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Authors: Shane Peacock

Vanishing Girl

BOOK: Vanishing Girl
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To Sophie, my remarkable girl,
who will never vanish
.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks again to editor Kathryn Cole and publisher Kathy Lowinger of Tundra Books, two invaluable allies as we together make our way through this series. I am also grateful to The National Railway Museum in York, UK, whose employees were patient with me as I pestered them with endless questions about 1860s and ’70s British trains and how one might board them, jump from them, climb out their roofs, run up and down their aisles, all while said locomotives moved at top speed – I hope they forgive the liberties I took in the name of art and adventure. The Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, UK was also helpful as were the amazing London Walking Tours, several of which I have taken and benefited from. And lastly to my family – three girls and a boy, who are constantly subjected to my agonies of creation and are the most patient with me of all.

PREFACE

T
he wind was blowing down the hill and over the marshy field on the night they left for London. Windows were rattling, threatening to shatter. But the man with the scar and the man with the limp smiled as they rode south. They had found a girl and a victim, too. They had found a frightening place. This would be the perfect crime; make her vanish again and again, and make him vanish, too. They would all be rich beyond their imaginations. The captain’s plan was working. No one could stop them; no one would track them; no one would figure this out
.

Sherlock Holmes was asleep in the city by that hour, dreaming of a life in which he, and he alone, was the undisputed hero
.

PART ONE
ABDUCTION

“A flush of colour sprang to Holmes’s pale cheeks, and he bowed to us like the master dramatist who receives the homage of his audience. It was at such moments that for an instant he ceased to be a reasoning machine, and betrayed his human love for admiration and applause.”

– Dr. Watson in
The Adventure of the Six Napoleons

I
rene Doyle gasps. She is standing in the cavernous dining hall of the Ratcliff Workhouse in Stepney in the East End of London, staring at a little boy. A few candles dimly light the room. He is in bare feet, dressed in a ragged gray uniform, his red-blond hair disheveled; every nail on every toe is black. All the other urchins, lined up against a wall, are mesmerized by the beautiful young visitor whose lavender dress looks to them like something from a fairy tale. But the thin little lad stares straight down.

“Paul?” Irene blurts out.

The boy looks up.

“Why, Miss Doyle, ‘e never responds to ‘is Christian name!” exclaims the fat beadle with the fleshy face. “You must ‘ave a ‘old on ‘im.”

She puts her hand to her mouth.

“His name is
Paul
?”

“Yes, Miss, of course, just as you said, though it confounds me to know ‘ow you knew such a thing.”

“I didn’t.”

“You didn’t? But –”

“Why does he stare like that? Why are his eyes so red? Has he been crying?”

“No, Miss, ‘e ‘as a disease.”

“An infection?”

“Yes, Miss, a bad un. Seems to be getting worse, much worse.”

“My father will help him.”

“Can’t be done, Miss. We ‘ave lots of lads with debilitations; eyes and limbs and what-’ave-you, their little machines not workin’ proper. This one ‘as a certain ‘aunted look about ‘im, ‘e does, and it draws attention when philanthropic-like folks come a-visitin’. We’ve ‘ad a wealthy one or two in ‘ere, Miss, like you and Mr. Doyle, ‘o’ve wanted to ‘elp this little scruff. But no fancy doctor they’ve sent ‘im to can solve ‘is problem. It don’t seem fixable. ‘e’s goin’ blind, poor rat.”

Irene reaches out and puts one of her gloved hands against the lad’s cheek. “Boys are precious.”

For many years she has similarly caressed the image in a painting that sits against a wall in a closet in her father’s house … the image of her brother. The boy had been Andrew Doyle’s heir, his little man, and his death had broken the good man’s heart. Her brother’s life, his very existence, is something they never talk about with anyone. His name hasn’t been spoken in their home since the day he died.

Mr. Doyle had been inconsolable after his loss. Nothing could make him smile. Then his step lightened when Irene’s mother was with child again the following
year. But the baby was a girl, and his wife, after a long labor, did not survive. It was then that he turned to philanthropy, to helping others. All he had left was Irene who, he insisted, was enough. He taught her himself, molded her to be as independent as a boy. But he never forgot his son … his little Paul.

“I will find a way,” says Irene. “There must be people we know who can help. This little boy will
not
go blind.”

The following day, Andrew Doyle stands in front of tiny Paul at the workhouse, fighting back tears, unable to speak. His boy,
his
Paul, the only son he would ever have, has come back to life in the shape of a poor little waif in an East End workhouse: bone-thin, green-skinned, and cloudy-eyed. It has always been Andrew C. Doyle’s policy not to adopt any of the thousands of children he aids through his organizations every year. There are simply too many: he cannot play favorites. He just tries to help. But he is sorely tested on this day. In fact, he has to turn away. The boy before him is five years old, the very age his son will always be.

“If he loses his sight … he will surely die,” Doyle murmurs to Irene as they leave the workhouse. “I know someone who can have him cured. If anyone in England can, then it is he. We will rescue this child from darkness, or I am not worth my word.”

But the very next day, a stunning incident in central London renders the boy’s savior helpless.

BOOK: Vanishing Girl
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