Loyalty"Returns the female detective to the heart of the hard-boiled tradition." - Sara Paretsky
A Christmas Garland
Lieutenant Victor Narraway walked across the square in the cool evening air. It was mid-December, a couple of weeks before Christmas. At home in England it might already be snowing, but here in India there would not even be a frost. No one had ever seen snow in Cawnpore. Any other year it would be a wonderful season: one of rejoicing, recalling happy memories of the past, and looking forward to the future, perhaps with a little nostalgia for those loved ones who were far away.
But this year of 1857 was different. The fire of mutiny had scorched across the land, touching everything with death.
He came to the outer door of one of the least-damaged parts of the barracks and knocked. Immediately it was opened and he stepped inside. Oil lamps sent a warming yellow light over the battered walls and the few remnants of the once-secure occupation, as they had been before the siege and then its relief. There was little furniture left whole: a bullet-scarred desk, three chairs that had seen better days, a bookcase and several cupboards, one with only half a door.
Colonel Latimer was standing in the middle of the room. He was a tall and spare man well into his forties; a dozen Indian summers had burned his skin brown, but there was little color beneath it to alleviate the weariness and the marks of exhaustion. He regarded the twenty-year-old lieutenant in front of him with something like an apologetic look.
“I have an unpleasant duty for you, Narraway,” he said quietly. “It must be done, and done well. You’re new to this regiment, but you have an excellent record. You are the right man for this job.”
Narraway felt a chill, in spite of the mild evening. His father had purchased a commission for him, and he had served a brief training in England before being sent out to India. He had arrived a year ago, just before the issue of the fateful cartridges at Dum Dum in January, which later in the spring had erupted in mutiny. The rumor had been that the bullets were coated with animal grease, in the part required to be bitten into in order to open the cartridge for use. The Hindus had been told it was beef fat. Cows were sacred, and to kill one was blasphemy. To put cow fat to the lips was damnation. The Muslims had been told it was pork fat, and to them, the pig was an unclean animal. To put that grease to your lips would damn your soul, although for an entirely different reason.
Of course, that was not the only cause of the mutiny by hundreds of thousands of Indians against the rule of a few thousand Englishmen employed by the East India Company. The reasons were more complex, far more deeply rooted in the social inequities and the cultural offenses of a foreign rule. The bullets had merely been the spark that had ignited the fire.
Also it was true, as far as Narraway could gather, that the mutiny was far from universal. It was violent and terrible only in small parts of the country. Thousands of miles remained untouched by it, lying peaceful, if a little uneasy, under the winter sun. But the province of Sind on the Hindustan plains had seen much of the very worst of it, Cawnpore and Lucknow in particular.
General Colin Campbell, a hero from the recent war in the Crimea, had fought to relieve the siege at Lucknow. A week ago he and his men had defeated 25,000 rebels here at Cawnpore. Was it the beginning of a turning of the tide? Or just a glimmer of light that would not last?
The sun was rising slowly, splashing red light across the river. The drops thrown from Monk’s oars glowed momentarily in the air, like wine, or blood. On the other seat, a yard or so in front of him, Orme leaned forward and threw his weight against the drag of the current. They worked in perfect rhythm, used to each other now; it was the last week of November 1864, nearly two years since Monk had taken command of the Thames River Police at the Wapping Station.
That was a small victory for him. Orme had been part of the River Police all his adult life. For Monk it was a big adjustment after working first for the Metropolitan Police, and then for himself.
The peace of his satisfaction was shattered by a scream, which was piercing even above the creak of the oarlocks and the sound of the wash from a passing string of barges breaking on the shore. Monk and Orme both turned toward the north bank and Limehouse Pier, which was no more than twenty yards away.
The scream came again, shrill with terror, and suddenly a figure appeared, black against the shadowy outline of the sheds and warehouses on the embankment. It was someone in a long coat, waving their arms and stumbling around; it was impossible to tell whether it was a man or a woman.
With a glance over his shoulder at Monk, Orme dug his oars in again and swung the boat round toward the shore.
The low clouds were parting and the light became stronger; the figure materialized into a woman in a long skirt, standing on the pier, waving her arms and crying out to them, her words so jumbled in terror they were unintelligible.
The boat bumped at the steps and Orme tied it up.
Monk grasped the closest wooden beam and clambered out, going up the steps as fast as he could. When he got to the top he saw that the woman was now sobbing and putting her hands to her face as if to block out all possible vision.
