Four Corners of Heaven Outtake

CHAPTER ONE (of a very different version of the story)

Argentina, September 1870

The Honourable Harrison Stafford, future Baron Chelton, stared at the distant waves of the Rio de la Plata and congratulated himself for making it to the top of the world. The scientific world, more precisely. Botany, most exactly. His grand mood was attributable to more than his perch on the balcony of the restaurant in Buenos Aires, with a view of the river meeting the Atlantic Ocean. His buoyancy was a bit premature, some would say, but Harry had become quite the optimist in the past months spent in the Valdivian rainforest. He had promised himself and his family he wouldn’t return home until he had made his mark in the world, and now it looked like that time could come very soon.

The maître d stepped onto the veranda and bowed in Harry’s direction. “Your dinner guests have arrived, sir.”

Finally. He had thought Weber and Gwinnen, the biologist and backer of his research team, would have arrived an hour ago.

“Captain Lord Granston and Lady Granston,” the man announced, then swept aside so the guests could step outside.

Harry couldn’t contain his grin. Arriving in town just that morning to learn Granston was on the continent had only added to the joy of Harry’s discovery of a medical miracle drug deep in the Bolivian rainforest. He did wonder, though, what on earth the maître d meant by Lady Granston. Surely his old mate wasn’t traveling the world with his mother.

When Granston stepped onto the patio with a red-headed beauty on his arm, Harry leapt to his feet and bowed in the lady’s direction. His friend must be up to something quite nefarious that it required claiming his companion was his lady wife. But as Granston reached out to shake Harry’s hand and clap him on the back, he caught the glint of a metal band on the man’s ring finger. The lady with Granston wore a matching one on her hand.

“You’re not seriously married, are you?” Harry said. Realizing his rudeness, he immediately held up his hands in front of himself. “I beg your pardon, my lady. It’s just a shock.”

The lady laughed and Granston grinned at her like a schoolboy catching his first glimpse of a woman. “I’m not at all surprised you’re shocked,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance again, Mr. Stafford.”

“Again,” Harry repeated. There was something familiar about her. He had the sense he might have been quite drunk when they had met, though.

“Carnivale last winter,” Granston said. “Finola and I danced the night away in the plaza then snuck off to find a priest to marry us.”

Harry wrinkled his brow and tried to parse through the blurred memories of that night. Surely, he wouldn’t have forgotten his best friend’s wedding. And surely his best friend might have mentioned something about it the next day, when they said their goodbyes as Granston boarded a ship bound for Europe.

Granston waved his hand in the air. “At any rate, we had another ceremony back on English soil, officiated by a country vicar at the family seat.”

There was more to this story, and Harry intended to hear it before Granston set sail again for home, probably over a bottle of fine Cognac or cheap rum, or perhaps both. But tonight, he wouldn’t dare inquire as to the details in front of Lady Granston.

As the maître d poured glasses of champagne for them, Granston took in the four place settings on the dining table.

“Were you expecting my sister to join us?” he asked. “I’m afraid she and her chaperone, accompanied by a footman and my bosun, are taking a stroll through the plaza and attending a flamenco exhibition tonight.”

“Your sister?” Harry asked. “Are any of your sisters old enough for a transatlantic voyage?”

“Lady Zinnia is eighteen,” Lady Granston answered. “And she’s a delight.”

“It’s always a delight to take one’s sister and her yapping mutt along on one’s honeymoon,” Granston said, but his wide grin took the bite out of his words. “You’ll see her tomorrow at brunch at our hotel.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Harry said. “As for tonight, I thought you would be your usual sad, lonely self, and the two other places are set for my research partners.” He glanced at the maître d to communicate the need for a fifth place settin. The man nodded and hurried back inside to see to it.

“Ah, yes, Weber and Gwinnen.” Granston spoke to his wife. “The biologist and the adventurer, hoping to be part of history when young Harry here discovers some plant or other that will change the world.”

