been considerably worse - plus, Kirkton had at least sat him against a wall, so he had some support.
Once his hands were untied I dropped the rope and gag onto the floor and took his wrists between my hands and began to rub them. "Oh, Bunny," I said softly, "oh, my dear little rabbit." He smiled at me and I had to fight a deep set urge, need even, to pull him into my arms and hold him tightly or indeed kiss him. "Are you hurt, Bunny?" I asked, as I brushed his hair from his forehead and slipped my hand into his hair. "Did Kirkton hurt you?"
He shook his head. "No, Raffles. He didn't. Really he didn't. My wrists hurt a little from being tied up and I banged the back of my head when I tripped over in the woods on the way here. But other than that, I am quite unharmed and unhurt."
I wasn't at all surprised when Charlie dropped to his heels by Bunny's side and began to run his fingers over the back of his head. He gently pushed Bunny's head forwards a little and parted his hair and looked at his scalp. "That's rather a large lump, Manders, but it clearly hasn't bled. Can you see clearly?"
"Yes, thank you, Charleston," Bunny said.
"Do you feel sick at all?"
Charlie smile at Bunny. "Good boy," he murmured as took Bunny's wrists and turned his hands over and examined them; he seemed satisfied as he nodded. "Let's get you to your feet. Given your ankles have been tied you'll experience some pain as the blood flows again and you'll feel somewhat unsteady. A. J." He nodded to me and we both stood up and carefully guided Bunny to his feet. It was something I could have done quite easily, but arguing with Charlie when he is being the doctor has always been futile.
Bunny did gasp slightly and stagger a little. He fell against me and I put my arm around him to steady him. "Come and sit down, Bunny," I said, and led him to the table and held his arm as he sat down. He sank down onto the chair with clear relief and leant back and slightly to one side so that he was partly resting against me.
Kirkton, I noticed, hadn't moved. He still sat in the chair he had been in when we had arrived; the only thing that was different was that the level of whisky bottle had gone down. "Will it be all right for Bunny to have some brandy, Charlie?" I asked. Charlie nodded and I pulled my flask out from my inner pocket and handed it to Bunny.
Bunny smiled up at me. "Thank you, Raffles," he said as he took the flask. I smiled at him and ruffled his hair.
Still Kirkton just sat and stared at us.
Bunny took a swallow and then handed it back to me. I looked at Charlie, who shook his head. When I had returned the flask to my pocket I put my hand on Bunny's shoulder and finally spoke to Kirkton. "Why, Kirkton? Why did you abduct Bunny?"
Kirkton held my gaze but said nothing as he emptied his glass and refilled it. Charlie was standing on Bunny's other side and I sensed he wasn't as impassive as he appeared to be. Still Kirkton didn't reply. I was about to demand that he answer me, however it was Charlie who spoke.
"I really do advise that you answer A. J., Kirkton. Or I might not be responsible for his actions."
Kirkton let his gaze that had been firmly affixed on me, move to Charlie. "Still the same," he said, "the two of you. Well," he added, sneering as he looked at Bunny, I tightened the grip I had on Bunny's shoulder and I saw Charlie move just a little nearer to me. "Maybe I should say the three of you. You know I often wondered if that's what it was - a nice little threesome."
"A. J.," Charlie said, putting his hand on my arm.
"Oh, don't stop him, Charleston. Well, Raffles? What are you waiting for? We both know what you want to do to me. So why don't you? Come on."
I stared at him and slowly shook my head. "No."
"Because you want me to."
He visible sagged and to my shock I saw tears well up in his eyes and blindly he reached for the glass. However, Charlie moved more quickly and snatched both the glass and the bottle up and put them down well out of Kirkton's reach.
"You bastards!" Kirkton shouted. "You bastards. You have it all, both of you - you and your pet rabbit. And do you know what I have?"
"No," Charlie said quietly, "Why don't you tell us?"
Kirkton stared at Charlie; the hatred was clear in his glare and I prepared myself for what might happen next. However, all that happened was the Kirkton gripped the table and said softly, "Nothing. That's what I have, Charleston. Nothing. Nothing," he said again. And then he nodded at the bottle Charlie had confiscated, "Well, I have that."
"That won't help," Charlie said softly.
Kirkton shrugged. "If you drink enough it does."
"No, it only seems as if it does. Why don't you tell us, Kirkton? Why don't you tell us what has turned you into the man who did what you did?" Kirkton didn't reply. Charlie waited for a moment before saying. "Tell us what has happened to you and why you abducted Manders?"