Monk looked around. He could see no one else, nothing to cause such hysterical fear. Nor could he immediately see any evidence of a threat to the woman. The pier was empty except for her and Monk, and then Orme, coming up the steps.
Monk took her arm gently. “What is it?” he asked, his voice firm. “What’s wrong?”
She pulled away from him and swung round, jabbing her finger toward a heap of rubbish, which was slowly becoming more visible in the spreading morning light.
Monk walked over to it, his stomach clenching when he realized that what he had taken for torn canvas was actually the sodden skirt of a woman, her body so mutilated it was not instantly recognizable as human. There was no need to wonder if she was dead. She was twisted over, half on her back, her blue, sightless eyes turned up to the sky. Her hair was matted, and blood- soaked at the back. But it was the rest of her body that made his gorge rise and choked the breath in his throat. Her belly was ripped open, and her entrails were torn out and laid like pale, skinless snakes across her loins.
Monk heard Orme’s step behind him.
“Dear God!” Orme breathed out the words, not as a blasphemy but a cry for help, for what he saw not to be real.
Monk swallowed hard and grasped Orme’s shoulder for a moment. Then, stumbling a little on the rough boards of the pier, he went back to the woman, who was now standing trembling uncontrollably.
Willoughby paled. “Oh, really?” He smiled but his voice rasped as if his throat were suddenly tight. “Don’t think there’s much of any interest to know, ol’ boy.”
Pitt’s mind raced to think of the best way to reply. He could not afford to make enemies, but neither would it be wise to belittle his importance, or allow people to assume that he was not the same master of information that Narraway had been.
He made himself smile back at Willoughby. “I would not say you are uninteresting, sir, but you are not of concern to us, which is an entirely different thing.”
Willoughby’s eyes widened. “ Really?” He looked mollified, almost pleased. “ Really?”
The other man looked amused. “Is that what you say to everyone?” he asked with the ghost of a smile.
“I like to be courteous.” Pitt looked him directly in the eye. “But I can’t deny that some people are less interesting than others.”
This time Willoughby was very definitely pleased and made no attempt to hide it. Satisfaction radiated from him as he took a glass of champagne from a passing footman.
Pitt moved on. He was more careful now of his manner, watching but speaking little, learning to copy the polite words that meant nothing. It was not an art that came to him easily. Charlotte would have understood the nuances within what was said, or unsaid. Pitt would have found direct openness much more comfortable. However, this form of socializing was part of his world from now on, even if he felt like an intruder, even if he knew that beneath the smiles, the smooth, self- assured men around him were perfectly aware of how he felt.
A few moments later he saw Charlotte again. He made his way toward her with a lift of spirits, even a pride he thought was perhaps a little silly after all these years, but nevertheless was quite real. There were other women in the room with more classic beauty, and certainly more sumptuous gowns, but for him they lacked warmth. They had less passion, less of that certain indefinable grace that comes from within.
Charlotte was talking to her sister, Emily Radley, who was wearing a pale blue- green silk gown with gold embroidery. Emily’s first marriage had been a match to make any mother proud. Lord George Ashworth had been the opposite of Pitt in every way: handsome, charming, of excellent family, and in possession of a great deal of money. After his death, it was held in trust for his and Emily’s son, Edward. A suitable time later, Emily had married Jack Radley. He was another handsome man, even more charming, but with no money at all. His father had been a younger son, and something of an adventurer.
It was Emily who had persuaded Jack to enter politics and aspire to make something of himself. Perhaps some of Emily’s hunger to affect other people’s lives had come from her observation of Charlotte and her involvement in several of Pitt’s earlier cases. To be fair, at times Emily had also helped Charlotte, with both flair and courage. The sisters had exasperated and embarrassed Pitt, driving him frantic with fear for their safety, but they had also very thoroughly earned his respect and gratitude.
CAROLINE FIELDING SAW THE HUGE MANSION RISING from the steep incline ahead of them as the carriage turned the corner, and felt an almost overwhelming sense of relief. It was the end of a very long journey and she was aching with tiredness and from the biting cold. First there had been the early morning ride to the station in London. The platforms had been crowded and it had been difficult to push their way to the train with all the luggage in tow, trying not to bump into people. She had been glad to find their seats for the journey to York.
