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Authors: Sam Christer

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BOOK: The House Of Smoke
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‘What happened then?’

‘Well, the sudden weight of their impact seemed to glue us together. We barrelled across the room and bounced off a wall. Our legs entwined and we fell.’

‘Please describe precisely what you did after the fall.’

‘I pulled myself out from under the crush of bodies and rolled onto my side. Got quickly to my knees and feet. That’s when I saw that Charlie was dead.’

‘When?’

‘As soon as I got up. I saw it straight away.’

‘How? How did you know the Connor boy had expired?’

‘He was motionless. Eyes blank. There was a pool of blood next to him, dark and spread out like spilled oil. Then I saw the knife.’

‘Officer Jackson’s knife?’

I nodded. ‘Only it wasn’t stuck in Charlie. Nor was it on the floor.’

‘It was in Jackson?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Be more precise.’

I put my hand to my throat and felt for the place. ‘Here, just below the Adam’s apple. The point of the blade had gone all the way through Jackson’s neck, into the wooden boards he was lying on.’

Levine raised an eyebrow. ‘And how had it got there?’

There was no point lying. ‘From my hand. I had wrestled him for it and when we fell I must have driven it through his flesh.’

He closed his notebook. ‘And Jackson, did you see him die, or just learn of it later?’

I felt like a cannon had exploded in my head. ‘I saw him in his death throes, twitching uncontrollably, like his arms and legs were on invisible strings being pulled by invisible men. Then he lay still. I panicked and bolted through the open window.’

Levine took a moment to complete his notes. He turned a page before continuing, ‘We are done with Jackson, now tell me of the other murder, the latest one.’

‘You know me to be innocent of that.’

‘What one knows, and what one can prove or disprove, are entirely different things.’

‘I will not speak of it.’

‘You must.’

‘I
must
do nothing of the sort, Mr Levine. My lips are sealed on this matter and I am certain you understand that I have good reason for not wishing to elaborate.’

‘Then we are done, Mr Lynch. For now at least.’ He put away his notebook and pencil. ‘It seems that on the first count I must fashion some fiction rather than rely on fact. While on the second,’ he shrugged, ‘I am powerless until you deign to be more forthcoming.’ He gave me a pointed look.

‘Mr Levine, what would you have me say that doesn’t cast aspersions on our mutual employer and his family? If I ventured down that path then I might as well break my oath and accept Mr Holmes’s offer.’

Levine summoned the gaolers with a knock on the door. ‘Then indeed we are done.’

I watched him go and wondered whether this dapper man really had the wherewithal to secure my liberty. If not, then I would be solely dependent upon that hidden iron nail in my cell, if not to secure my freedom, then at least to bring a dignified end to my agony and deny the hangman his fee for taking my life.

Derbyshire, May 1886

In the days following the attack on our carriage, there was much speculation as to whether it had been as random as it seemed. Alexander supposed that it might have been the work of the Chans. Moriarty dismissed this as unlikely because of its amateurish qualities and the demand for money. ‘Had the Chinese been involved, they would have just killed us,’ he insisted.

The professor paid me handsomely for my work in London, and for my part in extricating us from the troubles on the journey home. I had crossed a Rubicon and drawn my first blood as a member of the Trinity. The professor said Michael would have been proud of me and such praise was sufficient to chase off any doubt about what I had done.

The following month I was given my first ‘official’ task, the offing of a man in Lincoln. Most unwisely, he had stolen from one of Moriarty’s betting syndicates and gone on the run.

His name was Isaac Pickering and he was a big and foolish fellow. Big made him conspicuous in the small eastern city where outsiders were rare. Foolish made him throw his money around in flash taverns and feral whorehouses where such things attract undue attention and unbridled gossip.

I found him drunk as a lord in the bed of a whore older than Noah’s grandmother. The dollymop’s years of experience saw her take to the hills as soon as I kicked open the bedroom door.

Candlelight made Pickering’s silhouette so large that it filled a wall and folded across the ceiling. I watched it shrink as my knife pierced his greedy gut. I covered his mouth to prevent too much noise bellowing forth. Once his strength ebbed away, I manoeuvred him to a window and pushed the fool into the street below for Thackeray to haul away in a cart.

