CHAPTER 4

1

IT HAD NOW been several days since Cameron Dawson had become a groom-to-be, and he was beginning to feel comfortable with the idea. Upon reflection, he decided that he rather liked the fact that Elizabeth cared so passionately about things. Enthusiasm was something he generally lacked, having always been a bit of a plodder. He found it intoxicating to be with someone whose emotions came in primary colors, rather than in his own muted shades of prudence, moderation, and practicality.

He could imagine Elizabeth rushing about to learn everything she could about the royal family (just as she had done the Bront?s, harp seals, and Clan Chattan in previous binges). She would be enjoying herself hugely. And of course the wedding would be her own Broadway production. Cameron was relieved to be on the quiet side of the Atlantic while plans for that got under way.

He looked out at the steady drizzle of an Edinburgh summer afternoon. Where Elizabeth was, in Virginia, it would be blazing hot under a shimmering blue sky. He wondered if climate influenced human personalities, or if it only seemed so in this case.

Cameron had put on his gray lambswool sweater. (Elizabeth went into peals of laughter once when he’d called it a jumper. Apparently, in America a jumper was some sort of dress.) He hadn’t wanted to put on the heat in the sitting room, for fear of complaints that he was being spoiled by living abroad. Heat? they would say. In June?

He was sitting at his mother’s pigeonhole desk with her address book for Christmas cards, trying to decide whom to invite to the wedding. Not that he thought anyone would actually fly to the United States to see him star in a ten-minute ceremony, but he supposed that some folks would feel left out if he didn’t notify them of the occasion.

The front door slammed. That would be Ian. While he was off from the university he was working part-time as a clerk and general dogsbody for an estate agent a few streets away. “It’s pissing down out there!” he called from the hallway. “Have you brought the cat in?”

“What?” said Cameron, who was concentrating on postal codes. “No. I haven’t seen him.”

Ian appeared in the doorway in a shabby green mac, dripping pellets of rain on the carpet. “Well, he’s getting quite old and Mother doesn’t want him out when it’s cold and wet.”

The Dawson family cat was a dignified sealpoint Siamese nearly twenty years old. He had been given to Ian as a third birthday present by their American neighbors, the Carsons, whose own cat had unexpectedly presented them with a litter during their yearlong stay in Edinburgh. Dr. Carson, who was guest-lecturing in American history at the university at the time, had called the kitten Traveller Lee, after the horse of his favorite Confederate general, Robert E. Lee. For years kitty Traveller had slept in Ian’s room in a doll bed donated by one of the Carson’s daughters, but now the old Siamese was arthritic and frail, and he preferred to curl up near a radiator, if denied the warmth of Ian’s lap.

“I haven’t seen him,” said Cameron. “Are you sure he isn’t up in your room?”

“I’ll check.” Ian clumped up the stairs, yelling for the cat, and came down again seconds later. “Nope. He’s out, and probably narky about it as well. I’ll have a look in the garden.”

Cameron went back to his list. That was the trouble with foreign brides, he thought. If she mailed the invitations to Scotland, the postage would cost a fortune, but it would spare him several hours of drudgery. As it was, she was sending him a package of printed invitations to do with as he wished, which would mean hours of folding and addressing, not to mention the chore of figuring out whom to ask in the first place. Adam McIver’s name was next on the list. Serve him right, thought Cameron, copying out his address.

Another door slammed, the back one this time, and presently Ian appeared carrying a towel from which Traveller’s little black face peered anxiously. “Found him,” said Ian. “He was under the forsythia bush, and he was in an awful bate about being cast out into the storm. Turn on the heat, won’t you, while I dry him off.”

He knelt on the hearth and rubbed the tea-colored fur while Traveller licked a paw and cleaned his whiskers.

“He’s a marvel for his age,” said Cameron affectionately.

“Which is more than we can say for you,” said Ian. “You’d left one of your magazines out in the garden.”

“Sorry, I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

Ian folded up the towel and left Traveller attending to his toilette on the hearth rug. “That’s odd,” he murmured, going to the window that faced onto the garden.

“What’s odd?” asked Cameron, still scribbling.

“I knew something was the matter,” announced Ian, peering through the rain-flecked window at the green expanse of lawn. “But I couldn’t place what it was while I was out there. I was too busy getting wet. But I’ve realized it just now. Have you noticed that our garden gnome is missing?”

Cameron was still contemplating his list of prospective wedding guests. What about former roommates? Should you invite them? “I’m sorry. What did you say?” he murmured.

“The bloody garden gnome!” said Ian impatiently. “You know, the plaster one in the little red hat that used to stand over there next to the rowan tree. About three feet high and damned heavy, too. Well, he’s gone missing.”

