Authors: Sally Spencer
The Inspector Sam Blackstone Series from Sally Spencer
BLACKSTONE AND THE TIGER
BLACKSTONE AND THE GOLDEN EGG
BLACKSTONE AND THE FIRE BUG
BLACKSTONE AND THE BALLOON OF DEATH
BLACKSTONE AND THE HEART OF DARKNESS
BLACKSTONE AND THE NEW WORLD
BLACKSTONE AND THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
BLACKSTONE AND THE GREAT WAR
An Inspector Sam Blackstone Mystery
First world edition published 2012
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2012 by Alan Rustage.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Blackstone and the Great War. â (The Inspector Sam
1. Blackstone, Sam (Fictitious character) â Fiction.
2. Police â England â London â Fiction. 3. World War,
1914â1918 â Campaigns â Western Front â Fiction. 4. Great
Britain. Army â Officers â Crimes against â Fiction.
5. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-206-1 (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8123-6 (cased)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being
described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this
publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons
is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
In memory of my grandfather, Allen Rustage, one of the quiet
heroes of the âWar to End All Wars'.
he troop ship docked in Calais just after darkness had fallen, and the passengers were quickly disembarked and herded, in a ragged column, towards the nearby railway station.
Once they caught sight of the train which would take them to the railhead, some of the young soldiers put on a spurt, so they would have their choice of seats, but Sam Blackstone did not follow their example. Like the old campaigner he was, he took his time, knowing that, even at this stage of the game, it was foolish to expend energy when there was no need to.
The train smelled of damp, sweat and general neglect, but considering that most newly arrived enlisted men were transported to the front line in cattle wagons, Blackstone thought, even a dilapidated third-class carriage was an unexpected luxury.
Not that unexpected luxury should be taken as a sign of things to come, he mused, as he walked along the corridor. In the eyes of the military command, ordinary soldiers
, and always
cattle â brave, well-disciplined cattle, it was true, but cattle nonetheless. And if, on this particular occasion, they were being treated with a little more dignity than usual, that was probably because the authorities had, with typical inefficiency, failed to secure the kind of transportation that they would normally have used.
When he found a seat at the end of the train, the carriage was already occupied by seven young men.
No, not young men at all, he corrected himself, as he sat down.
They were boys!
As the train lurched, and then slowly chugged out of the station, Blackstone ran a professional policeman's eye over his travelling companions.
The boy sitting directly opposite him was a prime example of an East End hooligan, he noted. The lad was neither broad nor tall â the diet of the poor rarely fostered such growth â but he had the hard, knotted muscles of someone who had been introduced to physical labour at an early age. His head was bullet-shaped, and looked too small for his body. He had narrow eyes, a jagged scar ran down one cheek, and his teeth â already rotting â would be all but gone by the time he had reached his mid-twenties.
Blackstone had noticed the boy twice before. The first time had been at Dover, where he had been strutting up and down as if he owned the place. The second time had been on the ship, and by then the lad had lost his self-assurance and was leaning over the side, spewing his guts up. Now, on their third meeting, on dry land again, he seemed to have regained his cockiness.
âCourse, the Huns have had it easy so far,' the boy was telling the lad next to him. âUp to now, you see, they've only had to deal with
soldiers, and you know what they're like, don't you?'
they like, Mick?' his friend asked.
âTime servers,' the boy said confidently. âThe thing about them is, you see, they joined the army because they didn't have nothing better to do with their time, and now they've found themselves caught up in war, they're playing it safe and keeping their heads down.'
Idiot! Blackstone thought.
The boy was like so many young men who came from the Whitechapel area. He thought he was tough, and no doubt he
handy enough with a fist in a drunken Saturday night fight at his local boozer. But he had no idea â no real idea at all â of what war was actually like.
âYes, you'll see,' Mick continued. âOnce the Huns find themselves up against lads with something about them â lads with a spirit of adventure â they'll all turn tail and run for home.'
There'd been eager young recruits just like him in the Afghan Campaign â Flash Harrys who weren't going to be intimidated by a little brown man who lived in a mud hut and carried an ancient rifle. Oh yes, there'd been more than enough of them â and all their arrogance had gained them had been unmarked graves, thousands of miles from home.
Mick stopped talking to his friend and turned his gaze â suddenly full of hostility â onto Blackstone.
âHave you got a problem, Grandad?' he asked aggressively.