“The world of medicine,” Harry corrected. He took a deep breath to calm his excitement. “And we’re drinking champagne tonight because we just might have found it.”

Granston widened his eyes, then nodded. “Then congratulations are in order.” He lifted his glass. “To Harry!”

Harry offered a toast to the happily married couple, and they took their seats to await their final guests. When a quarter hour had passed in lively conversation with his old Harrow School mate and his charming wife, but without the arrival of either of his Harry’s business associates, his joy over their reunion wavered. They continued talking boisterously and laughing loudly, but Harry noted they were nearing the end of the first bottle of champagne. He motioned to a servant who stood just on the inside of the veranda doors.

“I think the lady should have some dinner,” he told the man. “Please serve the first course.” The man bowed and hurried back inside, where he led a row of servants toward the kitchen.

“I can wait a bit longer if you’d rather,” Lady Granston said.

“It’s true,” Granston said. “My wife has been taking a tipple with a bunch of old salty dogs for the past few weeks. She’ll likely outlast you, young Harry.”

Lady Granston scolded her husband, and they spent a minute gazing into each other’s eyes. His old friend wasn’t just married; he was madly in love with his wife.

“Just to be clear,” Harry said, watching the lovers, “of Harrow’s Finest Five, three are now married? Steady Eddie, Hallsy, and you have all married since I trekked into the jungle last spring?”

“Sad but true,” Granston answered.

This time, his wife chastised him with one flirtatious smile and a raised eyebrow.

Harry rubbed his temples to ease the tension building in them. It must be the spectacle of true love. Or too much champagne. No doubt the combination of the two.

Spotting a flurry of movement on the other side of the veranda doors, Harry said a silent word of thanks for the arrival of dinner, which might entreat the lovebirds to stop gazing at each other. But it was the maître d who stepped onto the veranda, followed by two men in uniform and nary a dinner plate in sight.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” the maître d said to Harry. “But the constables insist on having a word with you.”

“Oh.” Harry nodded to the constable who had stepped forward. “What can I do for you?”

The constable glanced at Harry’s dinner guests. “It’s a rather delicate matter, sir.”

“I think we’d better stay with our friend,” Granston said. He stood and moved behind his wife’s chair as if to protect her, but no one on the veranda missed the man’s impressive height that left him towering over the constables.

Harry had arrived in Buenos Aires late that morning. He reviewed the last eight hours and could identify nothing incriminating. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather they stay.”

The constable nodded. “Of course, sir. I’m sorry to inform you that your colleague, one Dr. Leonard Weber, was pronounced dead in his rooms earlier this evening.”

“Dead?” Harry jumped to his feet and sent his chair clattering to the ground. “Weber is dead? That’s not possible. He’s young, he’s healthy. He was fine when he left camp ahead of me two weeks ago.”

The constable cleared his throat again. “Regarding that, Mr. Stafford, could you tell us why you traveled here separately?”

The question hinted at something suspicious about Weber’s death, but that wasn’t possible.

“While traveling back here, we came upon natives who claimed to have a different species of the plants we were collecting and researching,” Harry said. “Weber and Gwinnen went on ahead because Weber had research notes to complete and Gwinnen needed to contact publishers and investors based on some discoveries we had made.”

He wouldn’t go into the details with the constables. They wouldn’t follow the science, and he wasn’t about to tip his hand regarding the potential importance of a form of Curare that was easily calibrated to freeze muscle tissue without causing long-lasting effects or harm to the body.

“Why do you ask?” Harry said. “How did Weber die?”

The constable glanced at Lady Granston, and Harry knew the answer the man didn’t want to share in front of her.

“That’s not possible,” he said. “Who would want to hurt a kind, quiet, research biologist?” Unless they wanted something from him, something valuable. “Was anything stolen?”

“Not as far as we can tell,” the constable said.

A cold dread settled into Harry’s bones. Weber was dead. Their research was… What was it, exactly?

“Did you find his notebooks?” he asked. “Journals full of equations and notes.”

