"Aren't you going to break your rule tonight?" Bunny says, taking another sip of his wine.
"Not me." He has had half a glass already, and – as far as I am concerned – he can have the bottle to himself. "But don't trouble yourself on my account." He grimaces and swallows the rest of the glass...poor thing! He's awfully shaken by last night. Being caught red-handed by a revolver-flashing brute is unsettling enough – especially the first time. He will be wanting something to calm his nerves, and who am I to begrudge him? Especially, of course, when it allows me to make particular inquiries.
"Of course not," he sighs, refilling his glass. "God, but you're cool about it, aren't you?" he says, with uncharacteristic sharpness. Mental note.
"It's past, Bunny," I reply, lighting my cigarette and smiling a little. "It was a close shave – I won't lie – but we came out of it no worse for the wear. Though, regrettably empty-handed." He raises the glass to his lips, then seems to think better of the action. "I say, wasn't it exciting, though? I've never been so close to being caught!" It's a lie, of course, but it has its intended effect. Bunny shakes his head and gulps down half a glass of wine at one go.
"It's by your quick thinking that I wasn't," he says sullenly. Ah, my dear rabbit, the way you go on about it one would think that I was the most blessed man in the world. Everything terrible is your fault and everything fortunate is mine. A glass and a half of wine can't change that.
I grin at him. "Nonsense. We were both nearly caught, but you had the worst end of it by chance. Hah! What I wouldn't give to see that vulgar fellow's face when the real police arrived on the scene!" A second glass finished, and I tip the bottle to refill it. "Drink to your health, my rabbit – yours and mine both. " Bunny attempts some kind of toast in reply, but does not get very far. He is blushing, and looks slightly uncomfortable, as though he feels I should be berating him instead of toasting to his name. Blushing – now that I notice it – a very bright crimson. Mental note.
I lean over the table to get a closer look at Bunny's face. He looks as though he is considering saying something but thinking better of it. Perhaps it can be wrung out of him with a little clever persuasion. In the meantime, he raises his glass and takes another sip. "Raffles," he says, somewhat unsteadily, "I don't believe I'm cut out for all this." Self-effacing, as always, but rather a frank confession. Mental note of that as well.
"Cut out for what, my rabbit?" I say, playing ignorance. Bunny looks slightly uncomfortable at my continued use of that old endearment, but shakes his head.
"I nearly got us killed!" he complains, returning to the over-riding theme of the evening. "And we're in the same position we were the night before last. Empty-handed, as you said."
"Why, Bunny! A minor setback, easily remedied!" I cry, laying a hand on his shoulder and leaning in confidentially. "All we need is another job. It's a disgrace to allow that fellow to keep those beautiful diamonds, of course, but he'll be on the lookout for us now. We'll simply find another mark."
"We!" Bunny says, his face still flushed – whether with wine or in reaction to my words I can no longer tell. "For god's sake, haven't I done enough to hinder you?" Very strong words – indeed, stronger words than I have heard from him in a while. He is nearing the end of his second glass and it seems that its effects, in part, are to make him talkative. Mental note – useful if I ever need to convince my good rabbit to unburden himself to me, which I am sure I shall. He is regrettably close on a great many subjects.
"Oh, hush," I say. I'm not going to listen to any more of these ridiculous complaints, and I tell him so. Bunny sighs meaningfully. He has reached the end of the second glass, and this time he refills it himself. As he does so he seems to suddenly become conscious of how close we are and shifts uncomfortably. I merely lean in even closer. "Bunny, Bunny...what if I told you the loss of the diamonds was no loss at all? What if I told you I'd found an even better mark for a couple of thieves like you and I?" Bunny does not so much as look askance at me for including him in that statement. Instead, he shakes his head.
"I'd say..." he pauses a moment, swishing the glass. He seems to be considering something, but exactly what is obscure to me. "I wouldn't be surprised," he says finally. "Not one bit. Are you saying you've found...another mark?"
I smile indulgently. "That is exactly what I am saying." Bunny shakes his head nervously. I am lying – I have a few things under consideration, as always, but nothing definite. I dislike lying to Bunny, of course – in his innocence he steadfastly refuses not to trust me. Pulling one over on a fellow who seems to be willfully complicit in the matter is hardly a rewarding experience. However, there is one last, very important inquiry to make.
"What is it? Diamonds? Gold? Some priceless painting? Or have you decided we should knock over the Bank of England?" He sounds bitter...with reason, I suppose. He drinks from the glass again.
"The Bank of England? Bunny, my Bunny, I'm flattered that you'd think me capable of pulling that! But that would involve more resources than just you or I could drum up, and months – maybe years – of careful planning. But the Bank of England...wouldn't that be something?" Every cracksman worth the name (and a good many honest men too, I'll wager) has dreamed of breaking into that bank, but it would take a madman or a genius to actually do it.
I wonder which one Bunny thinks I am.
Bunny smiles. "You were pretty keen on those diamonds. If you say it's better, I thought it must be something really brilliant." He looks thoughtfully into the remains of his third glass of wine. It is almost finished, and he makes no move for another glass.
