Authors: Sam Christer
‘I never thought about trying the floor.’
‘Yes. I understand you foolishly tried to take down an entire wall rather than take up a little of what was beneath your feet.’
‘We had hoped you would get out of that place on your own accord,’ added Braithwaite. ‘Hence my collapse in your cell after your most valuable
and the opportunity I created for you to steal objects from my bag.’
I shook my head. ‘If you had wished to truly assist me then you should have simply given me a set of keys.’
‘You would only have been caught,’ said Holmes. ‘We discussed it with Johncock. You could never have got out of Newgate that way.’
‘Johncock was one of yours?’
‘Has been since his army days. A little rough around the edges, but always reliable.’
‘That man damned near beat me to death. On
Mycroft’s eyes lit up and a smile twitched his lips. ‘Yes, our gaoler friend was shocked when we approached him about you and disclosed our belief that Huntley would facilitate your murder. He was however most pleased to have the opportunity to catch his colleague red-handed and discredit him.’
‘I am sure he was.’
‘The assistant keeper had cultivated quite a dislike for you,’ continued Sherlock. ‘Told me he had been most eager to see you swing. The murderers of innocent women and dutiful policemen are not popular in prison.’
‘You know I didn’t kill either.’
‘I do, and since yesterday, so does Johncock,’ replied Sherlock. ‘I have already told you who murdered PC Jackson. Now I believe I can inform you who killed Lizzie MacIntosh, better known to you as Elizabeth Audsley.’
‘And yes, we are aware that she was the mother of your deceased child,’ added Mycroft.
‘I already know who killed her,’ I said bitterly. ‘That bastard Lee Chan and his murderous Chinese cohorts.’
Sherlock nodded. ‘Chan certainly gave the order. Just as he issued the contract to have you killed in prison. But he was not the knave who put a knife to your queen’s throat.’
‘Then who did?’
‘One of Brogan Moriarty’s employees. A person who turned against him in return for an offer of great wealth and a new life away from the Moriarties.’
I nodded. It made sense. ‘I know the snake you mean: Sirius Gunn.’
‘No, that is not correct. Gunn is still at large in America. The Pinkerton Agency claim he is heading to Boston. It is not he.’
‘Last night, I visited a place of relaxation I often frequent. I believe one time you followed me there. It is in the heart of the Chinese community and they provide me with certain medications and reliefs. I was informed by a reliable Asian contact that your lady’s murder was carried out by a Miss Surrey Breed.’
‘No.’ My blood ran cold. ‘You are wrong, sir. That can not be true.’
‘I confess that I lack further substantiation for this claim, but the source that offered it to me has in the past proved unerring.’
I pictured the woman I had seen outside the gates of Newgate Gaol. The one I
had been Surrey but then dismissed as merely her doppelganger.
Was she really alive?
Had my former lover, my
love, come to see me die? To make certain there was no chance I had escaped the noose and would ever come after her?
Anger built inside me.
Now I thought about it, I saw that it was even possible Surrey had turned traitor at the same time as Sirius, but stayed like a deadly viper within our bosom. I remembered us lying in bed together and her asking me to run away with her. I had said we could never escape Moriarty and could never dream of a better life; she had said that such an existence was not enough for her.
But why had she finally turned against him and me? Because she hated Elizabeth? Was jealous of her? Wanted to hurt me in revenge for not choosing her? I knew it could be one or all of those things. More than anyone, I understood that every murder had many reasons behind it.
I looked to Sherlock. ‘Knowing what you did, could you not have stopped my execution on the basis of such knowledge?’
‘Knowledge is not proof, Lynch,’ he answered as though dealing with a simpleton. ‘There was not sufficient time to gather any evidence of substance.’
‘Nor had we the inclination to do so,’ added Mycroft. ‘At least not on my part. For I believed it was much better for you, and better for us, that you were seen to die on that scaffold. You understand that, don’t you? Now the world thinks you are dead you can move around freely in it. You are like a ghost,’ he said triumphantly, ‘a deadly, murderous ghost.’
‘A bogeyman,’ added Braithwaite.
I could sense they had plans in mind that stretched far beyond simply saving my life. ‘So what exactly do you ask of me, gentlemen? Why did you go to all this trouble?’
‘Now I will leave you.’ Sherlock rose and nodded to his brother. ‘You know I do not want any part of this.’
‘As you wish.’
The detective bade us good day.