âNo problem at all,' Blackstone replied evenly.
âDon't lie to me, you old bag of bones,' the youth said. His expression changed, now more puzzled than angry â though the anger was still there. âWhat are you doing on this train, anyway?' he continued. âWhy are you filling a seat with your rotting carcass when it could have been taken by a fighting hero?'
âIt's a long story,' Blackstone said.
But it wasn't â it was a very short story, which hadn't even begun to be written three days earlier.
As he had walked up the long, elm-lined drive to Hartley House â an impressive ancestral pile which could probably date its origins back to the days when Good Queen Bess was still a girl â Blackstone had found himself wondering, not for the first time that day, why General Sir Michael Fortesque VC, who he had not seen for over thirty years, should have summoned him.
It was true that Fortesque and he had been close comrades in Afghanistan â or, at least, as close as an orphanage-raised sergeant and an Eton-educated captain ever could be â but the Second Afghan War was now long consigned to the history books, and it seemed unlikely that Fortesque should suddenly have felt the need to reminisce with one of the poor bloody infantry.
He had almost reached the front entrance when a footman, dressed in full livery, suddenly appeared and blocked his path.
âYes?' the footman said, running his eyes disdainfully up and down the visitor's second-hand suit.
âI have an appointment with the General,' Blackstone replied.
The footman sniffed. â
the inspector from Scotland Yard?' he asked, incredulously.
The other man turned the idea over in his mind for a few moments, and then seemed to decide that â however amazing it might be â Blackstone really was what he claimed.
âThe servants' and tradesmen's entrance is around the side of the house,' the footman said curtly. âFollow me.'
âI think I'd prefer to enter the house through the front door,' Blackstone told him.
The footman sniffed again. âThat's out of the question.'
âIs it?' Blackstone asked.
âOf course it is.'
âI see,' Blackstone said, then he turned smartly and began to walk back the way he had come. âPlease be so kind as to tell the General I called.'
âWhere do you think you're going?' the footman demanded, in a tone which was both annoyed and incredulous.
âTo the railway station,' Blackstone said, over his shoulder. âIt's where you
go, if you want to catch a train.'
âBut the master is
âWait!' the footman shouted, and now, as Blackstone widened the distance between them, there was a note of panic in his voice.
Blackstone stopped and turned again. âYes?'
The footman swallowed hard.
âIf you'd care to follow me, sir, I'll conduct you to the front door,' he said, forcing each word out of his mouth with considerable effort.
âThat would be most kind of you,' Blackstone said graciously.
A large and ornate mirror hung in the corridor outside General Fortesque's study, and though Blackstone rarely took the opportunity to examine his own appearance, he did so now.
The man who stared back at him bore a superficial resemblance to the man he thought himself to be. Both were tall (over six feet) and had tight, sinewy bodies. Both had large noses, which could have been Middle Eastern, but weren't. Yet the man looking out of the mirror seemed older than the man who was looking into it. He seemed, in fact, to have reached that point in middle age in which he was teetering on the edge of being old.
Blackstone shook his head, as if, with that one gesture, he could also shake off his little remaining vanity. He had never expected to reach his middle fifties, he reminded himself. Nor had he particularly wanted to, because the older a man got, the longer the shadow of the workhouse became. But he
survived â despite Afghanistan, despite the hazards of working in the Metropolitan Police and the New York Police Department â and so, he supposed, he was stuck with life and might as well make the most out of it that he could.
The study door opened, and the butler appeared.
âSir Michael will see you now,' he said, in the deep booming voice of an Old Testament prophet.
The room overlooked the driveway, and the General was sitting in his bath chair by the window. When the butler had turned the chair around, Blackstone could see for himself that Fortesque was a mere husk of the man he had once been.
The General raised his hand in feeble greeting, and said, âIt was good of you to come, Sergeant.'
Blackstone grinned. âI wasn't aware I had any choice in the matter,' he said. âIf I'd refused, you'd only have contacted the Commissioner of Police, who would then have made what started out as a request into a direct order.'
The old man returned Blackstone's grin with a weak one of his own. âYes, as decrepit as I am, I do seem to have some influence left,' he said. âHow's life been for you since we last met, Sam?'
âI have no complaints,' Blackstone told him.
said a tiny irritating voice at the back of his mind. You
have regrets â and most of them concern women.
âYou must be approaching retirement,' the General said.
âIt's around the corner,' Blackstone agreed.