Portrait of Bees in Spring

“Now this won’t hurt a bit.”

Betsy Springer rolled her eyes, remembering the first time she had heard that phrase. Her family doctor had been about to give her a booster shot. Despite what the nurse said, that one had hurt.

“Like I really believe that, Nurse Rached! Do you also have a bridge in Brooklyn that you can make me a great deal on?” Betsy muttered the last part under her breath.

The dark-haired nurse gave her patient a confused look before continuing to wrap a long strip of bandage around the young reporter’s ankle. Actually, Betsy thought that the woman tied the bandage too tight on purpose, but she was determined not to give the nurse the satisfaction of hearing her cry out. Instead, she tightened her grip on Denis Sesma’s hand; driving her nails into his palm. The fact that he stoically refused to react was typical of the half-Basque artist who had become her closest friend in the months since he had come to work for The Grantville Times.

“My name is Miller, not Rached,” said the woman said with a sigh. She spoke reasonably good English but every now and again Betsy could catch just a hint of Swedish in her voice when she became irritated—like now. “I’ve told you that several times. Why am I not surprised that you up-time young people don’t pay attention to what your elders say?”

Denis suppressed a chuckle. This was not the first time he had heard that statement around Betsy.

“You are really a very fortunate young woman,” Nurse Miller said as she gently placed Betsy’s leg on a stool. “This could have been a lot worse. It’s what the doctor calls a grade one sprain. It will take several weeks to heal, but you should have some mobility with the use of crutches. If you don’t move carefully though, you could easily hurt yourself again and make it much, much worse.” She shook her finger in warning at Betsy.

Normally Betsy would have had a good comeback on the tip of her tongue, but right now all she could do was grit her teeth and try to endure the throbbing in her leg.

“How long have you two been married?” asked Nurse Miller, in what Denis guessed was an attempt to distract Betsy.

“We’re not married!” both Denis and Betsy spoke at once.

The nurse said nothing, though her expression suggested she was thinking “Yet.”

“Are you finished now?” Denis asked nervously.

“You can go, but make certain that Miss Springer stays off her injury and does what she is told,” said the nurse.

“Like I have any control over that,” muttered Denis.

“I will fetch you some crutches. You’re lucky the doctor has a side business manufacturing them. Otherwise you would have to wait for a carpenter,” said Nurse Miller. “How did you say you hurt yourself in the first place?”

“I wish that I was doing something really cool, like fighting off a bunch of mercenaries on our way here. But I stepped wrong getting out of a coach. The trip here to Hamburg is one of the most boring ones that I’ve ever taken in my life.” Betsy looked down, embarrassed at her own clumsiness. “At least it isn’t as bad as an injury a friend of mine in high school had. He fractured his ankle hitting it on the side of a concrete curb.”

“I believe you. It sounds like you were having—what do you Americans call it? ‘A really bad day.'” Nurse Miller ducked her head to hide her smile.

Betsy frowned down at her sprained ankle. “For the record, this not the way I wanted to get close to the story.”

The nurse continued as if she hadn’t heard Betsy. “Now that I’m done I’ll send Dr. Kunze in to see you.”

Once the nurse was gone, Denis let go of Betsy’s hand and went over to the door. He waited for a good thirty seconds before he spoke, all the while listening to the sounds outside the office that doubled as an examining room.

“I think we’re alone, at least for awhile. I don’t know why, but I just have the strangest feeling that something is going on here that they’re not telling us,” said Denis.

Betsy looked up from her ankle with a startled expression. “Aren’t you and Paul the ones who are always accusing me of being paranoid and seeing conspiracies where there aren’t any?”

“Mr. Kindred just wants you to have proof of them before writing the things up,” said Denis.

He retreated from the door to a nearby chair where he had left his drawing pad and a piece of charcoal. “Besides, I told you it was just a gut feeling. I hope I’m wrong. Mr. Kindred said this trip was supposed to keep us out of trouble.”