‘Don’t forget to pay Doctor Watson his twenty pounds,’ I shouted to his back.
He missed a stride but left without another word.
Mycroft prised his large frame out of the chair and groaned a little as he bent and removed a brass fireguard from the front of a dying coal fire. He took an iron poker from a hearth set and rattled the embers until they glowed more brightly. ‘I would have thought that what we
of you,’ he paused, then corrected himself, ‘rather, what we
of you, is obvious. The British government requires you to do what you do best, Mr Lynch, which apparently is to kill discreetly, kill with regularity and kill with impunity.’
‘I am to be an assassin on behalf of Queen and Country?’ I couldn’t help but notice the irony of once more being coerced into the worst kind of service with no option but to comply.
‘Yes, you are to serve your fellow countrymen and it is a noble job that you will undertake. But let me be very clear about this: if you are caught, then Queen and Country will deny you even exist, let alone admit you are in their employ. And if you speak a word about the nature of your profession, you will discover that the men who spirited you out of Newgate will spirit you to the bottom of the Thames far quicker.’
‘Of that I have no doubt.’ I decided to push my luck. ‘And what is to be my remuneration for this position?’
‘You mean being given your life is not payment enough?’ He laughed as he replaced the poker and shook coal from a bucket onto the fire. ‘Let us say that you will be more than adequately housed, fed and looked after. The better you work for us, the better the life you will live. Does that suit you?’
‘I suspect I do not have a say in the matter.’
‘Splendid! You are mastering your position already.’ He put the bucket down, stood straight and dusted off his hands. ‘I have a little personal motivation for you. Something to get you into the correct frame of mind and moving along the right tracks. Braithwaite, the papers, please.’
His colleague stepped forward and handed me two sheets of paper. Neither of them bore any letter headings or names, just a very long, typed list of addresses. Next to the locations, most of which were in London or Europe, were days, dates and times. I turned the pages to see if there was any more information but there wasn’t. ‘What are these?’ I shrugged. ‘And what am I expected to do with them?’
‘They are your first assignment,’ answered Mycroft. ‘The first of many, we hope.’
I waved the papers. ‘Then you need to give me more than this. I need the names of people, their descriptions, background information—’
Mycroft cut me off with a raised palm. ‘These things you already know. The addresses are places regularly frequented by Lee Chan, Sirius Gunn and Surrey Breed.’
I found myself unable to breathe.
‘Chan and his Chinese cousins,’ he continued, ‘belong to a secret organisation called The Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists. We refer to them as Boxers, because they are extraordinarily violent and have peculiarly deadly ways of punching. They are rising as rebels from the rubble of a broken China and growing in strength both at home and abroad. We need to root them out, eliminate them from London, before they are impossibly large to tackle. In short, Mr Lynch, we require you to kill Mr Chan, and do it quickly.’
‘Gladly,’ I replied. ‘It is my greatest wish to do so. I would travel to the end of the world to murder the bastard. But why have you not already done it? You have in your employ many very able men, as I witnessed today.’
‘We cannot get near him. But I am certain you could inveigle your way into his company without much effort.’
‘I’ll leave that to your imagination, but for example, should you contact Gunn, perhaps send a message suggesting that you are alive and in pursuit of him, then you can be assured he will run straight to Chan, quicker than Anthony flew to Cleopatra. In which case, you would be afforded the opportunity to kill them both.’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘It is not impossible to imagine that along the way you might also encounter Miss Breed and have the chance to exact your fullest revenge.’
‘My lord, you are no better than the Moriarties.’
‘To the contrary; I am
better. After all, I now have London’s best assassin working for me, not them.’ He cracked a broad smile. ‘Now let us see about getting you some food and rest, Mr Lynch. After all, you have work to do. A great deal of work.’
Many thanks to my wise agent Luigi Bonomi, my inspirational editor Jade Chandler at Little, Brown and her wonderful colleagues, Ed Wood, Celine Kelly, Nico Taylor, Iain Hunt, Sarah Shea and Stephanie Melrose.
I’m also indebted to Sophie Hutton-Squire for her excellent copy-editing of the final draft and Dr. Mary Shannon for her generous assistance with the Victorian research – any factual deviation is entirely down to me!
As always, I’d be in a mess without Scary Jack and his team, and finally, the biggest thank you of all to Donna and Billy who give me the time, space and understanding to pursue the privilege of writing ‘The House of Smoke.’