Murder in the Pleasure Gardens (Beau Brummell Mysteries Book 4)
After one too many distasteful meals at his usual gentleman's club, Beau Brummell opens his own named Watier's. It isn't long before the club's exquisite cuisine and high gambling stakes attract London's aristocracy to Beau's doors. Bu the fashionable establishment becomes embroiled in scandal when Lieutenant Nevill, inexperienced in games of chance, believes he's been cheated at cards by government official Theobald Jacombe. The confrontation escalates when Jacombe make off-color remarks about the lieutenant's intended . . . infuriating the young officer into challenging him to a duel.
Before Beau can talk Nevill out of this course of action, Jacombe is found murdered at Vauxhall's Pleasure Gardens — and the lieutenant is detained as the most likely suspect. Convinced of Nevill's innocence, the master of style must deduce who would want to kill a respected member of the Home Office with a supposedly spotless reputation ...
"The fourth puzzle for real-life dandy Beau Brummell — clever, compassionate friend to the Prince of Wales in Regency England — begins in Watier's, the London gambling club he owns. When young Lieutenant Nevill lost a fortune at play, the generous Brummell forgave the debt. Now Nevill's in even hotter water. In response to his accusation that respected Home Office official Theobald Jacombe has cheated at cards, Jacombe has challenged him to a duel. The evening before the event is to take place, an unknown party make it unnecessary by shooting Jacombe to death at Vauxhall Gardens, an entertainment complex, and Nevill is arrested for the killing. Beau, convinced of his innocence, works to uncover Jacombe's deeply hidden unsavory past and its connection to Molly, Nevill's beloved. While she's waiting for Nevill to carry her off, Molly lives and works at Haven of Hope, a women's shelter run by Beau's close friend Lydia Lavender, whose policeman father is in charge of the case. Before it's all over, Nevill's nasty grandfather will become a second murder victim and Beau will draw a confession from a surprising killer. Relaxed storytelling replete with clever plotting, vivid character portraits, and period detail."
The lieutenant glanced around the room nervously, but was not about to back down. "I saw you. You pulled a card from your sleeve. It's the oldest trick known to card players. Fellows in the barracks taught me that on the first day."
Everyone in the room sat riveted to the scene playing out in front of them.
"If you are well-versed in the ways of dishonest card-play, perhaps you are accusing me to cover your own perfidy," Mr. Jacombe said in a measuring tone.
Lieutenant Nevill shot to his feet.
By now I was at his side and placed a friendly hand on his shoulder. I applied pressure, gently forcing the soldier back into his chair while I addressed Mr. Jacombe. "Sir, how could our young lieutenant here be adept at cheating, when I see from his vouchers on the table and the number of gaming counters in front of you that he has lost a goodly amount?"
Mr. Jacombe is a paunchy man of middle years with sparse light brown hair and a fair complexion. He rubbed his chin in a considering manner. "Well, Brummell, that could be a way of disarming me. Nevill might have any number of schemes in mind. I've been around longer than you have, you know, and have heard the tales of men's trickery from the Bow Street magistrates. Nothing is above some men in their quest to advance themselves."
That put me in my place. Mr. Jacombe never has approved of me, thinking me a rackety sort trying to get above my place in life. He next eyed Petersham, who had come to stand beside me, with a faint air of contempt, nothing obvious, mind you, but I am observant and noted it at once. Mr. Jacombe would not approve of the known close relationship Petersham has with his dearest companion, Lord Munro.
"Why not count the cards and settle the matter?" Lieutenant Nevill asked hotly.
"A good idea," Tallarico agreed.
Fairingdale remained safely silent, looking down his long nose at the company, the dolt.
Mr. Jacombe's deep-set blue eyes raked his accuser. "Because there is no need to lower myself by responding to such a base accusation."
The Lieutenant turned his gaze toward his saviour.
Er, that would be me.
"Mr. Brummell, sir. You can speak for me. When I lost all my money to you Saturday night, I obviously wasn't cheating. You knew that, else you wouldn't have dismissed my debt. Mr. Jacombe here is the one who is playing false."
My hand was still on the youth's shoulder. I squeezed it a bit. "Often a man's eyes play tricks on him, Nevill. Why not give Mr. Jacombe the benefit of the doubt? Consider the game over and come have a drink with me."
I judged it best to end the matter before Nevill's accusation turned into a deadly confrontation. To say a man was a cheat could have only one inevitable consequence: a duel. Theobald Jacombe's reputation for honesty and fairness could be the only thing preventing him from thrashing the youth for questioning his honour. As it was, I could tell the government man was holding his temper in check with great effort.
Just then an oily voice sounded. "Had a run of bad luck lately, have you, Nevill?" Sylvester Fairingdale asked. "And Brummell let you off. How very kind of him. Did he make you give your word you would not play again?"
The lieutenant squared his shoulders, but my hand remained firm while I tried to contain him.
Fairingdale, with his forward-jutting chin and his unnaturally elongated neck, is one of those annoying people--really an adder--who breathes life through other peoples' misfortunes. I was not about to let him contribute his nastiness to an already dangerous situation.
I feel like an older brother to the naive lieutenant, protective and somewhat responsible for his continuing to draw breath in this life. "Financial matters of Watier's are nothing to do with you, Fairingdale."
Mr. Jacombe was not so easy to dispense with. "You discharged the soldier's debt to your club? Why?"
The word "compassion" sprang to my lips, but I bit it back. "The lieutenant here is down on his luck. How was I to call in the debt? Have him shine my boots from now until eternity? My man, Robinson, would not have it. The valet considers his own abilities superiour to any other."
Lieutenant Nevill broke in. "Mr. Brummell is a gentleman," he declared passionately. "The epitome of a man of honour. He won more from me Saturday night than I could ever pay. The only path left to me was death. Mr. Brummell talked me out of it. I owe him my life."
Mentally, I rolled my eyes at this impassioned speech. Was I ever this young and emotional? Yes, I had to admit, I was.
Mr. Jacombe's mouth puckered. He folded his arms across his barrel-like chest. "Yet here you are back at the tables again! The honourable thing is not to engage in a game of chance if you do not have the means with which to play. Give me one good reason why I should not challenge you to a duel for calling me a cheat."
At these lethal words, the occupants of the room froze in a stunned tableau.