“Yeah right,” said Betsy as she pushed herself to the edge of the chair and gingerly lowered her right leg. She inhaled, as if preparing herself for an excruciating task, then grasped both arms of the chair and pushed up. The result was a sharp sensation of pain that forced her back into the chair.

“You weren’t listening to the nurse,” Denis laughed. “You’re supposed to stay off that foot and keep your leg elevated.”

“Yeah, elevated . . . check,” groaned Betsy.

Denis turned his drawing around so that she could see it. “This is the image I plan to submit with your story. What do you think?”

“You’re just trying to distract me,” Betsy said.

“Of course I am,” he replied.

“You can be just as much of a baby when you’re injured.” Betsy stuck her lip out in a pout and crossed her arms. After a moment of silence she put her ankle back on the stool. “I guess it’s the thought that counts.”

Denis’s sketch showed a man, his chest bandaged, lying on a table. A second man, obviously a doctor, judging by the stethoscope that hung around his neck, was pouring something from a jar onto the bandage.

“Not bad, but how will we be able to tell that its honey he’s using?” Betsy wondered.

“Your story will tell them that,” Denis said.

“But what about people who can’t read?”

“If they can’t read, why would they have a newspaper?” Denis asked.

“Because they like the pictures?” Betsy shrugged. “Or maybe their Aunt Gertie is reading it to them.”

“If you think it will help, I could draw a label with a bee on the jar,” Denis said.

“Then people who can read will see the image and wonder why that doctor is putting honey on that man’s bandages,” Betsy said.

“Which will make them want to read your story about how the navy doctors who don’t have antibiotics are using honey to keep infection out of serious wounds,” Denis retorted.

“Just like the Egyptians did in the time of King Tut.” Betsy smiled in satisfaction.

“King Tut?” Denis tilted his head to the side in a thoughtful pose. “Was he in the movie about the archeologist with a bullwhip?”

“He’s from history, not movies.” Betsy waved her hands in the air as she spoke. “He hasn’t been discovered yet. But when he will be—or was in the future—those archeologist types that found him figured out that the ancient Egyptians were using honey to fight off infection in wounds long before antibiotics. What do you think of this for a headline—” She spread her hands in front of her face as if to picture the headline on a newspaper “Teaching a new dog old tricks.”

A new voice chimed in. “Not bad.”

Betsy and Denis turned to see a rather large man standing in the doorway. The pair of crutches he held in one large hand suggested that this was the one they had come to see, Dr. Johannes Kunze.

“I’m sorry that I am late for our interview, young lady,” said Dr. Kunze, apologetically. “But we’ve had a bit of . . . trouble with Thomas Radetzki, the bee keeper who supplies our honey.”

Denis and Betsy exchanged a look.

“What kind of trouble? Denis asked.

“He was supposed to bring us a fresh shipment of honey this morning, from his latest harvest. I saw him only two days ago and he confirmed his plans to me,” the doctor said. “But he has not kept his schedule, which is most unusual. The man is normally quite punctual.”

Dr. Kunze lifted a shoulder in a helpless shrug. “Since he is a civilian, I can’t justify sending a seaman to go check on him, not for just being late. But I remembered that you said you wanted to speak to him for your story. I thought that perhaps you could go to his apiary and check on him.”

“Normally I would be happy to help, Doc. But . . . ” Betsy pointed at her leg.

The doctor smiled in that “I was expecting that comment” way that had always irritated Betsy. “I hate to send you so soon after your injury, but there is no one else available right now. If you go it will help put my mind at rest. I just have a bad feeling about the whole matter. We can loan you one of our wagons so that you can stay off of your injured leg. If everything is fine, you can fetch back the honey with you. And when you return, we can finish your interview. I would go with you, but we are short-handed.”

“You must be busy,” said Betsy. “You haven’t even had your pants repaired.”

“My pants?” said the doctor, glancing down at his trousers where a ragged piece had been ripped out. “Ja, it got caught in a wagon wheel earlier today. Nurse Miller has offered to repair them when we have time. So will you do me this favor and look in on our missing beekeeper?”

