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Authors: Sam Christer

The House Of Smoke

BOOK: The House Of Smoke
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Also by Sam Christer

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The House of Smoke
SAM CHRISTER
Copyright

First published in Great Britain in 2015 by Sphere

Copyright © Sam Christer 2016

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

ISBN 978-1-4055-2160-4

Sphere

An imprint of

Little, Brown Book Group

Carmelite House

50 Victoria Embankment

London EC4Y 0DZ

An Hachette UK Company

www.hachette.co.uk

www.littlebrown.co.uk

Contents

Also by Sam Christer

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

PART ONE

17 Days to Execution

17 Days to Execution

16 Days to Execution

15 Days to Execution

15 Days to Execution

15 Days to Execution

Two Weeks to Execution

13 Days to Execution

PART TWO

Twelve Days to Execution

Eleven Days to Execution

Eleven Days to Execution

Nine Days to Execution

Nine Days to Execution

PART THREE

Eight Days to Execution

Eight Days to Execution

Eight Days to Execution

Eight Days to Execution

One Week to Execution

One Week to Execution

One Week to Executionn

Six Days to Execution

Six Days to Execution

PART FOUR

Six Days to Execution

Five Days to Execution

Five days to Execution

Four Days to Execution

PART FIVE

Three Days to Execution

Two Days to Execution

One Day to Execution

Execution Day

The Day After Execution

Acknowledgments

To Myla

May your unfolding life be more joyous than any story ever written.

PART ONE

I sought my death, and found it in my womb,

I looked for life, and saw it was a shade,

I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb

‘Elegy’, Chidiock Tichborne

London, 30 December 1899

New Year’s Eve. A momentous night.

One I spent alone, in the most inauspicious of dwellings. Certainly not where I had envisaged passing the final hours of the nineteenth century, in the thirty-sixth year of my existence.

On the hard bunk in my fetid prison cell, I closed my eyes to escape the horror of what awaited me. But even in the private darkness of my mind I found no respite.
They
were always there. The ones I had killed.

The young. The old. The men. The women. Their faces formed and faded like the snowflakes falling beyond my barred window. Death by knife. Death by garrotte. Death by my bare hands. Death by all manner of means.

Midnight bells rang out across London. I pictured people of all ages kissing and making their New Year wishes. Hoping for brighter tomorrows. Resolving to do better and change their ways.

Such fools. The ways of mankind cannot be changed. Lord knows, I have tried. At best, our habits and instincts may be managed – even controlled for a short period – and our lapses into old ways can be hidden or disguised. But ultimately our true self surfaces. We are exposed for what we really are.

And I am a murderer. The taking of life defines me. Indeed, it is the very thing that drives me to escape this dreadful hovel. For peace of mind, I
must
wreak absolute vengeance on the man who has hurt those closest to me and ruined my life.

You shall be hanged by the neck until dead.

The decree of the Old Bailey judge rang in my ears louder than those midnight bells. Without a flicker of emotion the old bastard set the date and place of my execution. It raised cheers in the public gallery, a smile on the face of the famed detective Sherlock Holmes and a wince of annoyance from his nemesis, James Moriarty.

On the break of dawn on the eighteenth of January in the nineteen hundredth year of our Lord, you shall be taken to the gallows at Newgate Gaol and hanged by the neck until dead
.

Seventeen days from now. Four hundred and eight hours. Barely long enough for me to find a way beyond these walls and shed so much blood I swear it will drip from both the sun and moon.

Please forgive the brutality of my language, my ugly outburst. It is not how I wish you to think of me. Not a side of my personality I wish to show the world.

My name is Simeon Lynch and when I was arrested the police recorded my height at five feet and eleven inches. I weighed twelve stones, nine pounds and three ounces and was said to have ‘a muscular build, dark hair and brown eyes’.

Those who knew me as a child would describe me as ‘rough and working class’. In my twenties, circumstances shaped me into a more educated and professional being. My ways and manner of speech became refined and allowed me to present myself as a kindly, courteous and reliable fellow.

But I will tell you who I truly am.

Despite my best efforts, I am a creature of the dark. I am the menacing silhouette that falls across your path. The unexpected hand on your shoulder. The shiver that turns your blood cold.

