Read India Black Online

Authors: Carol K. Carr

Tags: #London (England) - History - 1800-1950, #England, #Brothels - England - London, #Mystery & Detective, #Brothels, #General, #london, #International Relations, #Fiction, #Spy stories

India Black (22 page)

BOOK: India Black
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For the first time since I’d met him, French looked slightly discomfited. “Unavoidably detained elsewhere,” he muttered. Well, if it had been Smith and Jones who had been tailing Ivanov, I could easily understand how the fellow had evaded them. Even Vincent had outwitted those two.
“We assume Ivanov returned to the Russian embassy with the case, and we’ve watchers posted at all the entrances. If he leaves the embassy, we’ll know it within minutes,” said French. “As a precaution, we’ve also stationed men at all the Channel ports nearest London, and in the train stations near the embassy.”
“So we wait?” I asked.

We
wait,” said Endicott firmly. “There is no need for you to remain here. Your services, such as they were, are no longer required.”
“Yes, my dear, Mr. Endicott is right,” said Dizzy, not unkindly. “You should return to your, er, establishment. You’ve done your duty by us, and I shall be eternally grateful for the assistance you’ve rendered.”
I glanced at French, but he studiously ignored me, puffing his cheroot at the window, his hands in his pockets.
I was about to hang up my gloves and skulk back to Lotus House, finally beaten by French’s indifference, when a hoarse shout was heard down the hallway. The sounds of light footsteps could be heard running rapidly toward the prime minister’s office, followed distantly by what appeared to be two galloping dray horses. I recognized the first set of footsteps, having heard them innumerable times in the vicinity of Lotus House, usually in full flight from some outraged shopkeeper or irate peeler. The others hadn’t had my experience. French sprang for his walking stick and drew out that ridiculously slender blade, while Endicott jumped to his feet, brandishing a poker from the fireplace. Like any wise politician in the face of public disfavor, Dizzy had gone to ground beneath the desk.
The door burst open and Vincent (as I expected) careered into the room, with Smith and Jones (naturally, no one else could create such a commotion without effecting any results) lumbering after him. Vincent scanned the room quickly, then darted toward French and ducked in behind him. The two guards (if that’s not being unduly generous about their capabilities) skidded to a halt and glowered at Vincent, whose ugly mug could be seen smirking from behind French. The boy certainly knew how to make an entrance.
“Come here, you,” growled one of the brutes.
Endicott sighed in exasperation. “How does this filthy guttersnipe manage to get past you two?”
French had his arm around Vincent’s shoulder (something he’d regret later, when he found the lice) and was fending off Smith and Jones with his free hand. “Settle down, lads. The boy poses no harm to anyone.”
“I’ll pose some harm to him,” Smith said. “He’ll get a beating he won’t soon forget.”
“That’s hardly necessary,” said French, who suddenly noticed that he had made contact with Vincent. He rapidly removed his arm from the boy’s shoulder and surreptitiously brushed his sleeve.
Smith and Jones subsided, glowering. Dizzy scrambled out from under the desk, contriving to appear as though he’d been searching for a lost pen, and settled into his seat, smoothing his thin curls.
“What are you doing here, Vincent?” asked French. He took a couple of steps upwind, as Vincent’s clothes had begun to steam in the heat from the fire, and the odor of the London streets had begun to permeate the room.
“I was at that ’otel and saw that Russian bloke take the case away from you and India.”
So Vincent had been the shadow in the doorway that had slipped away in pursuit of Ivanov.
“I followed ’im for ever so long. Lord, it was cold out there. My feet feel like blocks o’ ice.”
“Yes, yes,” said French. “The weather’s dreadfully inclement tonight. Now tell me, where did Ivanov go?”
“To Covent Garden,” said Vincent. “To the op’ra.”
I’d thought French a relaxed individual in the execution of his duties, but a visit to hear Rossini while carrying a portfolio full of British military secrets seemed cool indeed.
Vincent drew a breath and looked longingly at the bottles on the sideboard. “I’ve been runnin’ a long way. I’m fair parched, I am. Any chance I could get a glass o’ beer to wet me whistle?”
I thought French might balk at this corruption of Vincent’s youth, but he went silently to the sideboard, opened a bottle of ale and brought it to Vincent. Vincent tilted up the bottle and drained it in one go, belched violently, nodded his thanks to French and continued.
“The Russian went into the lobby and talked to one of them ushers there. ’E wrote out a note and give the usher some money and away went the usher while the Russian bloke cooled his ’eels for a few minutes. Then that there Use-a-Paw feller come down the stairs and the two of them jabbered together for a long time. Then Use-a-Paw went back to listen to the screechin’ and caterwalin’ and that Ivanov bloke went out and caught a cab back to the embassy. ’E was inside about ’alf an hour or so, and then ’e come out with a woman and they got in a coach driven by one of them fierce lookin’ fellers they got guardin’ the place, and off they went.”
“Did Ivanov open the case for Yusopov?” asked French. “Did he show him any papers from the case?”
“No,” said Vincent. “They had a mighty palaver, and then Use-a-Paw musta told the other fellow to get on with it ’cause that’s when ’e lit out o’ there and ’eaded for the embassy.”
“And Ivanov and the woman had the case with them when they left the embassy?” Endicott demanded.