“All right.” Betsy chuckled, and then muttered under her breath. “The things I do for a story.”

“Would you mind if I asked a question?” Denis asked as the doctor handed Betsy her crutches.

She braced them against the floor and tried to use them to stand. Her first attempt was not a glowing success, since she rammed her bandaged foot against a side table and dropped back into the chair. She stifled a muffled groan through closed lips. “I feel like one of the Stooges here.”

Denis winced in sympathy, and moved to help her. Betsy’s glare caused him to back out of her way with his hands in the air in mock surrender.

After a few deep breaths Betsy levered herself up to a precariously balanced standing position. While keeping her weight on one foot, she tucked a pad under each arm, and then began to hobble forward. She moved only a few feet before she tottered as if about to fall. This time, when Denis stepped forward, she allowed his steadying hand on her shoulder.

“Ready?” Denis asked.

Betsy gave him a reassuring nod before tottering forward a step. Her smile brightened as she took another step and then another, aiming herself toward the door. The doctor nodded approvingly and stepped aside to let her pass.

“Now, about that question?” the doctor asked Denis

“Would I be right in assuming that there is more worrying you than just a late shipment of honey?” Denis asked.

“We are at war,” The doctor shrugged. “This is a military hospital and that honey will save soldiers’ lives. With the number of spies traipsing around the USE—it would be one more way to strike back at the navy.”

“I’m sure the beekeeper just lost track of time,” Betsy said over her shoulder as she stumped down the hall. “We’ll go out there, collect the interview and the honey and be back here before you know it.”

****

Outside, the stable hands brought out a one-horse wagon with a buckboard on it. Denis lifted Betsy into the seat carefully. Then he tucked his drawing tools alongside her before vaulting into the driver’s place.

The road between the hospital and Radetzki’s apiary was fairly well maintained, but Betsy winced in pain with every stone or rut that the wagon bounced over.

Denis slowed the horse to a sedate walk.

“You don’t have to go this slow, it will take us twice as long,” Betsy touched his shoulder. “I’m fine.”

“It should only take a few hours by wagon,” Denis said. “Since it is still early in the day, we can afford to take a little extra time.”

“I would rather get our work here done with and get back to Grantville.” She frowned down at her bandaged ankle. “This is so inconvenient.”

“The nurse said that if you stayed off of it for a few weeks, you should be as good as new.”

“I’m no good at sitting still,” Betsy crossed her arms and looked out across the field that bordered the road. Denis pinched his lips together to keep from laughing.

****

As the hours passed, the city gradually gave way to rolling countryside. In an obvious attempt to distract herself from the throbbing in her ankle, Betsy described, in extreme detail, the plot of several different movies. It hadn’t taken Denis long, after he had met Betsy, to master the art of looking like he was listening, while letting his mind wander.

When the wagon crested a hill, Denis wished he had time to sketch the picturesque scene in front of them. It would make an interesting painting, very different from the things he had been doing for the newspaper. He missed doing art like that, but a regular paycheck was a really nice thing to have. Fresh yellow straw thatched the roof of the beekeeper’s cottage. Around the yard, a riot of roses, chamomile and lavender flowers sprouted.

“Hey look!” Betsy broke off and pointed to a field bordered in shrubs that were covered in pink flowers. Denis craned his neck, seeing dozens of insects darting back and forth between the flowers. “Bees!”

Denis pulled the wagon to a stop and squinted at the cottage. “No smoke coming from the chimney. He may not be home.”

“One way to check,” Betsy said.

“You wait here. I’ll go look.”

“No way!” Betsy shook her head. “You aren’t leaving me out of things. I don’t care if I end up having to crawl after you.”

Denis sighed. So much for any hope of her being reasonable because of her injury—not that there actually had been much hope of that to begin with. If Betsy had been agreeable, he probably would have been worried about what she was plotting.

As the two of them crossed the yard to the front door of the cottage, they could hear excited barking from inside the building.

