Meg Schaeffer hurried across the street and into the Blue Fox. She could only hope her father had not been looking out the window at that particular moment. She knew Terry should have arrived a few minutes earlier via the alley entrance. Meg skidded up to the bar with none of the quiet dignity she normally displayed. The flame-haired Kit Gallagher almost dropped a glass she was washing in surprise.
"Where's Terry?" demanded Meg anxiously.
"Downstairs with Madge," replied Kit. "She just got here."
"Get her up here! Now!"
Not having a clue what had the unflappable British girl so unstrung, Kit hit the alarm buzzer under the bar. In less than a minute, Terry appeared at the curtain to the back room. Her hair was stringy and her clothes were dirty from spending a week on the Continent with the Maquis.
"What's the matter?" the Garrison girl asked.
"Oh, Terry," said Meg. "I just got word. The Lieutenant and his men are on the way back from London. They have Col. Hammond and Cedric Newcastle with them."
"And just who is Cedric Newcastle?" asked Terry confused by Meg's agitation.
"One of the family of the Mansion," she replied. "They are going to inspect the Mansion. If this Newcastle person is not satisfied, they will take the mansion away from you and place the Lieutenant and the guys in a barracks on base."
"So what's the problem?" asked Kit in non-comprehension.
Meg and Terry looked at her in disbelief.
Meg answered. "Terry's been gone for over a week. You know what shape that house will be in?"
"Oh . . ." Kit got the picture and it wasn't a pretty thought.
"When did they leave London?" asked Terry hurriedly.
"About ten minutes ago."
"That should give us an hour and a half," calculated Terry. She looked at Meg. "Can you get away from your old man?"
"Already did," she smiled.
"How?" asked Kit.
"I told him I was having menstrual cramps."
Terry snorted with laughter. "And that did it?"
Meg grinned. "He can't deal with anything of a feminine nature."
Terry turned now to her girlfriend. "Kit, how quickly can you get us to the mansion in your roadster?"
"I hope you don't think I'm cleaning up after those hoods of yours," objected Kit indignantly.
"You are if you don't want me leaving the bartending to you for the next month," threatened Terry cheerfully.
"Come on," said the red-head.
At the mansion, Kit and Meg tag-teamed the downstairs common room while Terry took a shower and cleaned herself up.
The common room was a mess. Ash trays were overflowing with cigarette butts, and dirty glasses were scattered around the room. Newspapers were open and laying in heaps on the game table. Meg grabbed a trash can and Kit started scooping trash and butts into it.
"God, they're a bunch of slobs," said Kit in disgust.
The trash can was run out to the burn barrel by Kit, while Meg grabbed up dirty glasses and dishes and carried them into the kitchen. The kitchen was a mess of pots with dried on food and more dirty dishes. Meg began piling everything onto the sink. Kit came back in and looked around in dismay.
"Do we have time to wash all those?" she asked.
"I doubt it." replied Meg. She went into the storage room and spotted a large crate, bringing it out with a grin. "Start loading it up . . . carefully!"
Kit shrugged and just did as she was told, while the British girl started water in the sink and began cleaning the stove and table. When the dishes and glasses were all loaded into the crate, the two girls hauled it outside and hid it behind a large bush by the back door. Together, they scrubbed down the counters.
From there they went to the dining room. It wasn't in bad shape because the men hadn't used it since Terry had left. They did not even open Garrison's office, figuring the officer kept it in order. The library was tidy also as it was Actor's domain.
Terry was just coming out of her bedroom, hair damp, as the two women bounded up the stairs.
"Now what?" asked Kit.
"Common room," replied Terry. "You two get that and I'll get the bedrooms."
"Oh, here!" Meg handed Terry one of Actor's pipes and pouch of tobacco from the table beside his chair downstairs.
Terry grabbed them and sprinted to the con man's room. It was clean and tidy as always. Thank goodness the man was a fastidious as he was. Terry put the pipe and tobacco in his top desk drawer.
She moved next door to Goniff's room. It looked like a tornado had gone through. Clothes lay haphazardly on furniture and the floor. There was a girly magazine opened and face down on the unmade bed. She grabbed it up and took a quick glance at the centerfold. "Damn!" she said in response to the semi-naked woman's proportions. "Goniff, you little bugger you," she chuckled, closing the magazine and shoving it under the mattress with another one. Clothes were picked up and rapidly shoved tightly into the clothes hamper. The bed was made up and the ash tray was dumped into the trash can. Stray odds and ends were dumped into desk drawers. An unfamiliar little silver snuff box lay amidst the clutter on the desk. Terry figured she would have to look into that one later on. For now it went in a desk drawer also. Satisfied the room was almost presentable, she grabbed the trash can and went to Chief's room across the hall.