“S’right,” said Vincent.
“Do you have any idea which direction they’re headed?” asked French. He was as eager as a hound on the scent, eyes gleaming with anticipation. I could tell he was anxious to get stuck into that bastard Ivanov.
“I followed ’em as far as Greenwich. I’d say they’re ’eadin’ for Dover.”
“Greenwich!” Dizzy exclaimed. “However did you manage to keep up with them for such a distance? And in this weather?”
Vincent’s thin chest puffed like a bantam rooster’s. “’Opped on the back of the coach. They never knew I was there. I jumped off when they got near Greenwich. I figured they was on their way to the coast. I didn’t fancy spendin’ the night out in the open. ’Course,” he added hastily (never missing the chance to put himself in the good graces of those who could do favors for him), “I ’ad to ’urry back here to tell you wot ’ad ’appened. You see, none of those coves you left at the embassy to watch for that Russian fellow ’ad seen a thing. They was ’uddled in the nearest doorway, keepin’ out of the snow.”
“Damn and blast,” said Endicott. “Heads will roll over this.”
“You ran all the way here from Greenwich?” French asked. He went to the sideboard, poured a jot of whisky into a glass and handed it to Vincent. “Well done.”
“Thank’ee, guv.” The whisky disappeared in a trice.
“Any idea what time you left Ivanov and the woman in Greenwich?”
“Must ’ave been ’leven or so. I thought I ’eard church bells.”
French extracted his watch from his pocket. “Nearly one o’clock. Smith, telegraph our man in Dover to be on the lookout, and summon my carriage. I’ll be on my way as soon as it arrives. Endicott?”
Endicott quaffed the last of his brandy. “Not this time, French. I’ll let this be your show tonight. I need to alert Lord Derby to these latest developments. You’ll let me know when you have the case?”
That was optimistic thinking. So far, the score stood at Russia-two, Britain-nil.
French was already flying out the door, with Dizzy shouting best wishes and good hunting to him and Vincent and I scrambling after him.
“I’m going with you, French,” I panted as we clattered down the stairs.
“You’re not,” he huffed back. “And neither are you, Vincent.”
“Oi, I found ’em for you. Why can’t I be there when you cut that Russian’s ’ead off?”
“Yes, why not?” I gasped as we skidded down the hallway.
French came to an abrupt halt, and since Vincent and I had been hot on his heels, this action of course resulted in the two of us piling into French like a Prussian express. Not for the first time that night, I found myself patting French’s cheek and searching for signs of consciousness.
“Bloody hell.”
Ah, he was alive.
“I don’t know who’s the bigger threat: you or Ivanov,” he said, sitting up and clutching his walking stick.
“Look, I’ve no time to waste arguing with you two. India, you can go, if only because you might be of some use in dealing with the woman, who I presume must be Oksana or Arabella or whatever she’s calling herself. Vincent, you must go to Lotus House and wait for us there. You’ve done a damned-fine job tonight, better than any of those so-called agents I have working for me, but this could be potentially dangerous. I can’t ask you to place your life in jeopardy.”
I guess he didn’t have any qualms in asking me.
“Now, guv, that ain’t fair,” wailed Vincent. “I can ’andle meself. I’ve duked it out with cutthroats before. I ain’t scared.”
“I don’t doubt your courage, Vincent. But India is a grown woman, and you, however experienced you think you may be, have not yet reached the age of majority. Now be a good lad, and do what I ask you. I’ll be back to tell you how it ends.”
His face softened as he saw Vincent’s downcast expression. He reached out a hand to ruffle the boy’s hair, thought better of it, and quickly thrust it into his pocket instead, pulling out a handful of coins.
“I want you to do something for me, Vincent. Tomorrow morning, I want you to go to the nearest bath house and give yourself a good wash. Then buy some new clothes and a proper coat and cap for this weather. Have a good meal—the biggest beefsteak you can eat—and a pudding.” French rummaged through his pocket and produced a card. “Then come and see me at this address at ten o’clock in the morning on Friday. I’ll have some work for you to do. All right?”
Reluctantly, Vincent took the card, and (with a great deal less reluctance) the money. I’d have laid odds that French would never see him again, but who am I to educate the world on the ways of man?
“You sure you don’t need me tonight, guv?”
Vincent as supplicant was something I never thought I’d see.
“No, lad. Off you go now. Remember, be there on Friday.”
I felt a pang of sympathy for the boy as he trudged off, which lasted only a moment, as I knew that if the tables had been turned and Vincent selected to go with French, the cheeky sod wouldn’t have given me a second thought.
French watched him go. “Right,” he said, as Vincent disappeared through the great double doors into the night. “My carriage should be here any moment.”
He looked at me intently, his cool grey eyes searching mine.
“Are you sure you want to do this? It will be a long, cold night, and there may be no joy at the end of it. In fact, there might be a great deal of ugliness.”
I smiled. “I’m a whore, French. I’ve seen ugliness.”
“Men killed? Run through with a sword, or shot in the belly, with their entrails spreading over the floor?”
If he thought to scare me into abandoning our quest, he thought wrong.
“Speaking of shooting someone, it seems a sensible man would equip himself with a pistol, rather than that willow branch you call a sword.”
He gave a great shout of laughter. “Can’t frighten you off, India? So be it. Let’s see if we can run that Russian wolf to ground.”
 
