Authors: Mark Latham
The Lazarus Gate
Print edition ISBN: 9781783296804
E-book ISBN: 9781783296811
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: September 2015
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Names, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead (except for satirical purposes), is entirely coincidental.
© 2015 by Mark A. Latham
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 written permission 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 being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
To Alison, for ensuring every day that I never grow up.
13th January 1890, 6.00 a.m.
he sound of the explosion had barely stopped ringing in the sergeant’s ears when he snatched a glimpse of the thin man once again, vanishing around the corner. Somewhere nearby, three harsh trills of a police whistle sounded and, shaking his head to clear his senses, Sergeant Clegg snatched up his hat and steeled himself to join the pursuit.
Moments ago, Clegg had been in a daze, dabbing at his bleeding forehead whilst slumped against the portico of a coffee house. Now he was able to take stock of the situation, and was relieved that few people had been injured in the blast. It was early morning, and but for a few street traders laying out their stalls, street sweepers, and some eager clerks trying to get ahead of the day’s work, it seemed that casualties would be limited. The same could not be said of his detail; he had counted three officers unconscious, and a further two groaning in agony by the side of the road. Smoke drifted across the street, and charred debris was spilled over the cobbles like coal from a scuttle. Shopfronts were splintered and smashed.
Clegg’s shift had been long and wearying, and by rights it should have come to an end over an hour ago. But police work had a way of pressing a man beyond his limits, and Clegg now found himself pursuing these so-called anarchists through the streets of the West End. He was only dimly aware of the chaos unfurling around him, and of his colleagues dashing after him along Bond Street.
Constable Harris’s whistle snapped Clegg from his reverie, and he squinted to clear his vision, in time to see the stocky policeman charging along the road, waving and whistling as he went, heading towards the junction of Oxford Street. Clegg shouted to any officers who were uninjured to follow him, and staggered off in pursuit. Had Harris seen the anarchists? If he had, there’d be hell to pay.
There were four of them now, with Harris in the lead. Constables Gleghorn and Regis seemed only lightly injured, and had picked themselves up after hearing the commotion. The sergeant’s mind raced. Why would dynamiters target a near-empty street? What could be the point?
The sky overhead was a deep indigo, and the gaslights still burned, though they struggled to penetrate the remnants of last night’s particular and the palls of grey smoke from the explosion. This didn’t make any sense. Clegg pushed these thoughts aside, and reached deep inside himself for reserves of energy, redoubling his efforts to catch up with Constable Harris and whomever he was chasing. The policemen had no sooner reached the end of the road when the sound of clattering hooves filled the air, and a Black Maria approached them at speed from the right, skittering out of a side-street that led to Hanover Square. The two horses pulling it sweated and snorted, their exertions clear to see. The police coach slowed to turn onto New Bond Street and join the chase, and the man seated next to the driver shouted instructions to Clegg. It was the detective from Special Branch, the man in black who had sent them on this assignment just hours ago. Clegg had no idea how the man had requisitioned a police coach so quickly, but he was glad to see reinforcements regardless.
‘That’s it man, keep going!’ shouted the detective, in his Irish lilt. ‘We almost have them.’
Clegg urged his legs to keep pace with the Maria, but the events of the day were starting to take their toll on the stout sergeant. His lungs felt raw and his chest pounded. The heavy uniform, cape and helmet felt more and more like a suit of armour.
When Clegg rounded the bend at the end of New Bond Street, the rising sun glared at him along the wide open thoroughfare of Oxford Street. His vision blurred, and his fatigue got the better of him. He pulled up sharply and squinted at the road ahead. Gleghorn and Regis overtook him, their youthful enthusiasm and desire for justice outweighing their bodies’ requirements for rest. Sergeant Clegg took a deep breath, and pushed onwards, albeit at a slow jog. He could hear one of his men calling back to him, ‘Come on, Sarge. There’s three of ’em. We’ve got the bastards!’