Kirkton looked at me again and the hatred was even clearer than when he had looked at Charlie. "Because he has it all. He plays test and country cricket; he can have any lady he wants, and he still has his pet rabbit to worship him. He has it all. And I have nothing." He fell silent for a moment or two. Then he spoke again, his tone had changed, the anger had dissipated and he sounded more than a little weary. It wasn't planned," he said, "I just happened to be outside the Albany when he," he nodded at Bunny, "came out. It was obvious what he'd been doing and there was only one person he'd ever do it with, so I . . . I didn't hurt him, Raffles. Tell him, Manders, tell him I didn't hurt you. Tell him! Tell him. Tell him. Tell him."
I don't know for how long Kirkton might have gone on repeating the same two words. However, Charlie interrupted and silenced him. "A. J. already knows you didn't hurt him, Kirkton." Charlie spoke quietly. "Did you intend to?"
Kirkton shook his head and then nodded and then shook his head again. "Yes. No. Yes. I don't know. I was - I managed to get him down here and then . . . And then -"
"You didn't know what to so with him?" Charlie's tone was still soft. Kirkton nodded. "Kirkton, why don't you tell us what has happened to you? Because something clearly has. You and A. J. never liked one another when we were at school, but to do what you did - it's not something the boy you were would have done."
I muttered something and Charlie turned to look at me, shooting me a look to be quiet. I managed a curt half nod and rested my other hand on Bunny's shoulder, moving a little more behind him so he could rest against me more comfortably.
Kirkton stared at Charlie and then lifted his right hand with his left from the table. And suddenly I realised what had struck me as odd from the moment we had arrived. Kirkton was right-handed and yet he had held his glass with his left hand and even when he had refilled it, he had done so with his left hand, even though he had had to reach across himself to pick the bottle up.
"This," he said, his tone flat. He let go of his hand and his wrist flopped. I knew exactly what would happen next and it did.
Charlie put his hat down on the table, hurried around it and took Kirkton's hand in his. "What happened?" he asked, as skilled fingers began to move over Kirkton's wrist and hand.
"Hunting accident. I came off my horse and broke my wrist and hand badly, in more than one place. The doctor who set it didn't do a proper job - it had to be rebroken, twice more. That was the end of any hope I may have had to play test or county cricket."
He turned and stared at me. I held the gaze and didn't fight the wave of sympathy that passed through me. Charlie had been correct, Kirkton and I had never been friends, but he had been the best batsman the eleven had had, and despite him not going to University, I would have expected he would have been able to play as a gentleman.
"That's bad enough," he said, looking away from me and back to Charlie, "but it's now so weak, I can't even use it to cut up meat or anything. What lady would want to dine with a cripple who can't cut his own food up?" Again he looked at me; again I held the gaze and felt another wave of sympathy pass through me.
It wasn't that I forgave him for what he had done to Bunny, because I didn't and I never would. And had he harmed him, even slightly, broken wrist or not I would have made certain he would never have had the chance to hurt anyone again. However, to have everything taken from one must have been quite dreadful. I can't say I understood, as I believed even had such a thing happened to me, I would not have done what Kirkton had done. I would not have tried to cause pain to someone in the way he had tried to cause pain to me.
Bunny turned his head and looked up at me and I saw compassion in his eyes and on his face. If he, the man who had been abducted, could show pity, surely I could. I looked at Kirkton and said quietly, "I am sorry to hear that, Kirkton."
For a second I saw fury pass over Kirkton's face, and I watched him clench his left fist as he glared at me. I simply held the look and slowly the glare faded and was replaced by a look of almost confusion and surprise as I saw he realised I actually meant my words. He opened his mouth to speak, but instead swallowed, closed it again and gave me a nod of acceptance.
"I can help you."
Kirkton looked back at Charlie. "How?"
"One of the doctors who works at my hospital has a great deal of experience in working with people who have sustained severe breaks, ones that may have not healed properly. I give you my word he will be able to help you build up the strength again in your wrist. I am not saying," he said swiftly, "that you will ever be able to pick up a cricket bat or ball again. However, you would be able to cut your food up, lift a bottle, button your shirt without pain and all the other things I know you must struggle with."
Kirkton was looking at Charlie in astonishment. "You'd help me?"
Charlie glanced at Bunny and then at me before looking back at Kirkton. "Yes. Yes, Kirkton, I would."
"After what I did?"