I am the manservant of Death.

17 Days to Execution
London, 1 January 1900

Night slipped silently away. Dragged with it the tatters of the old year. Left me to view the virgin dawn of the twentieth century from the squalor of my prison cell.

Newgate Gaol is as duplicitous a building as the offenders it harbours. On first appearance, like me, it seems pleasantly respectable. Demurely dressed in grey granites and adorned with sombre sculptures, it stands a stone’s throw from the sacred dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, much as a murderer might in his best suit join the devoted at Sunday Mass.

But inside, all pretence is dropped. It sheds its mask of culture and shows its true face. One that witnessed executioners boiling severed skulls in kettles of camphor. One that still watches over condemned men as they rot in the Devil’s parlours.

Such has been demand of late for the hangman’s services that an old part of the prison, one even more decayed and stinking than the rest, has been opened in my honour.

I paced the musty, cramped space and ran my fingers over dampened walls. The span of the arched ceiling had been curtailed, suggesting the cell had once been larger. There was little else. A pot to piss in. A small, single window, barred and high off the ground. A heavily locked door.

My examination concluded that, as decrepit as it was, the gaol had all the features of a modern fortress. Its architects had intended no easy escape. But I was not deterred. My life had seldom been easy and I had overcome tougher opposition than stacks of bricks and mortar guarded by fat and lazy men.

I sat on the floor among the dirt and cockroaches so I might glimpse clouds shifting in the grey morning sky. Light and Dark had always been my accomplices in murder, and I hoped would be again. Fewer guards at night meant fewer men to kill. Daylight brought with it fast means of escape – automobiles, trains and ships that could speed you halfway round the world within a week. It was all a far cry from the first time I had spilled blood and had been forced to flee London.

Manchester, autumn 1884

I had not quite reached my twentieth birthday when I crossed that line – the blood-red division between decent souls and those who have taken another’s life. But I was already feral.

The murder I committed had been unplanned. Blood spilt in a split second that stained my soul for eternity. There will be a time to explain it all in detail, to give perspective to my life, but this is not it. For the moment, let us just say that as a result of that terrible act I scurried from the capital, scavenged my way through the Midlands and up to the north-west of England where I stayed out of the grasp of the Metropolitan police.

The journey was a long one. By the time I reached the outskirts of Manchester, England’s trees had yielded their green and were cloaked in copper, gold and pewter. The first winds of autumn blew chill. Winter was coming. Living rough would soon be unbearable.

The big farm that I came upon did not need workers. Nor did the nearby colliery. Nor the factory that made bearings and wheels. Nor the carpenter or blacksmith, or even the undertaker who had a card in his window testifying that he did.

They all had good reason to turn me away. I had seen myself reflected in windows of carriages, houses and shops and I looked uncivilised: tattered, filthy and riddled with lice. If I was to find honest labour then I needed to cut my hair and cleanse both myself and the stinking clothes that made people wince whenever I came near them.

The secluded slopes of a river, fringed with oak and maple, gave me an opportunity to wash. I stripped and lowered myself into the cold water, dipped beneath the bracing surface and rubbed my face and hair. A crop of floating lilies made flannels for my body and I managed to banish some stench from my skin. I climbed out onto the bank and shivered while I rubbed myself dry with grass and leaves.

I was still only half-dressed when a man’s voice turned my head.

‘That’s a right dangerous place to swim.’ He spoke in a thin, nasal northern accent. ‘Looks calm round ’ere but there are undercurrents that will suck you all the way down to the weir. Then you’d be in all manner of trouble.’

The fellow was short and stocky. Five or more years older than me. Bearded, with big brown eyes that belonged more to a bear or dog than a man. He had long, black, curly hair. His hands were clustered with rings and he held the leashes of two slobbering black bulldogs.

‘What’s it to you, whether I’m lost or not, mister?’ I picked up my shirt and put it on.

‘Nowt.’ He allowed the dogs to move nearer to me. ‘Except I’d rather this place wasn’t infested with coppers pulling your body out of the water.’ He walked close enough to allow a dog to sniff at me. ‘My name is Sebastian.’

BOOK: The House Of Smoke
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