Cameron went over to the window and looked out, but there was no sign of a plaster lawn ornament anywhere in the garden. “I hadn’t noticed. Perhaps he’s in the garage.”

“No, I put my bike in there when I came home just now, and he isn’t there.”

“Well, perhaps he’s been shifted to some other part of the lawn and you can’t see him from here.”

“I haven’t moved him, and Mother certainly wouldn’t, because he’s too heavy for her to lift. Have you done something with him?”

“No, of course not,” said Cameron. “I barely noticed the thing. It’s vandals, I expect. Report it to the police or something, if you’re that incensed about it.”

“I certainly am,” said Ian. “It’s a violation of property. At the estate agents where I work they take that sort of thing very seriously. They’re always cautioning me to look around the grounds when I show a house, to see if anything has been tampered with. Sometimes so-called pranks like that indicate that vandals have noticed the place. It’s sort of a test, and if no action is taken over a small incident, they may come back and do much worse. We could be burgled.”

“I suppose you’re right,” said Cameron. “I think you ought to phone the authorities.”

Ian reddened. “I’d feel like an utter twit ringing up to report the theft of a garden gnome. They might think I actually liked the wretched statue.”

“No, it’s the principle of the thing. A poor gnome, but mine own,” said Cameron with all the solemnity he could muster. “Besides, Mother likes it, doesn’t she?”

Ian considered the matter. “She wouldn’t get rid of it,” he said at last. “It was a gift to her from Auntie Barbara. They used to go completely mad every spring planning the garden, remember? Always putting in cabbage roses, or some other improbable plant, and thinking up projects that required us to dig. The gnome was from their Tolkien period: fairies at the bottom of the garden.”

“True,” said Cameron, smiling. “That makes the thing a family heirloom. I think you’d better notify the police.”

“Why don’t you call them? You’re older.”

“But you discovered the theft.”

In the outer hall the telephone began to ring.

“Tell you what,” said Cameron, moving toward the doorway. “Whoever the phone is for has to call the police when he’s finished talking.”

“That’s hardly fair. You’re only visiting, but I have dozens of friends who-oh, all right. It’s a deal.”

“Good. I thought it was your job to call anyhow.” Cameron picked up the phone. “Dawson residence.”

“Hello,” said Elizabeth. “Did the invitations arrive yet?”

Cameron swore.

“Is anything the matter?” asked Elizabeth. “Why is someone laughing in the background?”

“Oh, never mind. No, the invitations have not arrived, but I’m working on my list.”

“Good. I have finished sending out all the ones over here. All that’s left is to plan the ceremony itself, but that will have to wait until I get to Chandler Grove. Meanwhile I’ve been reading royal biographies-you know, to get some ideas.”

Cameron groaned.

“What did you say?”

“Oh, nothing. Reading royal biographies, are you?”

“Yes. They had such interesting lives. Did you know that Queen Mary-Princess May of Teck, she was then-was actually engaged to the older brother of George V, and when he died, she married George instead!”

“I’ll have to mention that to Ian,” said Cameron. That will frighten him, he finished silently.

“And, of course, I’m doing what I can to make preliminary plans for the wedding. At the moment I’m trying to decide what everybody is going to wear. Military dress uniforms would be wonderful, of course.”

“I don’t think they’d suit you, dear.”

Elizabeth giggled. “You are in a temper, aren’t you? Anyway, I don’t suppose that you and Ian own kilts.”

“Yes. I believe they’re upstairs in a trunk in the box room. We had our pictures taken in them when we were nine and three respectively.”

In the sitting room, Ian, who was eavesdropping, had turned a strangled red in his efforts to keep quiet. No kilts, he mouthed soundlessly to his brother.

“I think we’ll just wear suits, Elizabeth,” said Cameron firmly. “Ian doesn’t seem terribly taken with the idea of donning a kilt.”

The brisk tone of Cameron’s voice finally registered with his fianc?e. “Is anything the matter, Cameron?” she asked. “You seem awfully strange.”

Cameron sighed. “Oh, nothing major. I just have to ring up the police in a moment.”

“The police!” cried Elizabeth. “What’s wrong!”

“Nothing like last time you were in Edinburgh,” Cameron assured her, remembering the evening that had ended with a murder in Tanner’s Close. “Just a kidnapping this time. Someone has gone and stolen our garden gnome.”

“Your what?”

“A plaster statue of a dwarf that used to stand in the garden in lieu of anything actually ornamental. Someone has taken it, apparently. Ugly thing. Our first impulse was to dash off a thank-you note to the thief, but Mother is actually fond of the thing, and Ian-the-Estate-Agent-Extraordinaire seems rather annoyed by the principle of the thing. Violation of property and all that. I suppose he’s right. Next time it could be something valuable that is stolen. So I said I’d report it.”