Betsy looked at Denis with a sly smile. “Sounds like someone has a little yappy dog.”

“If the beekeeper is home, one would think that he would come out to see what his pet is barking at.”

Betsy shrugged and reached out her hand to knock. The door creaked inward under the pressure of her rapping. The little dog that they had heard then squeezed through the opening and began to run in circles around the two of them, barking as it did.

“Hello? Anyone home?” Betsy called out as she hopped through the doorway, holding her crutches awkwardly. “Your door is open and—Uh oh!” She froze, with one hand on the door frame to keep her balance.

Denis stepped behind her and looked over her shoulder, then he swallowed hard. A man that he presumed was Thomas Radetzki sat at the table in the tiny kitchen, face-down on a tray of sausage and cheese. A bread roll and cloth napkin lay upside down next to one of his open hands. A knife, sticky with what Denis guessed was honey, lay next to the other. It looked as if the beekeeper had died right in the middle of sweetening his Brötchen.

The two of them looked at one another, and then Betsy clomped her way into the kitchen with Denis at her heels. She moved to the table and held her hand over his mug.

“His tea is cold,” she said. “He’s been dead for a while.”

“We had better fetch Dr. Kunze. He may be able to tell us why this happened,” Denis said.

Betsy pulled a second chair away from the table and plopped in it, allowing her crutches to clatter to the ground. The dog ran up to her, barking and nuzzling at her uninjured leg at the same time.

“Oh, you poor dear,” she said as she picked the animal up, put it in her lap and began to scratch it behind its ears. “You’re an orphan now.”

At that moment, a figure stepped through the door behind them. Betsy twisted and saw a man in a dark jacket standing there staring at them. The stranger scanned the room slowly, then turned suspicious eyes on Denis and Betsy.

“May I ask who you are?” One of the newcomer’s eyebrows winged upward.

“Dr. Kunze sent us. I think we should be asking who you are?” Betsy countered.

“Adelard Gottschalk, Seaman Apprentice with the USE Navy.”

Betsy wrinkled her forehead. “I thought Dr. Kunze said that he couldn’t send a seaman. Are you part of the hospital staff?”

“I am not assigned to the hospital. I’m with Naval Criminal Investigative Service and was here to see Herr Radetzki on USE business.”

“NCIS? You’re like a navy detective.” Betsy grinned. “Just like Sherlock Holmes on water, only real! I bet that would make a great addition to the story that we’re working on. When this is all over with, can I interview you?”

Adelard looked to be no more than a year or two older than Denis, but he moved in the manner of someone who had complete confidence in his authority. He ignored Betsy’s request. Instead he walked over to the body and stared down at it for a time, as if cataloging everything in front of him; then bent down to bring his eyes to the level of the table.

“Dr. Kunze sent us to check on him.” Denis said to fill the awkward silence. “He was supposed to be delivering a shipment of honey today. Was he expecting you to visit?”

“That information is classified, I’m afraid.” The weight of his gaze made Denis feel nervous.

Gottschalk reached over and carefully lifted the dead man’s hand, the limp fingers drooping down in reaction. “I would estimate that he has been deceased less than three hours.”

“Because rigor mortis hasn’t set in?” Betsy asked.

“Correct. Plus the jars of honey for today’s shipment are sealed,” said the seaman, pointing over to the work bench that occupied the other end of the room.

There were nearly a dozen jars of wax-sealed honey sitting there next to a brazier, tripod and lumps of beeswax that were no doubt used to seal the jars for transport. On the floor was a box filled with identical wax-sealed jars. While there were several projects under way in the USE for manufacturing and marketing Kilner-style screw lids, they were still a long way from being widely available, so this was still the best way to protect the contents of a jar.

“I bet he got up early, which was probably his usual routine.” Betsy surmised. “You can set your watch by some farmers. I don’t know how often he robbed his hives, but he had obviously done it in the last day or so. Then he came in here, sealed the jars, sat down to eat and then bam!” She paused in scratching behind the dog’s ears to wave at the dead man. “Luca Brasi ends up sleeping with the fishes.”

