Book 9 in the Cambridge Fellows Mystery series is now available from Cheyenne in e-book and print. Get it from Amazon, ARE and all the usual sources.
Cambridge, September 1919
Orlando Coppersmith should be happy. WWI is almost a year in the past, he’s back at St. Bride’s College in Cambridge, he has his lover and best friend Jonty Stewart back at his side and—to top it all—he’s about to be made Forsterian Professor of Applied Mathematics.
With his inaugural lecture to give and a plagiarism case to adjudicate on, Orlando’s hands are full, so can he and Jonty afford to take on an investigative commission surrounding a suspected murder? Especially one which must be solved within a month so that a clergyman can claim what he says is his rightful inheritance?
The answer looks like being a resounding “no” when the lecture proves almost impossible to write, the plagiarism case gets turned back on him and Jonty (spiced with a hint of blackmail), and the case surrounding Peter Biggar’s death proves to have too many leads and too little evidence.
Orlando begins to doubt their ability to solve cases any more, and his mood isn’t improved when there seems to be no way of outsmarting the blackmailer. Will this be the first failure for Coppersmith and Stewart? And how will they maintain their reputations—professional, private and as amateur detectives?
“I am standing still.”
“You aren’t. You’re jiggling about like a cat after a pigeon.” Jonty Stewart made a final adjustment to Orlando Coppersmith’s tie, then stood back to admire his efforts. “I think that’s passable.”
“You should wear your glasses; then you wouldn’t have to go back so far. You can’t use that old excuse about your arms getting shorter so you have to hold the paper further away.” Orlando turned to the mirror, the better to appreciate the perfectly tied knot. “Faultless. Thank you.”
The hallway of Forsythia Cottage benefited from the full glare of the morning sun through the windows and fanlight, enough for even the vainest of creatures to check every inch of their appearance in the mirror before they sauntered out onto the Madingley Road. Still, what would the inhabitants of Cambridge say to see either Jonty or Orlando less than immaculate, especially on a day such as this?
“It’s as well you had me here to help, or else you’d have disgraced yourself and St. Bride’s with it.” Jonty smiled, picking at his friend’s jacket. If there were any specks on it, Orlando knew that they were far too small for Jonty to see without his glasses. “I’m so proud of you. Professor Coppersmith. It will have a lovely ring to it.”
Orlando nodded enthusiastically, sending a dark curl springing rebelliously up, a curl that needed to be immediately flattened, although even the Brilliantine employed recognised it was fighting a losing battle. His hair might be distinctly salt and pepper, but he was still handsome, lean but not angular, nor running to fat like some of his contemporaries. He’d turned forty when the Great War still had a year to run so there was a while yet before he hit the half century. Jonty was a year closer to that milestone and was never allowed to forget it. “I won’t believe it until I see the first letter addressed to me by that title.”
“Conceit, thy name is Coppersmith.” Jonty nudged his friend aside and attended to his own tie. Silver threads lay among his own ruddy gold hair, now, and the blue eyes were framed with fine lines. He knew he could still turn a few heads and young women told him he was handsome. If the young women concerned were his nieces…well, that didn’t invalidate their opinions.
Orlando snorted. “Conceit? That’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.” He slicked back his hair again, frowning.
“You seem unusually pensive, even for the new Forsterian Professor of Mathematics.” Jonty stopped his grooming, turned and drew his hand down Orlando’s face, remapping familiar territory. Coppersmith and Stewart. Stewart and Coppersmith. They went together like Holmes and Watson, Hero and Leander, or strawberries and cream. Colleagues, friends, lovers and amateur detectives, they were partners in every aspect of their lives, and neither of them entirely sure whether the detection or the intimacy was the most dangerous part.
“I was just thinking how sad it is that neither your parents nor my grandmother are here today.” Orlando fiddled with his tie pin, only to have his hand slapped away and the offending object straightened once more.
“Leave that alone. I’d only just got it right.” Jonty put a hat into Orlando’s hands—not the one he was going to wear today, but one he could twist nervously to his heart’s content, with no damage done. “Perhaps it’s as well they’re not here for your inaugural lecture. They might have had to put on a magnificent act to cover their boredom. Computable numbers? Hardly the stuff of gripping entertainment.” Jonty smiled, trying to keep his lover’s spirits up. He knew how deeply Orlando still felt the horrible series of losses he’d suffered during the years of the Great War.
So many people he’d been close to, now gone; it had left a gap in his life that Jonty knew even he couldn’t entirely fill. Not that, Orlando swore, he loved Jonty any the less, nor, as Orlando frequently said, was there any less of him to love. The reports of the college veterans’ rugby matches still referred to him as a little ball of muscle and Orlando said he was beautiful beyond the power of words or numbers—even imaginary ones—to describe. Both of which were nice, if perhaps unbiased, compliments. “Thank you for your vote of confidence.” Orlando ruffled his lover’s hair, grinning smugly as Jonty scurried back to the mirror to begin priddying again.
“My pleasure. I’m looking forward to the lecture, of course. I’ve a list of keywords which I’ll tick off as they come. If I get them all, I’ll win five quid off Dr. Panesar.”
“Does he have a list as well? Does everyone?” When they’d first met, Orlando would have been thrown into a panic at such a statement. Now he was older, wiser and alive to Jonty’s attempts to make game of him. “And do I get a cut of the proceeds? I’d write my lecture specifically to help out the highest bidder.”
“That’s the spirit. I’ll start the bidding.” Jonty leaned forward and kissed Orlando, as tenderly as when they’d first been courting. “That’s the deposit. You can guess what constitutes the rest of the payment.” He was pleased when Orlando, visibly happier, returned the kiss; he couldn’t let Orlando succumb to melancholy now. The man might start blubbing through his inauguration.