"Ah, well – it might not be as stunning as all that, but at least we can sell this one. Better in that regard, at least. And it has a certain sort of poetry to it."
"Aren't you going to tell me what it is?" he says dubiously. I grin at him, and shake my head.
"All in good time," I say. I know this infuriates him, not knowing. Usually I have extremely good reasons for keeping Bunny in the dark until the time has come for him to play his part, but right now I only want to make him more anxious to hear what I have to say.
Bunny downs the final dregs of his glass and gives me a sullen look. "Do you trust me?" I know my Bunny, and I know that he craves my confidence more than anything else.
"To the ends of the earth, Bunny." He looks skeptical. Mental note. "I simply haven't worked out all the details. That's all."
"I could help you. Not," he adds hastily, "that I suppose I'd be any good." It seems we are returning to that old saw. I will not listen to any more of these protests, and I tell him so.
"Well, I'd look quite the fool if I went on about it and then the plan fell through. And to be frank with you, Bunny, I'm not entirely sure this one is anything more than a foolish romantic notion on my part."
With that, Bunny seems to think that he's wheedled a sort of confession out of me. He looks faintly pleased with himself. After three glasses of wine, Bunny seems to have gotten the notion that he can outfox me. Mental note. "Foolish? At school, you routinely managed things that other people called foolishness."
I laugh. "Bunny, that was cricket. This is a bit more serious."
"You're hardly ever serious. Raffles, really – if we're to be partners in all this, you mustn't shut me out." Partners , is it? Normally he balks at any suggestion that we are to be career crooks together for the foreseeable future, but it seems that deep down my rabbit might be resigning himself to his fate after all.
"Really. Well, then...have you been reading the papers?" Bunny nods. "Then surely you heard that they nibbed a man in the process of stealing an antique votive statue of Victory from the house of Dr. Andrew Pomeroy, a local collector?"
"I read about it. I don't see what that has to..."
"Listen to this, Bunny. Once the police had him, the fellow lost his nerve and ended up nosing on his gang. Dr Pomeroy is terrified that the rest of the gang will come after his little statue and has insisted that the police keep it under lock and key until they finish their investigation."
Bunny's eyes go wide. "You're not suggesting –"
"I am. Think about it, Bunny – the man the caught was incompetent...a ringleader of some back-alley pickpockets who got above himself. The police have promised to look after the statue, but they know their jobs. They've got work to do, same as everyone else – surely they've seen that the fellow himself is useless and the rest of that gang is likely to be the same. The gang probably has no interest in taking the statue, but the police need to humor a rich and excitable patron. Two to one they've got the blasted thing squirreled away in a safe with barely any guard. They won't be looking out for a real cracksman or two."
"Raffles, this is mad! Utterly, utterly mad! Stealing from the police station?" Bunny bursts out, then looks chagrined – as if it were somehow rude to insist I confide in him and then complain about what I say.
"It's not too much different from cracking anywhere else. The only disadvantage to it is that if you're spotted, you lose the window of opportunity between when the victims call the rozzers and when they actually arrive. And since we won't have a madman with a revolver and a vigilant pugilist hanging over our mark...well, with careful planning I'd say we'd have less chance of being caught than we did last night. And think of it! Imagine what the papers will say!"
"But Raffles–" I'm talking rot, and I think Bunny knows it deep down. I can see his better judgment is struggling to gain the upper hand. However, the wine seems to be preventing him from putting his finger on exactly what is wrong with my proposal. If I know Bunny, he will chalk his misgivings up to his own cowardice.
"Of course," I continue, breezily, "you needn't come. I'd be glad of your help, but I shouldn't like to force you into it."
Bunny gives me a hard look and stands up, steadying himself on the table. "Don't talk like that, Raffles."
"Really, you don't–"
"You can count on my help. You can always count on my help."
Feigning surprise isn't as difficult as it's made out to be. "Why, Bunny! I'm glad...I can't tell you how glad. So you're in, then?" He nods, then reaches for the bottle again. I take it before he can. "Then we can talk all about it in the morning." He blinks at me, confused. "It's one o'clock," I add.
"Is it really?" he mutters, glancing at the mantelpiece clock. "I say, I'd better..."
"...get going? Nonsense." I begin clearing the table, feeling a bit pleased with myself, I daresay. "Don't bother dragging yourself halfway across London just to be woken up by bill-collectors in the morning. Stay here, and take the bed. No arguments," I say as he starts to stammer something. "I've got a perfectly serviceable couch."
Bunny gives me one of those plaintive looks he's so fond of. I, for my part, am rather through with conversation for the night, so I seize his arm and steer him towards my room.
We linger in the doorway for a little while longer, saying good night and, briefly, setting up cursory plans for an afternoon's stakeout. Eventually Bunny retires to my room, and I take my accustomed place on the parlor sofa.
I pour over the results of my inquiry in my head before retiring myself for the night. All in all, I think I know my Bunny a little better now – much, I think, to my advantage.