Adelard stared at her for a moment. “I do not know this Luca Brasi that you speak of. He sounds Italian. The man before you is definitely Thomas Radetzki, not Luca Brasi.” A growl of frustration escaped the seaman’s throat. “I don’t have what I need to process this crime scene.”

“Why do I get the feeling that this isn’t your first murder investigation?” Betsy asked.

“Because it isn’t,” said Adelard.

The seaman’s expression hardened in a way that made Denis feel even more worried. Law enforcement types always seemed to have that effect on him. Perhaps it was because of all the detective movies that Betsy had told him about. There were a few matters in his past that he had not mentioned to her that could still come back to haunt him.

“I am afraid that I will be the one asking questions, since you and your friend are either suspects or witnesses.” said Adelard. “I have long suspected Herr Radetzki of selling naval secrets to spies. But I could not figure out who was supplying him with the information. He could not have gotten it on his own. Not with the limited time that he spent on navy property. I intended to confront him with what I knew and see if I could get him to admit the identity of his contact. However, I suspect his associate became aware of my investigation and decided to silence Radetzki before he could talk to me.”

Betsy’s eyes widened in surprise. Her grip on the little dog loosened. It jumped from her lap and skittered under her chair, from where it growled at Adelard.

The seaman’s hand crept to the folds of his own clothing in an unmistakable hint that he was armed. He pointed from Denis to a chair next to Betsy in a silent demand that the artist take a seat. Adelard then began to move around the room, studying items with a magnifying glass that he produced from his pocket.

“You don’t suspect us of killing this man,” said Denis. “Do you?”

“Should I?” said Adelard.

“I’ve never been a murder suspect before,” Betsy whispered to Denis. He wasn’t sure if her tone implied surprise, fear, or that she was pleased with it. Knowing Betsy, the latter might have been the most likely scenario.

“We just got here maybe a minute or two before you,” Denis said to the detective with confidence that he didn’t really feel. “We couldn’t have possibly had the time to murder this man.”

“Well,” mused Betsy. “I suppose we could have had time if we had driven the wagon at a normal rate of speed instead of really slowly. Our friend here might assume that we were working for the French. Heck, Cardinal Richelieu himself could have hired us when we went to France on that wolf story.”

“Betsy, you’re not helping us. Besides, a lot of people go to France and don’t come back working for the French government,” Denis said.

They looked up when Adelard cleared his throat. “I’ve seen all I can here. When we return to the hospital I will bring a doctor back to check for poisoning, along with a full field kit to allow for a closer examination of the scene.”

“Good idea! We can wait for you here,” said Betsy, figuring she could do her own investigation while the man was gone.

“No,” the young man snapped. “You will not. You both will be coming back with me to the hospital, where you will be held for further questioning. If you were simply unlucky enough to stumble on the body, it will be a matter of your own safety. After all, the killer could still be lurking around here.”

“Despite what I said, we couldn’t have killed the beekeeper.” Betsy set her chin in a defiant expression. “In case you didn’t notice, I have a sprained ankle, which is not the easiest thing to move around on. I doubt a cold-blooded French assassin would be hobbling around on borrowed crutches. That whole scenario doesn’t fit. And ‘if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.'” She balled one hand into a fist and slammed it into the open palm of the other hand.

“You may be correct, but nevertheless, you are coming back with me, if only to provide statements about what you have seen here,” he said. Denis couldn’t help but think this was the young man’s way of admitting that Betsy was right without saying it. “We will leave everything as it is, until I can return to examine the scene.”

“Fine,” Betsy said with a huff. “But I’m taking the dog with me! Poor thing was locked up in the room for hours, with a dead body!”

As if the dog knew that it was being spoken of, the animal sprang from beneath her chair. Betsy made a grab for it, but the dog danced backward, barked at her and then raced in circles around the room. Aberlerd and Denis both made attempts to grab the animal, but it evaded them, pausing only to nip at the detective’s heels before dashing out the door.