Chief was almost as neat as Actor. The bed was unmade and there was trash in his waste basket. Terry made the bed up and emptied the trash into the can she had with her.
Next was Casino's room. It looked almost as bad as Goniff's. Again, dirty clothes went into the hamper. The ash tray was emptied into the trash can. Stuff was stashed in the desk and the bed was made up. He had an even bigger supply of magazines for her to stuff under the mattress.
In the meantime, the other two girls had tackled the common room. Kit took one long look around upon entering and swore in disgusted awe. A clothesline stretched from the upraised spear point of a marble statue, across the room, and was tied to a wall hook that supported a chain to a hanging light. Men's unmentionables were draped over it. Meg started pulling down underwear and gathering it into a bundle. Looking around, she spotted a tall woven covered basket. Perfect. She stuffed the garments into the basket and slapped the lid snugly on. Kit took down the clothesline and stuck it into the visor of a suit of armor. Ash trays were emptied into one waste basket and newspapers into another. A table cloth was wadded behind the same suit of armor. Meg shook it out and decided, though wrinkled, it was clean enough and covered the stained table top with it. The two girls made quick work tidying up the room and collecting dirty glasses and empty liquor bottles.
They met Terry in the hall with the waste baskets.
"What did we forget?" asked Terry.
Kit shook her head.
"Bathrooms?" asked Meg.
Terry hit her forehead in frustration. "I forgot the bathrooms."
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Kit. "I grew up with three brothers. I am not touching their bathrooms!"
"Okay!" shot back Terry. "Get rid of the garbage and the dirty glasses."
"I'll take one side and you take the other," said Meg.
"Craig's and Actor's will be fine," said Terry thinking aloud. "Take Goniff's on the end there and I'll tackle Casino's."
The three split up to do their tasks. Terry went into Casino's bedroom again and opened the door to the bathroom. It wasn't any better than she had expected. An overflowing ashtray was dumped into the toilet and flushed. The towels were picked up off the floor. Toiletry items were returned to their medicine cabinet. The sink was a mess. With a shrug, Terry took the facecloth and used it to clean the sink and then rinsed it out. She hung the towels up on the towel bars and pulled the curtain around the bathtub. If they inspected the tub, they deserved whatever they found.
A shriek sounded from Goniff's bathroom. Terry hurried across the hall to the pickpocket's bedroom. "What?"
"This!" said Meg in disgust. She emerged from the bathroom holding an open magazine by the corner with two fingers.
" Under the mattress," directed Terry. "There are two more there."
"Rodney, that is disgusting," scolded Meg to the non-present Limey.
"No," said Terry with a shake of her head. "It's normal. 'Course I doubt your father would know what to do with one."
Meg giggled. "You're probably right."
The two girls trotted downstairs to meet Kit. The red-head was shaking her head in disbelief.
"How much time?" asked Terry.
Meg looked at her watch. "Ten minutes, tops."
"Let's get outta here," suggested Kit urgently.
"Oh, Terry, the dishes are behind a bush by the back door," informed Meg.
That didn't even surprise Terry. "Thank you, Ladies," she said. "I owe you big time for this."
"Later," said Meg. "Good luck."
"Thanks," said Terry.
She stood at the top of the steps and watched her two friends jump into Kit's roadster and take off with the owner's typical screech of tires.
Garrison slowed for the turn into the drive to the mansion. He was solemn and worried. He had tried for the two hour drive to figure a way out of this mess and still did not have a clue. Apparently neither did the confidence man sitting beside him as Actor had offered no input into the dilemma. Craig thought he spotted the tail end of a roadster as he signaled the turn up the drive.
"Kit?" he asked his second.
"I'm not sure, Warden," replied the Italian. "I did not see enough of it. Possibly she was at the base visiting her brother."
"Could be," said Craig.
The staff car followed the Packard up to the car park in front of the mansion. It looked deceptively quiet and calm. The men got out of both vehicles and Garrison led the way up to the front door.
The cons had been advised of the consequences of this visit and knew they were in deep trouble. The fact that neither Garrison nor Actor had voiced a plan did not bode well. The last thing they wanted was to lose their home and the freedom that went with it.
With a mental sigh of defeat, Garrison opened the front door and allowed Col. Hammond and Mr. Newcastle into the foyer area. He followed with the cons behind him. A quick glance at the common room earned a double take.
"Craig, that you?" Terry's voice came from the direction of the kitchen.
"Yes," replied Garrison with relief.
