Authors: Jillian Stone
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Suspense, #Historical, #Fiction
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A most wonderful sister who deserves an exclamation point.
Writing a novel is often a lonely business, but the process has been made into a pleasure with my encouraging and brilliant new editor, Kate Dresser. I am so grateful to have her. And to everyone in marketing and publicity, you all did such an amazing job on my debut release. I can’t let this acknowledgment go to print without a word about my agent, Richard Curtis, who mentors when I require mentoring and who makes me laugh when I very much need to laugh.
I am also grateful to a talented group of writers who also happen to be my friends. A special thank-you to Cheryl O’Donovan for your writer’s eye and kind encouragement. To the wonderful Brenna Aubrey, Kristen Koster, and Tessa Dare, who made my debut a memorable one. And my lovely Chimes ladies: Mary Ambra, Margaret Taylor, Pamela Scheibe, and Stephanee Ryle. Lastly, a nod to the awesome writers and bloggers at Get Lost in a Story: Angi Morgan, Cat Schield, Heather
Snow, Maureen McGowan, and Simone St. James. What a year we’re having, ladies!
As is the case with some of the more
historically advanced elements
in The Gentlemen of Scotland Yard series, I have taken off into occasional flights of historical fantasy. What can I say? These intrepid detectives need their gadgets.
Fitzrovia, London, 1887
ou’ve got bollocks the size of St. Paul’s dome to work this lane.”
Raphael Lewis leaned against the lamppost and struck a match. “Kiss my arse, Flynn.” He lit the posh kind of cigarette fancied by male prostitutes.
“Nah, not me, but one of the mollies wouldn’t mind.” Flynn Rhys stepped out of the shadows.
If there was a seamier side to working for Scotland Yard, this was it. Rafe blew out the match. “Bloody entrapment if you ask me.” The stink of sulfur hung in the air. He and Flynn had taken up a post yards from 35 Cleveland Street, the most exclusive molly-house in town. There had been an embarrassing spate of blackmail of late, all of it involving men posted to high-level government work.
Their assignment was to apprehend a few top-level peers or Whitehall officials. Randy toffs with a taste for younger men. Simple enough. Arrest the molly chasers,
toss them in the lockup, put a scare in them. Word would soon get out.
He opened a small paper sack, popped a butterscotch in his mouth, and passed the sweets over. “Care for a taste, Mr. Rhys?”
Flynn chewed on a toffee. “Don’t tempt me to bugger you, Mr. Lewis.”
Rafe exhaled a trail of smoke into the night. The summer heat lingered in the tepid darkness. “Spiffing job, by the way. You cuffed that last bloke smooth as silk.”
A well-appointed carriage, a clarence, rounded the corner and slowed. “Shall we try for another?” Flynn gave a wink and moved off into the alley known to familiars as Shag Row.
The driver pulled beyond the streetlamp and stopped. Rafe stuffed the sweets in his pocket, pushed off the post, and sauntered over. Some frequenters preferred a boff in the close confines of their coach. Rafe approached the door, catching a glimpse of a wraith in motion as Flynn quietly rounded the rear of the vehicle.
The carriage window slid open.
“Such manly grace, is this strange flower for rent?”
Rafe recognized his cue.
“Welcome to my arms, thou best of men.”
He squinted at the dark silhouette of a man wearing a bowler. The genteel nobs often used the homoerotic verse of the poets to identify one another.
A slow curve edged a generous mouth—all he could see of what appeared to be a handsome enough gent. The man’s whispered breath smelled of good tobacco and aged whiskey.
“Such prodigious beauty is—”
Rafe tipped his chin to feign a smile while he racked his brain for a line of sonnet.
“—the very heart of vice and sweet sins. But not for free.”
“Pay you two and eight, and not a farthing more.” The gentlemen leaned into the light from the coach lantern.
Rafe placed an elbow on the open window. “If I had a beauty like yours at home, friend, I’d let the wifey polish the knob.”
“Get in, Rafe.”
He squeezed into the seat beside the number two Yard man himself, Chief Detective Inspector Zeno Kennedy. The man had recently made quite a name for himself, breaking up a dangerous ring of Fenian dynamiters.