“Denis, don’t let him get away!” Betsy started to rise and then fell back into her seat. “He’s a witness, too!”

“If we don’t catch him, I’ll never hear the end of it!” said Denis, angling his head in the direction that the dog had run.

Aberlerd looked at the two of them helplessly. Denis sensed a shift in the man’s demeanor. Before, the detective had seemed cold toward them and ready to explode at Betsy’s eccentricities. Now that they didn’t appear to be suspects, he looked like he was suppressing a chuckle.

Finally, the detective shook his head. “We’ll both go. I don’t think that the young lady will be making any swift getaways in her condition or getting into any kind of trouble.”

“He don’t know me vewey well, do he?” Betsy muttered in her best Bugs Bunny voice as the two men disappeared out the door. She waited a full minute, then forced herself up onto her feet and hobbled across the room to open a window. The heat of the day had begun and the odor from old food and decaying flesh was intensifying.

Having a long time to search a place was a luxury that wasn’t available to Betsy; Adelard and Denis could come back at any time—not to mention the crutches were cumbersome. But she still wanted to have a closer look at things. Betsy was certain she could find something that Adelard might have missed. Seeing the look on his face when she found the evidence he missed would be worth it.

Her breath came in hard gasps as she struggled to stay on her feet and not knock anything over. In her haste, she slammed her injured ankle into the leg of a side table where Radetzki had left several bowls and a blue porcelain pitcher.

“That’s all I would need. Adelard would be convinced I’m the killer and was trying to destroy evidence. He’d haul me off to the hoosegow without a second thought.”

Everything looked like what Betsy would expect to see in a bachelor farmer’s home, but something bothered her. The beekeeper had a few utilitarian possessions, but his home was lacking in feminine flair. So why was it so clean? Weren’t all bachelors a little bit messy—especially bachelor farmers who had more important things to do than to be sweeping up the dust on the floor? It seemed to her like the killer had cleaned up after himself. The one thing that seemed out of place in the room was a torn piece of ragged green cloth lying on the floor, obviously one of the dogs’ toys.

Betsy had made her way around half of the room when she stopped and carefully rotated herself so she could look back at the table where the late owner of the apiary sat as silent and still as he had when she and Denis had come in. There was something about the table that didn’t seem right, but Betsy couldn’t put her finger on it for the longest time, until she moved closer and stared down at the bowls in front of her.

She gasped as the realization hit her.

“It’s so freaking obvious that I should have seen it from the start,” she laughed staring at what she had thought was a napkin.

****

“I didn’t think a dog that small could run that fast,” said Denis as he skidded to a halt. The animal obviously knew to keep well away from the hives.

“You should have seen the little dog that my mother kept,” said Adelard. “That mutt could outrun a horse, not to mention climb straight up a vertical fence.”

Denis scanned the grassy knoll looking for any sign of the dog, though the little beast probably had the full run of the countryside and knew every nook and cranny along with every tree and bush.

“Do you see it?” asked Adelard. “If we don’t find it quickly, I don’t care if your wife does get mad; we’re going back.”

“She’s not my wife. Why do people keep trying to marry the two of us off?” snapped Denis.

Before Adelard could answer, the two men heard the dog’s barking coming from the base of a small tree ahead of them. On one of the tree’s branches above it, a blue jay chattered irritably at the dog.

“There, now. Maybe your wife will be happy and I can do my job.” said the detective as he cautiously approached the animal. The little mutt turned, growled at him and took off running.

Denis paused to look at the flower-covered bushes that spread out in the field. They had wandered a long way away from the apiary property, but the bees were obviously collecting honey here.

“Enough!” Adelard bellowed as he put his hand on Denis shoulder. “We go back now.”

“Do you know what those are?” Denis said, gesturing at the bushes.

“Flowers?”

“Rhododendron! I think I know what killed Thomas Radetzki. And If I’m right, it proves that Betsy and I are innocent.”