The man nodded. “We found four. Can’t say as they had equations, but lots of scribbled handwriting.”

“Four?” Harry leaned forward with his hands on the table for support. “There should be dozens. Months of work. Years, really, as this last trek was a culmination of all we’d learned before it. Unless…”

Gwinnen. He would have Weber’s journals as well as the ones Harry had sent with the biologist. He was having their findings printed so he could submit them to medical journals.

“What about Gwinnen?” Harry asked. “Mr. Charles Gwinnen. You’ve possibly heard of him. He’s an investor who’s been funding research teams here for years.”

“We know of him, sir,” the constable said. “But we haven’t spoken to him.” The constables exchanged a look. Harry glanced behind him for his chair, and the maître d hurried to right it so Harry could sit. “Please give us our privacy,” Harry said to the man.

He used the minute it took for the maître d and servants to leave them to go over the last day with Weber and Gwinnen. Splitting up to finish the trip here had been unusual, but Harry hadn’t been able to resist the possibility of a highly-related but slightly variable version of the prized vines they had found. Gwinnen had encouraged Harry to follow his instincts, and had left half the team of guards and porters with him while Gwinnen and Weber continued on the planned route.

“Why haven’t you spoken to Gwinnen,” Harry asked when it was just down to the constables and the Granstons.

Granston sat down beside his wife and took her hand. They all waited in silence. The lead constable glanced at his deputy, who stepped forward.

“I went to Mr. Gwinnen’s home to inform him of your research partner’s demise, but the house was empty,” the man said.

“Not even servants about?” Lady Granston asked.

The man startled, possibly just remembering there was a lady present for such a gruesome discussion. Harry glanced at Granston to see if the man thought his wife should be spared hearing it, but Granston gave a alight shake of his head.

“No servants, mi senora,” he said. “No furniture, no clothing. Like he was never there.”

Harry rubbed his aching temples again. “Nothing? That’s not… I suppose it is possible, though. Gwinnen and Weber were going to take the findings back to England, work with Cambridge to duplicate our results. He was supposed to stay until next week, though.”

“That’s what his house manager relayed when we tracked him down and spoke with him,” the first constable said. “Then two days ago, the master of the house left and never returned.”

“Two days ago was also the last time anyone saw Dr. Weber alive,” the deputy said.

The look his superior shot him revealed that was information the lead constable had not intended to share.

Harry sifted through the facts. Weber was dead and Gwinnen had disappeared, as had all of Weber’s important journals and close to half of Harry’s. Gwinnen had encouraged Harry to stay behind. Gwinnen had insisted he take Harry’s journals with him so Weber could reference them and Gwinnen could get them into print. Gwinnen, who had numerous business contacts on the European continent. Gwinnen, who had translated the conversation with the natives about the additional vines, vines Harry knew shouldn’t grow so far south, vines that had proven to be totally unrelated to the miracle plant the research team had discovered.

Gwinnen, the bloody greedy bastard.

“He’s stolen my work,” Harry said out loud. “He’s killed my friend and stolen my work. And now he’s disappeared into thin air!”

“Probably not thin air, mate,” Granston said quietly.

Lady Granston nodded. “Think about it, Mr. Stafford. If you have research with valuable medicinal possibilities, where would you go?”

“Gwinnen has contacts all over Europe,” Harry answered. He shot upright in his chair as he remembered Gwinnen mentioning a cousin in London who was a chemist. “If he wants scientists he can trust to duplicate our test results and mix medicines for him, he’ll go to London.”

Granston leaned forward in his chair and spoke in a low voice. “These are terrible circumstances and you have our condolences, Harry. But it also looks like you’ll also have our hospitality for a trip across the ocean.”

Harry scrubbed a hand over his face, defeated, forced to break the promise he had made. “It’s true. I have no choice. If Gwinnen has committed murder and stolen our research, I have to do whatever it takes to find him, even if it means returning to London.”