Authors: Carol K. Carr
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Historical Fiction
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Carol K. Carr
INDIA BLACK AND THE WIDOW OF WINDSOR
INDIA BLACK AND THE SHADOWS OF ANARCHY
INDIA BLACK AND THE RAJAH’S RUBY
INDIA BLACK IN THE CITY OF LIGHT
INDIA BLACK IN THE CITY OF LIGHT
Carol K. Carr
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China
A Penguin Random House Company
INDIA BLACK IN THE CITY OF LIGHT
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2013 by Carol K. Carr.
India Black and the Gentleman Thief
by Carol K. Carr copyright © 2013 by Carol K. Carr.
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.
and the PRIME CRIME
logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-59491-9
Berkley Prime Crime Special edition / October 2013
© by Conrado/Shutterstock;
© by Josef Hanus/Shutterstock.
Cover design by Jason Gill.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
I reckon most women would jump at the chance to spend a few days in Paris in the company of Major Lachlan French. They would be blithering idiots to do so. I’m ashamed to admit that I was once one of this merry band of imbeciles. I too looked forward with anticipation to a stroll along the Seine in the company of that poncy bastard, who, I grant you, is quite a handsome fellow, what with the wavy dark hair, rugged jaw, and cool grey eyes. I envisioned a cozy afternoon drinking coffee from those tiny French cups and eating pastries filled with chestnut cream and sprinkled with sugared almonds. I imagined French admiring my buxom figure as I tried on pretty dresses in the salons of Paris and treating me to a night of champagne and dancing under the stars. Oh, yes. Mustn’t forget the perfume. My fantasy included the purchase by the handsome French of several bottles of expensive scent for
. In any event, as you shall see, I was dead wrong on all counts. Except for the perfume. I did come away from this affair with a bottle of scent from the House of Guerlain, but only because it was a necessity. I’m not sure I’d have been allowed back on the steamer without the damned stuff.
• • •
Well, I can see that I’m getting ahead of myself and that you need of bit of background to make sense of this whole affair. Let me provide it.
It started innocently enough, with French, agent to the prime minister of Great Britain, sharing a cozy evening with me, India Black, at Lotus House, a high-class brothel owned by yours truly. Of course it’s not unusual for an army officer to consort with an attractive tart (which I am, in the event you hadn’t picked up on that fact), but there’s more to the scenario than meets the eye. If you haven’t read the previous adventures of French and me (and you damned well should, as I’m always in need of retirement funds), then you’ll need to understand how this rather unusual relationship developed. Let me summarize. A government clerk died at Lotus House. A Russian spy stole a document from said clerk. French blackmailed me into helping him retrieve the document. I acquitted myself so well in this venture that I became a government agent myself. Now I ply my trade as madam of Lotus House while doing a bit of spying on the side for Queen Vicky and Benjamin Disraeli, the wily old Israelite who currently occupies the post of prime minister.
I’m fond of French and he of me, and he frequently drops into Lotus House in the evening to drink my liquor and criticize my fencing prowess. I have pointed out to him that as he has been my teacher, my success on the piste, or lack thereof, rests with him. But, as he usually does, he merely ignores my logical arguments and continues to chunter on about the dedans and the dehors. I allow him to do so as the chap is quite the looker. I simply ignore three quarters of what he says and surreptitiously enjoy the Helios delivering the monologue.
Usually, pointing out my faults puts French into a good humour, but I could see that tonight his heart just wasn’t in it. He sipped his drink moodily and drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. For a spy, French can be remarkably transparent when he’s up to something.
“What are you up to?” I asked. I’ve never been one for prolonged surveillance of the enemy camp. I prefer to blow the charge and spur the horses.
“What the devil do you mean?”
up to something. You can be sure that when a bloke bridles at an innocent question, he’s got something to hide. Not that I ask innocent questions.
“Your critique of my balestra lacks its normal vivacity. Therefore, I deduce that you have something on your mind. And as you’ve been sitting there with your knee bouncing up and down like a piston, I further surmise that it is something you don’t want to tell me.”
At this French hauled himself up and gave me that flinty stare that I adore.
“Rubbish,” he said. “You give yourself too much credit, India. You don’t intimidate me in the least.”
“Then I shall try harder in the future. Now, what is on your mind?”
He waved a dismissive hand, but his eyes ricocheted around the room until they came to rest on the fender of the fireplace. He twirled his brandy snifter in his hands and said casually, “I’m off to Paris tomorrow.”