Terry came out of the dining room to greet the group. She was wearing a woolen mid-calf plaid skirt topped with a green sweater that showed her figure off to perfection. A welcoming smile was on her face.
"Col. Hammond! I didn't know you were coming," said Terry. "Craig why didn't you call me so I could have made up some sandwiches or something."
"I didn't think about it," said her brother.
Terry turned her attention to the stuffy British man beside Hammond. He could have given Maj. Schaeffer a run for his money in the snooty department. "I'm Teresa Garrison," Terry introduced herself.
Hammond was also trying to recover from the unexpected change in his expectations. "I'm sorry. Cedric Newcastle . . . Teresa Garrison. Mr. Newcastle is one of the owners of the estate."
"Oh," gushed Terry with just the right amount of delight. "The Mansion is yours? I am happy to meet you. It is such a wonderful house. I must thank you for allowing us to use it." She walked up to the man and slipped her hand inside his arm. "I trust you would like a tour. I hope you might be kind enough to tell me a little of its history."
"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Garrison," said Newcastle, apparently taken by her charm. He allowed her to guide him into the common room.
"Your library is magnificent. I hope you don't mind, but I have taken the liberty of reading some of your books. Your Italian collection is fascinating . . ."
"Blimey," whispered Goniff.
"Shut up!" hissed Actor.
Garrison stood at semi-attention. He wanted to slump with relief.
"How did she . . .?" started Hammond in wonder.
"I don't know, Sir," answered Craig.
The men silently watched Terry maneuver Newcastle around the room, commenting expertly on the age and artists of the paintings. As they made their way back, Terry managed to keep herself where she blocked the man's view of the banister damaged by flying switchblades. She guided him up the stairs to visit the second floor, talking now about the antique furniture and which periods they had come from.
Hammond allowed Terry to take over. He remained downstairs and turned to Garrison.
"I trust this is not how it looked when you left?"
"It was not quite this neat," admitted Garrison cautiously.
Hammond turned to Actor. "Nice job you have done tutoring her." It was said in reluctant admiration.
"Thank you," said Actor with a haughty tilt of his head.
The colonel chewed on his cheek for a moment. "Lieutenant, it isn't just your neck on the line here," he said. "I am responsible for this house also. If that young woman pulls this off, we all will owe her a debt of gratitude. Might I suggest the Savoy?"
"At the very least," said Actor.
"I think that would be appropriate," said Craig with a warning glare at his second.
The rest of the tour apparently went without a hitch. As they came back downstairs, Terry was apologetically telling the man about digging up part of his back garden lawn and putting in a victory garden and chicken coop. Far from being annoyed, Newcastle told her he admired her concern for the war effort in trying to provide her own food. Terry showed him through the kitchen and out to the back garden, being careful again to position herself so he could not see the bush that hid the dirty dishes.
Upon returning to the men at the front door, Newcastle was smiling. 'Thank you for the tour, Miss Garrison. It was a pleasure meeting you. I am very relieved to find someone who is so conscientious and interested in the house taking care of it."
"Oh, the pleasure is mine, Sir," Terry smiled. She escorted him outside and down the steps.
Hammond reached in his pocket and removed some bills, handing them to Garrison. "The Savoy, Lieutenant."
"As soon as I can get reservations, Sir," assured Craig.
Hammond met Terry at the bottom of the steps. She was watching the Englishman get into the back seat of the staff car; the door being held open for him by the colonel's driver. Hammond bent to speak quietly with the girl.
"I told them to take you to the Savoy. If they don't, you let me know."
Terry smiled at him. "Thank you, Colonel. I have one request though. Let's not do this again anytime soon?"
"Miss Garrison, I will most certainly drink to that."
Terry bounded up the steps and back into the house as the staff car pulled away. She looked hard at all of the men standing somewhat self-consciously. "The Savoy, Gentlemen."
"I don't think we can get reservations tonight," said Craig dubiously.
"No," agreed Terry. "Tonight, you are taking me out to eat in Brandonshire. And when we get back, you . . ." she looked at the cons, "will get the crate of dirty dishes in from behind the bush next to the back door and you will wash them." She started up the stairs and paused, looking back. "Casino, Goniff, before you wash up you might want to get fresh towels and face cloths. I don't think you will want to wash with the ones hanging on the towel bars in your bathrooms." She took a couple steps, paused and turned back again. "Oh, and your reading material is under your mattresses."
"Blimey," muttered a red faced Goniff.
The safecracker and the pickpocket exchanged worried looks. Chief chuckled quietly to himself. Craig looked at Actor and rolled his eyes. He got a crooked grin back from the con man.