 
 
French’s carriage arrived, a smart brougham with tufted seats of butter-soft leather and velvet curtains at the windows. An elegantly attired coachman in a woolen greatcoat and mittens touched his whip to his hat, and French handed me aboard. Inside was a brazier of warm coals for us to rest our feet on and a plethora of warm rugs and furs to keep out the cold. I swaddled myself in them, propped my boots on the brazier and settled in for the long ride. Ivanov and Oksana had a two hour start on us, but the weather would surely have delayed them, for it was blowing hard and had been snowing for hours, and visibility was limited. Of course the weather wouldn’t help our cause either, but at least French had had time to alert his agent at Dover, and perhaps he could arrange a delay in the Russian party’s departure. For surely the object was to get the case out of England and into France as swiftly as possible, where a summary of its contents might be telegraphed to St. Petersburg without arousing the suspicion of an English telegrapher. Given the effort expended by the British government to recover the case, the Russians knew it contained political dynamite, and the most important thing now was to send the information on to the tsar and his generals at the first opportunity.
“We’ve a long night ahead of us, India. It’s nearly eighty miles to Dover. We’ll have to stop frequently to change horses. No animal could be expected to last long under these conditions. We’ll push them as hard as we dare, but I shouldn’t think we can get more than four or five miles from them. Evans, my driver, will need a rest now and then, as well. That’s going to slow us down considerably.”
“Ivanov and Oksana will face the same issue, though. And if they believe they escaped from the embassy unnoticed, they may not be travelling with the urgency that we are.”
“True,” said French.
“Have we any chance of catching them in this weather?”
“We’ll catch them,” he said tersely. “Even if I have to follow Ivanov to Russia, I’ll catch that bloody bastard.”
I didn’t doubt that French meant it; the only question was whether we would get to Ivanov before he’d had a chance to telegraph the dismal facts about Britain’s military readiness to his superiors in Russia.
We crossed the Thames by the Westminster Bridge, the swirling black water dimly visible in the lights from shore. Chunks of ice bobbed along in the rapids, obscured almost immediately by the wind-whipped snow and the darkness. I looked at the dismal scene and my heart sank; I feared we were on a fool’s errand. Thereafter, there wasn’t much to do but to draw the velvet curtains against the cold and huddle beneath the traveling rugs in a vain attempt to keep warm.
BOOK: India Black
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