Charlie once more glanced at me. "Well, as Manders confirmed, you did not actually harm him - I believe even A. J. accepts that, do you not, A. J.?" I nodded. "And," he paused for a second and then said more softly, "I am a doctor, Kirkton, and whilst you and I were never friends, we weren't quite enemies." He shrugged and then repeated softly, "I am a doctor." However, it wasn't Kirkton at whom he looked as he said those words, it was me.
I held his steady gaze for a moment, read what he was saying, asking even, glanced at Bunny who was staring at me, his look urging me to do the right thing, before I looked at Kirkton. "Let Charlie help you, Kirkton," I said softly.
SEVERAL HOURS LATER
A cab dropped Bunny and me at the Albany before continuing on its way to take Charlie and Kirkton to Charlie's hospital. Bunny and Kirkton had both slept on the train, Bunny with his head on my shoulder, Kirkton in the corner of the carriage.
Charlie and I had talked and smoked, until Charlie said he really had to close his eyes for a few minutes, telling me to wake him after half an hour. I, however, remained awake and alert; I was not going to even consider sleeping until we got home. I wasn't going to risk Kirkton waking up and suddenly deciding he would try to harm Bunny after all. I intended to remain awake and protect my rabbit.
Charlie and I, by silent mutual consent, said nothing about what had happened to Bunny or about Kirkton. I may have encouraged Kirkton to let Charlie help him, but it did not mean I had forgiven him nor would I. I knew Charlie had to do what he believed to be right, and I respected and liked him none the less for being the doctor, for being the man, he was. However, I didn't have to like what he was doing, nor did I wish to know about it or talk about it.
The only thing Charlie said to me that eluded to Bunny's abduction in any way, was when he urged me to consider finding a set of rooms with two bedrooms so that Bunny no longer had to walk home alone after he had left me. I told Charlie I had already decided to do that, even before I knew Bunny was missing, and I told him I had no intention of letting Bunny return to his flat. He would stay with me at the Albany until we could find a set of rooms that would suit us, and to hell with what anyone might think, believe or say.
Parker had greeted Bunny with enthusiasm and relief and had insisted on shaking his hand for quite some time before he finally let us go up to my rooms. Once inside I had locked and bolted (the latter was something I rarely did) the front door somewhat, I believe, to my rabbit's bemusement. I had then done what I had wanted to do from the moment we had found him: I took him into my arms and held him tightly and closely against me. For a minute or two Bunny clung to me in the way he used to do at time when we had been at school together, and he trembled more than a little.
However, he assured me he was quite well and would feel even better after he had bathed and shaved. I made no objections as I liked the idea of bathing myself more than a little. I had suggested we share a bath, however, Bunny had smiled, kissed me lightly and said as appealing as the idea was, he would rather make love in my bed than in the bath - it was more comfortable.
I left him bathing and went into the bedroom to undress where I also sorted our discarded clothing, putting underwear and shirts aside to be laundered, hanging up our suits and putting ties away. As I tidied up I fancied it would be quite some time before I let him venture out alone. I had always known I loved Bunny, but until he was taken from me, albeit for a short time, I hadn't realised quite how deeply I loved him; quite how important he was to me; quite how empty my life would be without him by my side.
I heard the bath being emptied and returned to the bathroom and openly stared at him as he stood quite naked, water glistening on his pale skin, drying his hair with a towel. I desperately wanted to pull him into my arms and kiss him and do so much more to him. However, I really did wish to bathe, thus once the bath had emptied, I turned the taps on to refill it and as it refilled I shaved quickly.
Although I had left Bunny alone to bathe, he did not leave me. As I got into the bath, he borrowed my razor, even though he really does not like the cut throat one I prefer, and shaved carefully. Before returning to the bath, where he dropped to his knees by the side of it and to my surprise given he had been the one to say he wanted to make love in bed, slipped his hand into the water and put it around me.
"Bunny," I gasped softly, as he began to stroke me. "I thought my rabbit wanted to wait until we were in bed?" He shrugged, took his hand away from me. Before I could object, he picked up the soap and rubbed it between his hands and then slipped one back under the water and closed it around me again and began to stroke me again. As he did, he knelt up a little and leant towards me and put his mouth on mine and began to kiss me.
I moaned softly and returned the kiss, parting my lips for him as his mouth encouraged me to do. The combination of his tongue teasing my mouth and his hand doing wonderful things to me, took me close to the edge within a very short time. And then to my surprise and regret he took his mouth from mine and removed his hand and stood up.
"Bunny!" I growled his name.