The Black Maria was up ahead, stationary now, and there were more policemen at the scene. He could hear shouts and cries, and then a gunshot rang out into the early morning air. The few people who had seen fit to walk along Oxford Street at this hour scattered away from the commotion, and Clegg forgot about his tired legs and dry throat and raced towards the fight. Another gunshot rang out. Clegg reached the Maria, and was just about to rush into the fray when a dazzling flash of light saturated the area, accompanied by a high-pitched humming noise. No sooner had Clegg checked his run than Harris flew past him, like a rag doll, landing in a heap ten feet away on the cobbled stones. The horses at the front of the Black Maria whinnied and reared, and broke free of their driver’s control. They bolted, taking the police coach with them, and headed back along Oxford Street as fast as they could go. Clegg was scared now. He took one look at the burly lad on the ground, clenched his teeth, and turned to face the danger. The coach was gone and with it his only cover, but he was still aware of the constables around him, and of the Special Branch man. Ahead of him was the Marble Arch, and the remaining policemen were fanning out, brandishing their truncheons menacingly, whilst the detective pointed a stubby pistol towards the archway. Clegg took his place in the line, in time to see the thin man—the man they’d pursued all over the West End this morning—waving a gun in the direction of his colleagues with menace. The leg of a second fugitive disappeared through the arch, and Sergeant Clegg squinted in puzzlement for an instant. Hadn’t the leg of the running anarchist been rather slender? Had he really seen the flash of lace at the stockinged ankle? A woman! Clegg pushed such thoughts aside, for surely his mind was playing tricks on him. In any case there was no way out for them now. The sadistic buggers would take cover in the archway, behind those walls of thick white marble, but they’d have to give it up eventually. They were in the middle of an exposed stone square—a courtyard surrounded by wide roads—and the archway was gated secure. This was their last stand.
There was another flash of light, although not as bright as before, and definitely coming from the arch this time. The thin man winked at them, turned his back and darted into the archway. But the detective had other ideas, and fired his gun again, this time finding his mark. The thin man dropped to the ground, the back of his skull a bloody mess.
‘Come on!’ shouted the detective, and darted towards the arch. The other officers had surrounded the edifice, but Clegg was afraid—the fugitives were surely armed.
‘Hold on, sir!’ Clegg cried, and dashed forwards, hoping to reach his superior before he got himself killed. But he need not have worried. When Clegg and the detective reached the archway, there was but one anarchist, the thin man, and he was dead where he’d been shot. Clegg looked around in every direction, and then stared through the archway. On the other side was Regis, looking dumbfounded. There had been three anarchists, he was sure. So where were they?
‘Don’t just stand there gawping, Sergeant,’ the Irish detective snapped. ‘Search the body.’
Clegg stepped forward to do as he had been instructed. The thin man was sprawled out on the ground in the shadow of the arch, his brains splattered on the cobbles. The sergeant was about to turn the body over, when he noticed something that made him pause. The anarchist had fallen inside the arch, his right hand outstretched towards the bronze gates of the monument. But there was no sign of the gun that he had been wielding just moments ago. In fact, his right hand was mutilated—the fingers seemingly sliced off cleanly, with no trace of blood. Clegg looked around, confused, and saw the detective looming over him. Clegg didn’t need to see his shadowed expression to know that it was as grim as always.
‘Search his body,’ the man in black repeated.
‘But, sir…’ Clegg tailed off. He couldn’t understand what had just happened; any of it.
Then he noticed that high-pitched humming noise was starting again, only this time it came from the corpse, and was getting louder. The Special Branch man was looking at his pocketwatch.
‘Do it now, man!’ he hissed at Clegg. ‘We don’t have much time.’
The manacles around his wrists and ankles curbed his progress, but nothing could stop John Hardwick from walking out of this hellhole. His matted hair was dirty and lice-ridden, and his beard scratched his chest as his head hung low from fatigue, yet his eyes were cold, determined. He felt the rifle butt push against his back once more, a sign that his captor was tired of his woefully slow shuffling.
‘Myan myan lou!’
one of the Burmese guards barked.
John picked up the pace as best he could. His feet were bare, filthy and bleeding. His prison garb was stained and tattered, and he felt so weak it was painful to walk. When he had first emerged from his confinement, he had felt like Jeremiah released, and probably looked not unlike the prophet either. The warm air felt sweeter than anything he had ever known, though he had to squint even at the moonlight, as his eyes were so unaccustomed to light. How long had he been kept in that squalid cell? He wagered months, but it was hard to tell. This was the first time for as long as he could remember he had seen a guard and not been either beaten or force-fed opium, and his thoughts were confused. He tried to clear his head and take stock of his situation, his military training and experience coming back to him now that he was out of that pit of a cell.