I felt no pangs of regret. He had chosen a life of crime and knew the dangers. Moriarty assured me there was justification in what I had done.

Justification.
It was a word I would use many times to fool myself. That and the fact that I had no choice. Moriarty’s threat to expose my earlier crimes meant the shadow of the gallows always hung over me.

Fate had decided my future. Murder had become my trade.

After Pickering’s death, I became regularly deployed by the professor to vanquish enemies who had flourished during the last days of Brannigan’s illness. Killings followed killings. With each one, I felt that soft comfort of my inner anger and I became less concerned about the reasons why the individual had been singled out to die. Moriarty had been right. I did not need to know these things. It was enough for me that he considered them evil.

The first assignment that Surrey and I worked together was a banker whom she, at Moriarty’s request, had befriended and beguiled.

The man had handled many of the professor’s dubious business accounts and over the years had fallen into the habit of demanding increasingly larger fees for his services. The professor had tolerated this, until Alexander inspected the accounts and found a great deal of money had gone missing. A second audit confirmed the thefts had gone on for years and this sealed the banker’s fate.

Dressed in her prettiest of outfits, Surrey lured him to a house he had been renting for his recent assignations with her. I lurked in the shadows of the entrance hall, hidden behind a cluster of coats and cloaks that hung from a large wooden stand. Patiently, I waited for the sound of the door closing, his feet crossing the floor and his lustful call to Surrey that he had arrived.

When he passed me, I sprang out and hooked his throat. He was smaller than me, so I was able to lift him off the ground and choke him in the crook of my arm.

I confess, I could have despatched him quicker but found myself absorbed by the shadow puppetry his struggling body made on the floor and wall. The multiple ‘shades’ of a dying man were unique works of art. Innocent childhood memories of silhouettes and maternal comfort had, through the cataclysm of murder, formed an addictive relief in my troubled mind.

Thackeray and I disposed of the body, while Surrey used the banker’s keys and codes to empty the contents of the nearby vaults. Come Monday morning, it surely looked to the world as though he had stolen the money himself and done a runner.

Moriarty was exceptionally pleased with us. He paid bonuses of five hundred pounds each into our respective Trinity accounts. I was gradually becoming richer and wiser. In the process, I realised that money was the only thing the professor craved more than power.

While my professional life was flourishing, my romantic aspirations were not. Elizabeth continued to avoid me. Conversely, Surrey made it abundantly clear that she could forgive and forget. Inevitably, in a moment of weakness, I found myself inviting her back into my bed and we fell into our old ways. For me, it was born more out of desire for companionship than sex. There was no expectation of each other. No words of commitment uttered or asked for. But there was
something
between us. Something more than mutual kindness, something I couldn’t quite describe. Perhaps it was just the joint peculiarity of our situation. We were, after all, just murderous lone spirits thrown together, living together, not judging each other on immorality or sinfulness.

Many mornings, Surrey rose before I did and was gone before my eyes had properly opened. On those days, she would betray her tough exterior by leaving a flower or leaf on the table by the window. She did it because she knew it reminded me of her love of the outdoors and would make me smile. ‘Wake with sweetness and you can face the sourness of any day,’ she would say.

I confess that I began to miss her when she was not around. Worse still, when she went away on jobs for the professor, I found myself hating the thought that she might get hurt or even spend the night with someone else. I never asked her if she had, but I could always tell. She either wouldn’t come to my bed that evening, or if she did, she would turn away from me and complain of feeling tired or ill.

Alone, in the gardens one morning, she surprised me by asking, ‘Do you ever think of running away from all this?’

‘To where?’

‘To anywhere. Just you and me. Starting afresh. We both have money now. If we combined it then we could buy a cottage in the countryside somewhere and—’

‘Moriarty would never let us leave.’

‘We wouldn’t ask his permission. We’d just take the money—’

‘Surrey, we buried the last person who took his money and left. I have run from many people in my life, from the police and from the hangman, but we could never leave Moriarty without his blessing.’

She looked depressed. ‘I know. I was just dreaming.’