The senior detective grinned. “How goes the sweep?”
Rafe shrugged. “Caught a very big fish.”
“Prince Eddy’s friend. Had to cut him loose.”
Zeno sucked air between his teeth. “Melville will hear about that one. Where’s Flynn?”
“Evening, sir.” His partner in trickery appeared at the door.
“Pop inside, then.” Flynn climbed in and pulled down the folding seat. Zeno rapped on the roof and they lurched off.
Zeno shook his head. “So you two jollied up to Lord Somerset. Not bad for a couple of Night Jacks.”
“I prefer Agent Provocateur.” Rafe studied Zeno. He understood the enigmatic Yard man better than anyone else with a desk at 4 Whitehall Place, with the possible
exception of William Melville, director of Special Branch.
A shaft of pale gaslight illuminated Zeno’s jawline, enough for Rafe to make out a twitch. Never one for small talk, Zeno got straight to it. “Quite a grisly scene in the House of Commons. Tried to hold the press off.” Kennedy handed over a folded news sheet. “Unsuccessfully.”
Rafe opened up the
and squinted at the headline.
MURDERED MP FOUND IN COMMONS CHAMBER
He skimmed the article. “Our victim’s name is William Patterson Hudson. A caretaker found the poor bloke around teatime,” he summarized. “Seems the perpetrator placed the remains, neat as you please, on his regular bench in the House of Commons chamber.”
“In broad daylight?” Flynn snorted. “Bloody bold for a murderer.”
Rafe dipped his head as the carriage turned onto Millbank. Westminster Palace loomed straight ahead. “So what do we know about Hudson personally?”
Zeno grimaced. “Cursory at the moment. Made his fortune in banking and railway investments.” The carriage slowed and the senior-ranked detective released the latch. Exiting the coach, he led them through the imposing limestone facade of the Members’ Entrance of Parliament. “Hudson won his seat in government four
years ago. There’s a residence in town and an estate in Canterbury.”
Inside the palace, Zeno ushered them past guards at the rubble arch and up the stairs to a bench seat in the third tier of the chamber. Lab technicians, some with magnifying glasses, combed the aisles for evidence.
Rafe scanned rows of green leather benches. Nothing but empty seats. “Where’s the body?”
Zeno stepped to one side so both detectives could get a good look. As a matter of course, corpses were an integral part of the job, but this one set both Rafe and Flynn back on their heels.
On a seat midway down the aisle, a disembodied head had been placed neatly atop two feet soaked in blood. The sight was at once comical and disturbing, as if the head grew directly out of a pair of fashionable, narrow-toed shoes.
Rafe swept his jacket back, placing his hands on his hips. “Nicely ghoulish.”
Flynn nodded. “Any idea who might want him done for?”
Zeno shook his head. “A man of his wealth and power is bound to have enemies.” He settled onto a step just above Rafe and Flynn.
The lab man in charge held up an evidence case. “All right if we move the remains, Mr. Kennedy?”
Zeno raised a brow and turned to Rafe and Flynn. “Seen enough?”
Rafe settled onto his haunches. “Let’s have a look at the cuts.” The evidence collector lifted the bloodless head.
Rafe removed a pencil stub from his inside pocket to pull back the gentleman’s hose. The wounds on both the ankles and the neck were clean, pressed together, as if they were done by a heavy blade or machinery. “Do we know if Hudson was a large man—tall in stature?” After receiving a shrug and a few blank looks, Rafe turned to the lab man. “Is there some way to estimate the victim’s height?”
The technician placed the head into a plain sackcloth evidence bag, then unfolded a metal pocket ruler. He measured one of the shoes. “Tall, sir. My guess would be something over six feet.”
Rafe nodded. “And the gauge of the railway tracks in Kent?”
Zeno stared at Rafe, a glint in his eye. “Does anyone here know railroad gauges?”
Another lab assistant poked his head up from the aisle below. “Different rail lines have different track gauges, no standard as yet, Mr. Kennedy.” The young man took off his cap and scratched his head. “Something between four feet nine inches and a bit over five feet, if I remember right.”