“Paris?” The word came out at a higher pitch than I had intended. I had meant to sound a tad more disinterested and less disappointed. Usually, I’m not a great one for traveling. Alright, I’ve never traveled much at all, if you don’t count various trips into the English countryside on government business and one ill-fated journey across the English Channel to Calais. I hadn’t enjoyed that journey at all, as it had taken place during a terrific squall and I had been the prisoner of some deuced annoying Russian agents. I don’t hold much with foreigners, but I did harbor a secret ambition to visit the City of Light. As to why I wanted to go there, please refer to the previous passage regarding pastries, perfume, dresses, et cetera.
“Why are you going to Paris?”
French squirmed in his seat. “The prime minister has asked me to go.”
“Oh?” I arched an eyebrow and left the word hanging in the air.
“I’ve been given an assignment.”
I sighed. “Do stop fidgeting and spill it, French.”
He sat up straighter and took a fortifying swig of his brandy. “I was reluctant to tell you. I thought you might be angry that you weren’t included in the mission.”
I smiled sweetly. “I don’t even know what you’re doing, so how could I possibly be angry?” That was a smoke screen for dear French, as I was seething at the news that Dizzy had not seen fit to invite me along on this excursion.
“I’m escorting a Russian spy called Alfred Cutliffe to the city.”
“Hang on, French. The Russians have a spy named Alf?”
French smiled at my question. My casual tone was working its magic. He was beginning to relax. Good. He’d be more vulnerable to the ambush I was planning.
“He’s an Englishman,” he said. “A copyist at the India Office. He was assigned to the department charged with formulating policy. I presume you know of the competition between Great Britain and Russia with regard to that colony.” French peered at me in what he presumed was a scholarly manner but reminded me of a condescending owl.
“I’m well aware that the Tsar would like nothing more than to drive us out of India and secure the riches of the subcontinent for himself.”
“It’s a rather high-stakes game of chess we’re playing with the Russians. They’re constantly probing our flanks in the area, trying to gain a foothold from which to pry us loose. And we’re continually pushing back, competing for influence among the various tribes in the region that stand between us and the Russian advance.”
“And what part does Cutliffe play in this drama?”
“He was privy to information regarding our relations with the various rulers of the princely states. Those are the states—”
I broke in, for I despise being told something I already know. Besides, if I let French maunder on at this rate, we’d never get to Paris. Oh, yes, I intended to go. Surely you didn’t think I’d let French wander off to drink wine and eat snails without me?
“I know all about the princely states,” I said. “We pay the rulers a tidy sum to quarter our troops and let us collect the taxes, and when they die, we decide who’ll occupy the throne. Please continue with the saga of Mr. Cutliffe.”
“Well, Cutliffe’s work involved writing out and circulating various memoranda pertaining to British plans with respect to these princely states: how much each ruler gets, and the conditions under which the sums are paid and so forth. But the most important information Cutliffe had access to was the India Office’s strategy with regard to the future of the states. He knew which potential successors we were paying and which chaps we were playing off each other to secure an advantage when the present ruler dies.”
“How very sordid that sounds. Hardly the kind of skullduggery I’d expect the gentlemen at the India Office to get up to.”
French nodded and took a contemplative sip of brandy. “It is rather foul, but then so much of what goes on behind the scenes is ignoble. I suppose the only thing that justifies such behavior is that if we aren’t bribing people and giving away princely thrones, the Russians will. And we all know what sort of life the Indians will have under those Slavic bastards. The natives will be treated worse than the serfs were.”
I held my tongue at this, for as much as I would have liked to point out the hypocrisy of such a statement and that the natives might jolly well prefer to be left alone to manage their own affairs, I was much more interested in securing my passage to France.
“So Cutliffe was sharing our strategy with the Russians?”
“Yes, and making a very fine living from it.”
“As we’ve caught the fellow, I should think the best place for him is an English gaol, complete with rack and thumbscrews. Why the devil are you taking him to France?”
“To exchange him for one of our own agents, Horatio Harkwright. Harkwright is a stout fellow, from one of Lincolnshire’s oldest families. He’s a well-known scholar of Central Asian languages and culture. He speaks a dozen languages, actually. His father is English, but his mother was a Russian and Harkwright speaks that language like a native. We’d sent him off to Samarkand in Central Asia, ostensibly on a field trip for his research. Harkwright was to scout Russian military bases and troop deployments. He was supposed to keep us informed of the activities of those treacherous bastards. Unfortunately, he got caught sketching the disposition of a Russian artillery park on the banks of the Amu Darya River.”