‘Then don’t. You and I are not allowed dreams.’

‘Are we not?’

‘No. The closest to dreams we are permitted is the way we live right now. When we have full stomachs, a warm place to sleep and the energy to make love. Those are our dreams.’

‘It is not enough,’ she said, almost underneath her breath. ‘Not nearly enough.’

‘For now, it has to be. Things change. Opportunities may arise. And I promise you, Surrey, if such a chance came to escape and be free, then I would seize it and never let go.’

One Week to Execution
Newgate, 11 January 1900

Levine’s plans for lodging appeals filled me with some degree of optimism. Judges and lords were among the most corrupt of men. I would be freed, and once at large again, I would be able to settle old scores. Such thoughts made me realise that I had grown idle since the first hours of my imprisonment; now I needed to build strength along with belief.

I lay on the floor and did slow sit-ups until my stomach felt like it had been beaten with bars. I rolled on to my hands and performed press-ups until my wrists and shoulders collapsed.

I was still slathered in sweat when Johncock opened the cell door with two of his men. ‘My, you do look flushed, Lynch. Have you been playing with yourself?’

I didn’t waste what little breath I had by answering him.

‘Mr Sherlock Holmes, the great detective himself, is here to see you.’

‘I am busy perspiring and do not wish to have any visitors.’

‘You are busy being scum, and scum has no say in the matter.’ Johncock opened the door so Holmes could enter. ‘Be respectful, Lynch, or you’ll have me to answer to.’

I shrugged and sat on the floor near the ring to which my leg chains had been fixed.

Holmes was wearing a top hat, a white collared shirt with brown silk tie and chequered brown suit beneath a double-breasted frock coat. The shadow he cast across the cell was uniquely his. I would recognise it anywhere in the world.

He removed his coat and laid it over the end of my bunk then took the liberty of sitting there. ‘There is the matter of the wager between Dr Watson and myself,’ he said, removing his leather gloves. ‘I have come to see which of us is nearer being declared a winner.’ He glanced towards Johncock. ‘You can leave us now, gaoler. Mr Lynch will do me no ill.’

‘Are you sure, Mr Holm—’

‘Quite certain. Now, please go about your duties.’

Reluctantly, Johncock left with his men.

I wiped sweat from my forehead and rubbed my face with my shirt. ‘Unfortunately, you will soon be obliged to pay your companion twenty pounds, Mr Holmes. I have no intention of turning Queen’s Evidence. Not now, or in the future.’

‘That remains to be seen.’ He laid down the gloves. ‘The future is never as you expect it to be. Not until it has been rendered into the present and then pressed like a leaf into the volumes that form our past.’

‘How poetic.’

‘Our future perspective alters from day to day, so what today is unbearable or unimaginable, mostly with the passage of time becomes acceptable. I still believe my twenty pounds to be safer than the good doctor’s.’

‘You have my answer, Holmes. May I be left to exercise?’

He studied me with interest. ‘Your lawyer has raised your expectations unfairly. The use of dirty money to bribe people into bearing false witness will hold no sway with this government.’

‘Who told you of new witnesses?’

‘You did.’

‘I said no such thing.’

‘My dear fellow, you all but
shouted
it at me. Your demeanour has completely changed since our last discussion. There is vigour to you and previously there wasn’t. And what would be the point of you exercising if there was not hope? In your case, hope could only come in the form of an appeal to the home secretary, which in turn would not be possible without either new evidence or new witnesses. And of course we both know that such fresh testimonies at this stage of your incarceration would undoubtedly have been purchased.’

Even though his deduction impressed me, I said nothing.

Holmes rose from my bunk, took several paces to the window then walked back towards me. ‘I must confess,’ he continued, ‘there are some aspects of your case that both interest and concern me.’

I half-laughed. ‘Neither your interest nor your concern are actually of any interest or concern to me.’ I looked up at him. ‘I hear you are a busy man, best not waste any more time on me.’

‘Oh, it is not wasted. Not yet, at least. I am curious to know who you were with on the day that PC Jackson was killed in that den of thieves in Southwark.’

BOOK: The House Of Smoke
11.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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