“Good luck,” said Elizabeth. “I suppose things are going well with you if that garden gnome is your biggest worry at the moment.”

“Well, it makes for a change anyway,” said Cameron.

In the Chandler Grove Shrine to the U.S. Navy (also known as his study), Captain Grandfather was taking his afternoon nap, his swivel chair tilted back at a precarious angle and his feet propped up on the pine coffee table. Any lurching of the chair caused by the restless sleeper was translated by his dreams into the pitch of a ship at sea.

Soundlessly the study door opened, and the old man’s grandson Charles crept in, moving in the exaggerated slow motion of one who is afraid of disturbing a sleeper. He was holding his breath as well. For a few seconds he looked about the room, exhaling slowly, and then breathing again, normally but quietly. His gaze slid past the ship models, the black-framed photographs, and the pile of unanswered letters, and finally lit upon the object of his quest: the current issue of The Georgian Highlander, an upscale local magazine, full of restaurant ads and notices of cultural events, neither of which interested Charles in the least. Nevertheless, it was vital that he get hold of the magazine, which was at present lying on the coffee table under Captain Grandfather’s left foot.

After a few moments of deliberation, during which he tried to think of an excuse for wanting the magazine should he be caught filching it, Charles gently lifted the old man’s foot just enough to slide the Highlander out. That accomplished, he replaced the foot on the coffee table and crept out of the room.

He stopped by the kitchen for a glass of fruit juice to fortify him as he worked, and then he hurried upstairs to his room with the purloined magazine. Charles was inept at acting nonchalant and he was sure he would look guiltier reading the innocuous Highlander than a bishop would with a copy of Hustler.

Once safely barricaded behind the door of his bedroom, Charles sat down at his desk and opened the magazine. Flipping past the film reviews, the symphony schedule, and the restaurant ads, he turned to a part of the magazine that he had heretofore only glanced at: the personals column. The editors called this feature DSS, which apparently stood for Desperately Seeking Someone, and it was placed well toward the back of each issue. It had once been a source of amusement to Charles that people could be so desperate for companionship that they would advertise for a blind date, but now he felt the need to consult the listings for reasons of his own. Of course, he would have to check with the family attorney before doing anything rash, but surely he could commit himself to the extent of composing a letter.

Charles skimmed the list of ads and discovered that his first task would be to decipher the code in which they were written. A closer examination proved that this was not difficult. It was just a local singles column, after all, not the Nobel Prize Winners’ Sperm Bank. The initials SWF meant single, white female. He would begin with that category, and if he found nothing helpful there, he could go on to DWF, WWF, and whatever else the alphabet had to offer. He turned to the first entry.

SWF, the ad began, Bible college grad, 32, seeks-Charles stopped there. He didn’t care what she sought; he wasn’t about to contemplate a relationship with somebody who insisted that the world was created on a Tuesday in October in 2846 B.C.

What else was there?

WWF, 62, full-figured-Next!

… Professional, stable, enjoys movies, outdoor activities, quiet times… That sounded promising. Charles read the entry again. Oh. SWM. He might have known.

SWF, 22, out for a good time. Seeks laughs, travel, good dancer. Not ready to settle down-

Charles sighed in disgust. Where were all the eligible women in the world when he needed one? Here he was a veritable prize: he could cook; he could arrange flowers; he could show an intelligent interest in their careers. And did anyone care? No. All girls seemed to want these days were cheap, casual relationships with no responsibilities.

Charles read on. DWF, likes movies… Why did they all start by saying they liked movies? Surely no one was so pitiful as to need a companion just to sit in the dark and stare at a screen. Wasn’t there anybody whose company would be preferable to a movie?

He stopped and took a gulp of fruit juice. It was, appropriately enough, passion punch. Maybe he was being too choosy with the personal ads. How much can one reveal about oneself in a one-inch box, after all? Besides, it wasn’t as if he had much time to complete his plan. He stared up at the poster on the wall above his desk: a photograph of Albert Einstein against a background of the Horseshoe nebula. The caption, a quote from the great scientist, read: God Does Not Play Dice with the Universe. Charles wondered if that applied to biology as well as quantum physics. On an individual level, he doubted it. With a renewed sense of desperation, he returned to the DSS column.

This one looked promising. Blonde SWF, 26, 5’7,” 118 lbs. Good career in scientific field. Pretty, but no time to meet men. No married creeps. No serial killers. Someday my prince will come, but he’ll have to find me. DSS-5-270690. The Georgia Highlander.