“Why do you have to go to Paris to trade for him? Can’t we just toss Cutliffe on a steamer to Calais and the Russians buy Harkwright a train ticket?”
French shrugged. “Would
trust the Russians to honor their commitment?”
I reflected upon my own experiences with my Russian counterparts. As those experiences included being kidnapped, shot at and nearly drowned at the hands of those ruthless operators, I concluded that French had a point.
“But why you? And more importantly, why not me?” I asked.
“The answer to the first question is that Harkwright requested that I come. He and I were classmates at school.”
“An old Etonian, eh? Just how close were you, French? You know, I hear all sorts of rumours about what goes on at those poncy public schools.”
French bristled at my remark, as I knew he would. Why else would I prick him like that? It’s a bit like poking a kitten with a feather. The results are predictable, but deuced amusing all the same.
“Now see here—”
“I’m only teasing, French. But why are you going alone? Why isn’t Dizzy sending me with you? I’m a dab hand with a revolver and I wield a dangerous sword, even if my balestra
does need work. You need someone to watch your back.”
“I’d be happier if you were going,” said French, and damned if I didn’t think he meant it. He looked a bit worried. “But the Russians insist that only one man accompany Cutliffe. In turn, they will send only one agent with Harkwright.”
“Surely you don’t expect them to do that. There’ll be Russian spies crawling out of the woodwork. You could well end up as a prisoner yourself and be hauled off to Saint Petersburg for some unpleasant conversations.”
French shrugged. “The prime minister has decided to honor the terms of exchange. We can’t leave one of our agents in the hands of the Russians. The navy is on standby to run Cutliffe and me to Calais, and I’ll take him on to Paris by coach.”
“By coach? Wouldn’t the train be faster?”
“Certainly. But it will be much easier for me to escort a handcuffed man to Paris in the privacy of a carriage.”
“Surely Dizzy wouldn’t mind if I tagged along.”
“You cannot go, India. I do appreciate your volunteering to do so, and your concern for my safety is gratifying.”
My concern was the number of pretty French frocks I’d be passing up unless I shoehorned my way onto this junket, but of course French did not need to know this information.
I pouted a bit and proposed that I visit the prime minister myself, at which suggestion French looked horrified, possibly because he knew how susceptible men are to my charms.
“I don’t think that would be appropriate,” he said.
I’ve never cared a fig for doing the appropriate thing. You’d think French would know that by now, but he blathered on about how critical the mission was and how touchy the Russians could be and that in this one instance it would be best for me to accept that I should remain in London while French delivered Cutliffe to his Slavic employers. I finally felt sorry for French (I lie; I actually grew bored with his tedious excuses) and told him I would not clatter off to Dizzy’s office and make a scene. French looked suspicious when I told him that I understood the prime minister’s decision and wouldn’t make any more fuss.
“Don’t look at me like that, French, as if you think I’m lying to you and intend to show up in Paris with my revolver in my purse.”
“That would be just the sort of thing you would do.”
“Well, not in this instance. A girl knows when she’s not wanted. I’ll leave you to escort Alf to France and get on with my work here at Lotus House. I’ve been meaning to change the wallpaper in the drawing room. I’m rather tired of that pattern. Or perhaps I should just paint the room. Pale yellow, perhaps?”
“That would be lovely. Are you sure you’re not going to Paris?”
I gave him my sweetest smile. “No, I am not going to Paris with you.”
He nodded then and gave me a nice smile in return for being so biddable. I do not believe he understood the import of what I had said.
• • •
I waited for French and Alfred Cutliffe on the quay at Calais. Do not think for an instant that I had lied to French. I had not. I had merely told him I would not be going to Paris
I had as much right as any other citizen to make the journey on my own. I would certainly attempt to persuade French to send Harkwright back to England and to stay with me for a few days of vice in Paris, but if French chose duty over pleasure, then I should feel free to explore the City of Light by myself. And of course, while I was having a brief holiday in Paris, I could keep an eye on French and assure myself that those duplicitous chaps from Saint Petersburg kept their side of the bargain. To do this I would need to shadow French and Cutliffe from the moment they stepped foot on French soil.