****

As Denis and Adelard stepped from beneath the cover of the shrub-filled meadow, the little dog darted out of the underbrush a few feet away from them and weaved between their feet. Adelard threw his hands up in disgust and muttered something about accursed dogs.

“Betsy!” Denis called out as the two men came through the cottage door. “I think I know what killed the beekeeper. It was—”

“Poison!” Betsy said as she looked up from where she sat on the floor of the room. She had pulled a crate from beneath Radetzki’s worktable. The contents were spread across the floor in a seemingly chaotic pattern.

“You already know?” asked Denis, feeling his enthusiasm evaporating with each passing second.

Betsy paid no attention to his reaction. Instead she reached over and grabbed a jar to show him. “This bottle is marked with the skull and crossbones. Someone tried to hide it among the jars of honey. And look at the cloth under the beekeeper’s hand. I thought it was a napkin, but it’s a handkerchief. There are several more in his laundry. Radetzki was sick. The honeyed tea was to make him feel better.”

“If he was sick, the poison would have killed him quickly,” Adelard said.

“How did you figure out that the honey was poisoned?” Betsy asked Denis.

“I saw some rhododendrons outside,” Denis said. “Remember how your research for the article said that feral honey made from rhododendrons can be poisonous?”

“He was working, so his illness wouldn’t have made him weak enough for feral honey to kill him, but good thinking.” Betsy said.

“You haven’t opened the bottle, have you?” Adelard knelt on the floor next to the crate, glaring up at her several times.

“I’m not stupid! I’ve seen enough mystery movies to know not to disturb evidence.” Betsy snorted at him, trying to seem like she was insulted by his assumption.

“That never stopped you before,” muttered Denis.

“Never mind that,” she hissed. “Whoever poisoned him was someone who was acquainted with him well enough to know where he kept his personal honey.”

“That’s not the sort of information that you would share with every Jonathan, Dick and Harry,” Denis said.

“Tom, Dennis. The expression is ‘Tom, Dick and Harry.’ And I think I know who it is!” Betsy said triumphantly.

****

Despite her throbbing leg, Betsy attempted to look as relaxed and comfortable as possible when Denis pulled the cart onto the hospital grounds. The ride in had taken half the time that the trip out had, but had seemed longer as she was anxious to get back.

Betsy was sitting on the back of the wagon, dragging her crutches in the dirt when Dr. Kunze emerged from the building and staring at his two emissaries and their companion. The doctor stared at Seaman Abelard for a moment before turning his attention back to Denis and Betsy.

“You’re . . . back?”

“Don’t sound so surprised; it didn’t take all that long to get there and back.” Betsy said. “We ran into Seaman Abelard there. He was happy to accompany us back. Denis wanted to baby me because of my ankle, so it might have taken a lot longer. But I wouldn’t so much as let him drive the cart slowly. We made good time.”

Dr. Kunze’s eyes grew comically wide. “And Herr Radetzki? He was . . . well?”

“Indeed he is,” Denis replied. “He said to apologize for worrying you. He was feeling ill this morning, but he took a purgative and has since recovered. He looks forward to seeing you soon so that you two can discuss some business. He even gave us a tour of his apiary. You should have seen Betsy scream when a bee landed on her.”

Betsy made a grunting sound at Denis’ words and then took a blanket off of several boxes full of honey. “There we go, Doctor. Herr Radetzki promised he would bring the rest soon, but this should be enough to handle any patients you may need to care for.”

The doctor took a few steps over and stared at the boxes. He gingerly lifted one of the jars out and squinted at the hand-written label on it.

He chuckled uncomfortably and tugged at his collar. “That is most excellent. I’m glad that my worries were for nothing. We can do that interview this afternoon, Miss Springer. I’m sure you and your companion are tired and would like a few hours to rest and freshen up.”

“Of course, Doctor,” said Betsy “That’s an excellent idea; my ankle is hurting a bit.”

“You will excuse me, then. I have several patients that I must see to. I’ll send someone to unload the wagon.” Dr. Kunze whirled on one heel and hurried away.