That was more like it, thought Charles with a nod of satisfaction. He certainly seemed to fit most of her requirements-i.e., he hadn’t been married and he had never murdered anyone. He wasn’t so sure about the rest of her specifications, but nevertheless he allowed himself to fantasize about this perfect woman and found himself, as usual, picturing Sally Ride. Unfortunately, Dr. Ride (wherever she was these days) had better things to do than to be courted by a floundering physicist with not a single journal article to his credit. Perhaps this younger, obviously lonely young woman would recognize his potential and encourage him. Perhaps she would even be a physicist and could share his dreams!

Perhaps she would be Jane Goodall and think he was a perfect chimpanzee when she read his letter.

Charles tried not to give in to his natural pessimism. There was nothing to do but write a letter in response to her ad. He must try to sound intelligent, charming, sophisticated. (Is that what glamorous blondes were after these days?) Unfortunately, Charles had very little practice in two-thirds of those attributes. Intelligent he could be. He had been reading Popular Electronics since second grade, and his grades (except in literature) were effortlessly good. He didn’t see why everybody made such a fuss about things like calculus; mathematics seemed perfectly straightforward to him. But perhaps his intellectual good qualities would not be endearing to this modern Athena. Charming and sophisticated he had never tried to be. That was Geoffrey’s department. For a fleeting moment, Charles considered enlisting Geoffrey’s help in composing the letter reply, but he dismissed the thought almost at once. If he told Geoffrey why he was doing it, it would spoil the whole plan, and if he pretended to be in search of a lady love, Geoffrey would laugh like a drain. The potential humiliation wasn’t worth it.

He read the article again for clues as to the lady’s preferences, but found nothing useful. He wished he had more to go on. It was difficult to make yourself attractive to someone you knew nothing about. Creative writing wasn’t his forte anyhow.

With a sigh of resignation, Charles extracted a sheet of writing paper from the desk drawer and stared down at it, hoping for inspiration. None was forthcoming. The sheet lay there smugly, daring him to jot down an equation or two to break up the expanse of emptiness.

What should he call her? Dear SWF seemed accurate, but crass. Dear Fellow Scientist sounded like a fund-raising letter from the greenhouse effect people. He glanced at the ad. Someday my prince will come…. That was a line from a fairy tale wasn’t it? Disney movie? Dredging up memories of longforgotten kiddie matinees, Charles finally placed the reference. Dear Snow White, he wrote carefully. I hope to become your prince.

He nodded approvingly to himself. Not bad for an inarticulate physicist, he thought. Not even to himself did Charles ever say the word nerd.

That evening in Edinburgh Margaret Dawson was having tea with the ladies’ circle from the church. (The primary item on the agenda was the forthcoming bazaar.)

Margaret’s sons, left to fend for themselves, had managed to brew a pot of tea around five o’clock and were making do with leftover pastries from yesterday, rather than attempting any actual cooking themselves. They were counting on a substantial meal later that evening to compensate for this temporary deprivation. A roast on the top shelf of the refrigerator seemed to substantiate their hopes in this matter. (Unfortunately, neither of these college-educated louts had noticed the note tacked to the door of the refrigerator, which read: Please put roast in oven on setting of gas mark 6 at 4:30. Love Mother.)

Blissfully unaware of the coming famine, Ian Dawson had finished off a plate of shortbread and was sitting at the kitchen table watching the now recovered Traveller tuck into his evening meal of whitebait when Cameron came in from the hall and poured himself a cup of tea, ignoring Ian completely. He carefully poured milk into the mug and stirred it, humming tunelessly. He started to put the milk jug into the refrigerator and then set it back down on the counter. “I keep forgetting that in this country, you don’t have to refrigerate milk,” he murmured. “When I first got to America, I tried leaving the milk out after breakfast. It didn’t last a bloody day.” He set his mug on the table, picked up the evening paper, and sat down to read it.

“Well?” said Ian impatiently. “What did they say about the gnome theft?”

“Who?” said Cameron, turning a page.

“The police, twit. Are they coming ‘round?”

Cameron sighed and set aside the paper. “If you’re so interested, Ian, you should have rung them up yourself.”

Ian grinned. “A bet’s a bet. Don’t be such a bad sport. Are they coming to investigate?”

“No. They took the information over the telephone. After all, there really isn’t anything for them to see. They just cautioned us to keep the house locked and to be especially careful for the next few days, in case the intruder comes back.”

“I suppose that makes sense. I wonder who would take a garden gnome. Did they have any theories? Did they laugh?”

Cameron shook his head. “They have no sense of humor. And no theories, either. The officer I talked to was probably younger than you are. It was all one to him. You might check with a few of your rowdier friends, though, to see if this qualifies as a collegiate prank.”

“I’ll ask. But it doesn’t seem likely.”

“The whole thing seems unlikely.”

“Well,” said Ian, “this will be quite a blow to Mother. Losing a son and a garden gnome all in the same week.”

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