In York they had disembarked. One piece of luggage had been mislaid and, as time was short, they were desperate to find it. She had been asking the same porter the same questions over and over, until at last it was found, safely stowed in the guards’ car on the train to Whitby. Then she and Joshua had almost run along the platform as the carriage doors began to clang shut, the engine belching steam and smuts, and they scrambled on just as the train began to move.
Now in the dark, surrounded by the newly fallen snow, they rode in a two-horse carriage from Whitby up to the cliff edge and this house where they would spend the whole Christmas holiday, if you could call it a holiday.
Caroline turned to look at Joshua beside her. Aware of her movement, he touched her gloved hand lightly.
“A bit brooding, isn’t it?” he said ruefully. “But I expect it’ll be warm inside, and we’ll be very welcome.”
The coach lamps did not give enough light to see his face, but she could imagine it: gentle, mercurial, full of humor. She heard the half apology in his voice.
“It’ll be excellent,” she said without hesitation. She would never be as good an actor as he was, because she could not help but always be herself, and it was his profession to imagine himself inside another man’s skin, even his heart. But she had long ago learned to mask her feelings for the sake of those she loved, and she did love him. However, there were fears that crowded her every so often because she was so much older than he, and she did not belong to the world of the theater as he did. She feared she would always be an outsider, too old for him in the eyes of his fellows, too ordinary, undramatic, and painfully respectable. Yet she would have been miserable had she not married him, if she had given in to conventionality and remained a widow after her first husband’s death. And she loved Joshua so much. She felt no inner doubt or shadow about her second marriage although outwardly it had not been at all the right thing to do.
For a moment Joshua’s hand tightened over hers.
They climbed the last hundred yards of the road, horses straining against the weight of the vehicle, and finally pulled to a stop in front of the magnificent entrance of the mansion. The doors were thrown open, flooding the portico and the gravel driveway with light.
“You are right,” Caroline said with a smile. “We are welcome.”
Hester was -half--asleep when she heard the slight sound, as if someone were taking in a sharp breath and then letting out a soft, desperate gasp. Monk was motionless beside her, his hand loose on the pillow, his hair falling over his face.
It was not the first time in the last two weeks that Hester had heard Scuff crying in the night. It was a delicate relationship she had with the boy she and Monk had befriended. He had lived on the streets by the river and had largely provided for himself, which had made him wise beyond his age, and fiercely independent. He considered he was looking after Monk, who in Scuff's opinion lacked the knowledge and the fierce survival instincts required for his job as head of the Thames River Police at Wapping, in the heart of the London docks.
Until last month Scuff had come and gone as he'd pleased, spending only the occasional night at Monk's house in Paradise Place. However, since his kidnapping, and the atrocity on the boat at Execution Dock, he had come to live with them, going out only for short periods during the day, and tossing and turning at night, plagued by nightmares. He would not talk about them, and his pride would not let him admit to Hester that he was frightened of the dark, of closed doors, and, above all, of sleep.
Of course she knew why. Once the tight control he kept over himself in his waking hours slipped from him, he was back on the boat again, curled up on his side beneath the trapdoor to the bilges, nailed in with the -half--rotted corpse of the missing boy, fighting the swirling water and the rats, the stench of it making him gag.
In his nightmares it did not seem to matter that he was now free, or that Jericho Phillips was dead; Scuff had seen the man's body himself, imprisoned in the iron cage in the river, his mouth gaping open as the rising tide trapped him, choking off his voice forever.
Hester heard the gasping sound again, and slipped out of bed. She pulled on a wrap, not so much for warmth in the late September night, but for modesty so as not to embarrass Scuff if he was awake. She crept across the room and along the passage. His bedroom door was open just wide enough for him to pass through. The gas lamp was on low, maintaining the fiction that she had forgotten and left it on, as she did every night. Neither of them ever mentioned this.
Scuff was lying tangled in the sheets, the blankets slipped halfway to the floor. He was curled up in just the same position as they had found him in when she and the -rat--catcher, Sutton, had pried open the trapdoor.
Without debating with herself anymore, Hester went into the room and picked up the blankets, placing them over him and tucking them in lightly.
The card security code is an added safeguard for your credit/debit card purchases. Depending on the type of card you use, it is either a three- or four-digit number printed on the back or front of your credit/debit card, separate from your credit/debit card number. To make shopping at The Mystery Guild® Book Club even more secure, we require that you enter this number each time you make a credit/debit card purchase. Please note that your security code will not be stored with us even if you have saved your credit/debit card information.