He smiled at me and then once more stunned me by beginning to stroke himself as I just stared at him. It was the final straw; I decided I was clean enough, and thus stood up swiftly, ignored the water that splashed onto the floor, got out of the bath, pulled his hand from around himself and gathered him into my arms, pulling him as closely against me as I could get him. Our hardened bodies pressed against one another, and it was he who made a faint noise in his throat as my mouth claimed his and I began to kiss him passionately, more passionately than I could recall kissing him before.
He seemed untroubled by the fact that I still dripping wet, thus I was making him wet again, all he seemed concerned by was pressing as closely against me as he could get and kissing me with the same degree of passion and intensity as I kissed him.
Given how aroused we had both been before I took him into my arms, as well as how desperate I had been when I found he was missing, it was mere minutes before I felt his body release against mine as he softly cried my name. Seconds later my body did the same thing and I took my mouth from his and pulled his head to my shoulder as we both breathed heavily and quickly.
"Oh, Bunny," I murmured, when I could speak again. "Oh, my dear, beloved, little rabbit - I was so worried and," I hesitated for only a moment before adding softly and honestly, "so afeared when I discovered you were missing."
He lifted his head and gazed at me with so much love I truly did not feel worthy of it. "I knew you'd rescue me, Raffles," he said. "I knew it."
I brushed his hair from his forehead, "Did you, my rabbit? Did you really believe that?"
He nodded. "Yes. No matter how long it took, I knew you'd find me. Now, Raffles, let's go to bed."
I kissed him briefly before taking his hand and ignoring the fact we were still both fairly wet, I led him into the bedroom where I had left the covers pulled back and guided him down onto the bed. I stood for a moment just staring down at him as he gazed lovingly up at me, before I joined him, pulled him into my arms, put my mouth on his and let my hands begin to wander over his body.
I lost track of quite how many times I made him cry my name or indeed how many times I cried his, the final time being when I was inside him and he was on his knees with my hand around him. We lay together in a loose embrace for a short time afterwards, his head was on my shoulder and I was playing with his hair, before he asked me if I was sleepy.
I moved back just a little so that I could see his face. "Actually, I am not, my rabbit. However, as much as it pains me to have to admit it, I do not believe I could do anything again for at least an hour or two."
He flushed slightly. "That's not what I meant - besides I know I couldn't."
"Well, what did my rabbit mean?"
"Well, you see, the thing is, Raffles, I am rather hungry and I imagine it's somewhere near to lunch time, is it not?"
I reached for my watch and saw that in fact it was after midday. "It is indeed. Do you wish to go out or shall I have something sent up from the kitchens?"
"If you don't mind, I'd rather go out. I'd quite like some fresh air and maybe we could go for a walk after lunch, or even take a boat out on the river?"
"If that's what my rabbit wants, then that is what we shall do." I kissed him lightly once more before getting out of bed and offering him my hand.
We washed once more before dressing. Given how often Bunny stayed overnight with me, he had more clothing in my rooms than I had at his flat, thus we didn't need to return to his flat so that he could change out of his evening clothes.
As I watched him tie his tie I suddenly remember the letters I had found. What did I do? Did I tell him I had found them and confessed that I had read them? Or did I simply keep quiet and find a way to replace them without him knowing?
I decided I would think about it a little more before making a decision. After all, given he would be staying with me until I found a set of rooms for us to share, and given I had no intention of letting him return to his flat alone, he wouldn't know the letters were missing. Yes, I would think about it a little more. However, one thing I would tell him over lunch was that we were going to share rooms. I had no doubt at all that he would agree and do so willingly.
"Are you ready?" I asked.
He nodded as he put his pocket watch into place. "Yes."
"Good." I couldn't help it; I had to kiss him and hold him one more time before he left my rooms. Thus, I pulled him into my arms and put my mouth on his and kissed him. He went into my embrace quite willingly, even sighing with pleasure as my arms tightened around him. I kept the kiss fairly brief and without any real intensity. It wasn't a kiss about passion it was a kiss about love.
I finally lifted my head, brushed his hair back for him and tangled my fingers in it for a moment. "I do love you, my rabbit," I said gently. "You do know that, do you not?"
He smiled and nodded. "Yes, Raffles. I know. And I love you too."
I smiled. "I know, Bunny. Now shall we go to lunch?"
He nodded. With is hand in mine I led him into the hall and out of the door. It was only as we reached the bottom of the stairs that I let go of his hand and offered him my arm instead.