The Amateur Cracksman
The Last Laugh is based loosely on the story of the same name which first appeared in The Black Mask; it is perhaps the darkest story in the series. It starts off light-heartedly enough with Raffles and Bunny attending a reception given by the Italian Ambassador, Count Corbucci, a man notorious for his womanising behaviour. Raffles dislikes Count Corbucci and is only present at the reception because of the accompanying display of jewels from the House of Savoy which had featured prominently in the Illustrated London Gazette. With foresight Raffles has had a copy made of a magnificent brooch which he intends stealing. Inspector Mackenzie is present with some of his men which for Raffles only adds to the thrill of the theft, but he and Bunny are very nearly caught on this occasion. Faustina, a beautiful young woman who works as a maid at the Italian Embassy spots Raffles exchanging his imitation brooch for the real one and it is only through a piece of quick thinking on her part which saves Raffles from the clutches of Inspector Mackenzie. Raffles realises that Faustina lives in mortal fear of Count Corbucci, who is sexually harrassing her, and when she asks for help he decides that he will kidnap Faustina from the Embassy and with the proceeds of the brooch provide her with a ticket to America and a dowry for the future. He is in love with Faustina by this time and declares to Bunny that he would willingly die for her.
All goes well with the rescue of Faustina from the Embassy, and Bunny escorts her to the nearest ship bound for America. Raffles, meanwhile, is determined that Count Corbucci should be made to pay for his bullying behaviour and in the dead of night he lies in wait in Faustina's room at the Embassy while Count Corbucci approaches with evil designs on Faustina's virtue. Raffles captures him and handcuffs him to Faustina's bed, leaving him to be discovered in this humiliating situation by the Italian staff the following morning.
Raffles' behaviour is exceptionally naive throughout this episode. He does not at first realise that Count Corbucci is the head of the Camorra, the dreaded Italian criminal organisation, but when he does realise this he takes some steps to protect himself but underestimates his opponents appallingly. Thus it is not long before he is in Count Corbucci's hands and completely at the mercy of the Camorra, who easily trap him with promises of further retribution against Count Corbucci. He is strung up in front of a booby-trapped gun timed to shoot him through the heart in twelve hours' time.
It is Bunny who, enlisting Inspector Mackenzie's assistance, comes to Raffles' aid. Raffles had left a coded note by the telephone, a pnemonic whose meaning only he understands, and had gone recklessly off into the night with one of Corbucci's treacherous men. Because of their shared education at the same school Bunny is able to work out the meaning of the coded note, and with Inspector Mackenzie rescues Raffles with only minutes to spare. Count Corbucci's body is found outside the room where Raffles is being held. He had drunk from a poisoned flask of brandy which Raffles had had the foresight to take with him. It is a very chastened Raffles who murmurs to Bunny to 'not cut it so fine next time, old chap'.
Bunny really comes into his own in this episode. It is the first time that he acts independently of Raffles and he shows himself to be equally as courageous as his friend. In contrast, Raffles is very nearly undone by his own careless pride and arrogance and, as we shall see, this is not the last time that Bunny rescues Raffles from the consequences of a mishandled and bungled burglary.
(..../ to be continued)
Albany - situated between Sackville and Old Bond Streets - Raffles' residence in Central London
The Albany, Piccadilly, next to the Royal Academy (and opposite Fortnum and Mason's). Originally built 1770-74 to the design of Sir William Chambers for the 1st Viscount Melbourne.
The house was converted into chambers for bachelors in 1802, by Henry Holland. Past residents include Lord Brougham, Charles Wyndham, Palmerston (Henry John Temple), Sir Robert Smirke, Byron, William E. Gladstone, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Thomas Babbington Macaulay, Aldous Huxley, the fictional Raffles, and others. Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee.
Map of London's West End Showing Raffles' Residence at the Albany (A) and Bunny's Residence in Mount Street (B)