Once the doctor was out of sight, Betsy looked over to Adelard who had quietly dismounted and was headed after the man.

“He went thataway, pardner!” she said.

Denis just smiled and said nothing, a few months ago he would have been confused but now he just assumed her remarks were film related and saved himself a long-winded explanation.

“Come on.” He jumped from the wagon. “I have a feeling that things are going to be getting very interesting, very quickly.”

“I think you’re right on the money,” she said and tucked her crutches under one arm as she let him lift her from her seat.

Inside the hospital, the members of the staff were standing around with confused looks on their faces. Betsy was about to ask where Abelard and the doctor were when the sound of furniture crashing came from Kunze’s office. Denis took off at a run with Betsy, doing the best she could on her crutches, a few steps behind.

Denis stood just inside the doctor’s office door when she arrived. Inside the office, papers littered the floor. The doctor lay among them like a child who had spread out in a pile of autumn leaves. Adelard stood over him, holding a sword with the point pressed up against the man’s throat.

“Don’t move,” the seaman said. “It will not bother me one bit to put you down like a rabid dog.” He threw a quick glance over his shoulder at Denis. “Herr Sesma, would you be good enough to fetch some rope so we can tie this fellow up?”

It took Denis only a minute to find a set of the hospital’s restraints. Then he and Adelard hauled the prisoner up and put him in the wooden chair that Betsy had used to rest her leg on when they had arrived.

“You were correct, Miss Springer,” Adelard said, reluctantly. “Dr. Kunze was the one responsible for poisoning Radetzki.”

“I knew it!” Betsy pointed to the tear in Dr. Kunze’s pants. “You told us you haven’t seen Radetzki for several days. But I’m guessing you knew that NCIS was onto Radetzki, so you decided to eliminate him and get the heck out of dodge. You added the poison to the honey that he had set aside for his own use—and that was all she wrote for your partner in crime. I’ll bet that the beekeeper’s dog attacked you then and tore your pants, because I saw a bit of the torn fabric at his house. I thought it was a doggy toy.”

“And these will prove that you are the one selling navy secrets,” Adelard said as he gathered the papers up quickly so that Denis and Betsy couldn’t see the contents. “I suspect that somewhere around here is a bag of French silver, payment for his little ‘sideline.’ I would be willing to bet that there are also traveling papers somewhere in this office that would have given him passage to safety in enemy territory; good doctors are hard to find, I’m sure they would have welcomed his arrival.”

“Our being here probably gave him the perfect culprit for the murder.” Betsy lifted her hands from her crutches to point an accusing finger at Dr. Kunze. “Denis and I took twice as long getting to the apiary because of my ankle. If we had hurried, we would have had the means to commit murder.”

“There is more than enough evidence here to convict Dr. Kunze of treason,” Adelard said. “I’ll send someone back to the apiary to process the scene.”

“What about the dog?” Betsy said suddenly. “Who is going to take care of the poor thing?”

“Miss, if you are volunteering, you can have the job!” Adelard sounded exasperated.

Denis looked to Betsy in horror. A smile of triumph crossed her face. “Since he helped us solve the murder, we should name him Asta, after Nick and Norah Charles’ dog.”

A chuckle from Adelard drew Denis’s attention. “Whatever the missus wants, eh?”

Betsy didn’t seem to hear him. “That was a nice bit of sword work. You’re a regular D’Artagnan.”

Adelard turned a suspicious eye on her. “Just what do you know about D’Artagnan, Miss Springer?”

****

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About Bradley Sinor

Bradley H. Sinor has seen his short stories published in numerous science fiction, fantasy and horror anthologies such as The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Tales of the Shadowmen, Volume 6 Grand Guignol, Ring of Fire II and the Grantville Gazette. Three collections of his short fiction have been released by Yard Dog Press, Dark and Stormy Nights, In The Shadows, and Playing with Secrets (along with stories by his wife Sue Sinor.) His newest collection of stories, Echoes From the Darkness, is from Arctic Wolf Press. His non-fiction work has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies.