Authors: Stefanie Sloane
Seven Dials District
Nicholas had spent three hours attempting to convince Singh that he should return
to India. The man’s help had proven invaluable when Nicholas had been a foreigner
thrust into danger in exotic, lethal surroundings. As a thank you, he’d settled a
small fortune on the man, intended to provide retirement for Singh in familiar, safe
The possibility that the holy man would join him in yet another dangerous endeavor
was not acceptable.
But Singh was obstinate in his determination. Which is why Nicholas found himself
with Singh, standing in the center of the notorious Seven Dials, taking in the frenetic
pace of the people who traversed the seven roads that branched off from the centralized
“Why is everyone in such a hurry, sahib?” Singh asked, quickly darting out of the
way of a woman busily dragging her three children toward White Lion Street.
The last child in the procession, a little urchin with dirt-stained cheeks and grubby
clothes, stuck out his tongue and crossed his eyes at the men. His mother tugged harder,
urging the three youngsters on at an impossibly fast clip.
Amused, Nicholas grinned at the child and moved forward as though to follow.
The boy squawked in fear and rushed around to bump against his mother’s side, earning
a clout on the head for his efforts.
“One does not want to be caught in the streets when night descends on St. Giles, Singh,”
Nicholas explained, watching as the family disappeared in the growing dusk.
Singh looked around at the decaying buildings that lined each of the seven streets.
“Then this is not the prosperous section of London, sahib?”
Nicholas was tempted to disagree. It was his plan to show Singh all of the worst that
London had to offer in an attempt to encourage him to return home. Though India boasted
many of the world’s most disturbing slums, Singh had grown up in the lush and beautiful
countryside and never traveled far from his village. If the St. Giles rookery was
not enough to convince Singh to go home, Nicholas did not know what would.
“No, not precisely,” he answered, unable to look into Singh’s trusting eyes and lie.
“Still, I thought it best to acquaint you with the area, as it is important you know
the entire city before deciding to stay in London.”
“But I have already decided to stay, sahib,” Singh answered simply. “Nothing will
change my mind.”
Nicholas sighed deeply. “Surely you miss your village, Singh. This,” he paused, gesturing
at the tavern behind them. The faded sign hung drunkenly from one chain and the lamplight
was barely visible through dirty windows. As they watched, a man in filthy, torn clothing
staggered out the doorway and reeled away, down the street. “This is hell itself—especially
when compared to the beauty of your home.”
Singh tilted his face up and pondered the darkening sky above the Seven Dials, then
looked again at Nicholas.
“Sahib, it is said the most beautiful things in the universe are the starry heavens
above us and the feeling of duty within us. My duty is to you, so here I am. And the
stars that fill your London sky are the very same ones that watch over my beautiful
valley in India.”
“You’ve a saying for every instance, don’t you?” Nicholas asked begrudgingly, knowing
very well that the smoke-smudged air over the city would hide any glimpse of Singh’s
stars. Nevertheless, he too tipped his head back to look at the expanse of soot-stained
sky that seemed to hang heavily above the rookery.
“Sahib, it is said—”
“It was a yes or no question, Singh,” Nicholas interrupted, placing his thumb and
middle finger over the bridge of his nose and firmly pressing.
“Ah,” Singh uttered calmly. “Then, yes, sahib. My answer is yes.”
“Well then, in that case, let us discover what your gods and wise men might have to
say about the bowels of St. Giles, shall we?” Nicholas lowered his hand and turned
in a slow circle. “I believe we’ll begin with Queen Street.”
“Surely your monarch does not reside here?” Singh asked disbelievingly.
Nicholas stepped down from the circular road junction and gestured for Singh to follow.
“No, my good man. I am afraid the queens to be found on this particular street have
nothing of the royal about them. Now pay attention, Singh. St. Giles is infamous for
its thieves and other, more dangerous, criminals.”
He looked behind him, hoping to see the back of Singh as he ran for his life. What
met him was the man’s damnably serene smile. “Murderers, Singh,” he said with emphasis.
“I refer to murderers—and worse.”
“Yes, sahib, I understand.” Singh nodded, gingerly stepping over a stream of raw sewage.
“Though I think
you may be mistaken. For what could be worse than robbing a man of his life?”
Nicholas waved off a beckoning prostitute and swore in exasperation. “Bloody hell,
Singh. You seem to be missing the point. If we continue into the depths of St. Giles,
there is every possibility that we will be attacked. A criminal in this part of London
prays for men such as us to wander into their web. In this world, they are the spiders
and we are the flies.”
“That reminds me of a very well-known saying in my country …”
Nicholas felt his frustration grow. He’d never intended to actually enter the heart
of the rookery; he’d have to be a lunatic to do such a thing. St. Giles was dangerous
enough during the day, its narrow lanes seemingly designed for crime.
And yet, here he was, with night threatening to fall, walking down Queen Street with
Singh at his side. Duty was all well and good, but Nicholas had not rescued the village
wise man only to have him murdered in St. Giles.
He stopped abruptly and turned to face his companion. “Are you not afraid, Singh?”
“Are you, sahib?” the man countered in his annoyingly wise way.
Nicholas sized up the distance between them and the Seven Dials. Other than the prostitute,
no one else looked to be standing between Singh, himself, and safety. “Well, frankly,
yes. I could hold my own, I’ve no doubt of that. But I never intended for us to go
“Why are we here, then?” Singh asked, his eyebrows drawing together into one perplexed
line below his turban.
“I don’t remember you asking so many questions in India,” Nicholas replied, cracking
his knuckles in frustration.
“Then I will give you an answer, sahib. Yes, I am
frightened of this dark place. Less so, I think, than the boy there, though. He looks
to be running for his life, which would be frightening indeed.” Singh pointed past
Nicholas’s shoulder and up the street behind him.
Nicholas turned, his gaze following Singh’s finger. An urchin was running toward them
as fast as his spindly legs would allow, two burly men following close behind. The
child nearly knocked Singh down before taking a quick right and disappearing into
the rookery’s labyrinth of lanes.
There had been only a moment when his eyes met the lad’s, still Nicholas suspected
that he knew him—had in fact employed the urchin to gather information concerning
Lady Afton’s killer, Francis Smeade. “Was that Mouse?” he asked, staring after the
The two men chasing the boy came roaring down Queen Street, short lengths of wood
held like clubs in their beefy hands. “You go that way. I’ll cut ’im off at Bowl Yard,”
one of them yelled as they passed Nicholas and Singh. The bigger of the two peeled
away and followed the boy while the one who’d given the order continued straight on.
“I cannot say if this boy is your Mouse,” Singh answered, his voice remarkably calm.
“For the love of God,” Nicholas swore, beginning to run. “Retrace your steps to the
Seven Dials and secure a hackney. I will see you at the Albany,” he yelled.
He turned down the alley where the boy had disappeared, picking up speed as his blood
heated with the familiar feel of danger racing through his veins. He had nothing more
than the sound of feet slapping against pavers to guide him, the waning light in the
narrow lane hiding any view of his quarry.
He reached Shorts Garden Road and stopped, listening intently. The fast thud of footfalls
was more muted
here, telling him he’d either gone the wrong way or the two he chased were simply
too far ahead.
A dim light shone through the grimy windows of an apothecary just up the street and
on his left. Nicholas ran toward the building, so intent on identifying his whereabouts
that he nearly missed a street sign affixed to a tall post just beyond. Jolting to
a stop, he narrowed his eyes and read it. “Bowl Yard.”
He raced down the lane, the sound of pounding footsteps growing louder once again,
accompanied now by a roar of angry slurs and violent threats. Nicholas could not be
sure that he’d found Mouse and his pursuers. Children being chased by armed men were
not unusual here in the rookery. Really, anyone could be chased by armed men in St.
Giles without raising eyebrows.
But it was all that he had. He followed the sounds down Bowl Yard, narrowly missing
stepping on a terrier who’d wandered out from one of the shops to bark at the passersby.
The small dog yipped as Nicholas raced past, then finished his complaint with a low
The spotty lighting from the lane’s shops and taverns was suddenly overwhelmed by
another source close ahead. Nicholas saw Mouse, followed closely by the large man,
burst into the pool of light briefly, then disappear. He pushed himself to run faster
and soon discovered they’d reached the end of Bowl Yard and exited onto Belton Road.
A lamppost illuminated the cobbled stretch, where Singh stood over one of the men,
lying prone on the lane’s grimy surface. Mouse crouched behind the Indian, gulping
down air, while the second pursuer paced back and forth in front of his partner’s
apparently lifeless body.
“Sahib, there you are,” Singh said by way of greeting. “Do not be concerned. He is
Nicholas gave the second man a wide berth as he
strode across the cobblestones to join Singh and the boy. “I told you to go.”
“Yes, you did, sahib.”
Nicholas eyed the unconscious man on the ground. “Did he fall?”
Singh shook his head.
“Suffer some sort of fit?”
“I don’t give a bloody ha’penny how he found his way to the ground,” the second man
spat out, pulling a knife from his waistband. “Hand over the boy or you’ll be suffering
Singh reached back and protectively wrapped one arm around Mouse. “I am afraid I cannot
do as you ask. And should you insist, I will be forced to stop you.”
“There are two of us and only one of you,” Nicholas pointed out coolly, prepared to
defend his friend and the boy.
“You’re out of your bloomin’ mind,” the ruffian replied, ignoring Nicholas to step
over his partner’s prone body and leer at Singh. “The boy is more of a challenge than
your man here.”
Nicholas palmed the haft of the razor-sharp stiletto stowed in his boot and with one
smooth, practiced motion drew the knife. “That may be so, but you still have me to—”
He didn’t have the opportunity to finish his sentence. Singh cocked his elbow back,
then his hand moved at lightning speed, his fingers striking the man’s right inner
The brute crumpled to the ground, landing sprawled on top of his partner.
“Singh.” Nicholas stared down at the incapacitated thugs. “What in God’s name just
Singh bowed his head humbly. “I do apologize for interrupting you, sahib. But I felt
it would be in our best
interest to remove ourselves as quickly as possible. The night is nearly fully upon
Nicholas could not argue with the man’s logic. And besides, he was out of breath and
completely lacking in patience. “Come along. We will take Mercer Street to Long Acre
and hire a hackney there. You too, Mouse,” he ordered. “Oh, and say hello to Mr. Singh
here. He did, after all, just save your life.”
Singh and Mouse obligingly fell into step next to Nicholas and the trio set off for
the eastern end of the rookery, moving quickly.
“How does a Hindu wise man know anything of hand-to-hand combat?” Nicholas asked pointedly.
Singh put his arm about Mouse’s shoulder and urged him to walk faster. “Wisdom must
be earned, sahib, through much experience and struggle. And I am a very wise man.
Very wise, indeed.”
Picking the lock on Nicholas’s front door had been as effortless as the felon Roger
Rollins had always assured Sophia breaking and entering would be. A chatty and extremely
dexterous burglar who worked the Hyde Park mansions, Rollins had taken a particular
liking to Sophia when they’d met by chance at the Bow Street Office. He’d claimed
her hands were made for thieving, and proceeded to prove it, schooling her in the
ways of silent entry.
Sophia blew out a breath in frustration, sending an errant lock of her hair fluttering.
Yes, gaining entry had been easy. However, reading her mother’s case notes had proved
to be the opposite.
She sat in Nicholas’s study, mindlessly drawing on a piece of discarded foolscap while
she reviewed the official
papers. She’d begun, sensibly enough, at the beginning. Dash’s father and Lord Carmichael
had supervised the efforts, the notes written in the agent’s loopy scroll. Most of
the details were ones Sophia already knew from Dash. They included a list of people
in attendance at the house party where her mother had been murdered, as well as servants
and anyone else connected to the Afton estate, and their comments when they’d been
questioned over the following two days. In addition, there were drawings of the nursery
where her mother had been found, including the exact location of the body.
Sophia turned the disturbing sketch over onto the growing pile, and then skipped ahead
to where Nicholas’s notes began. There was a summary of the information provided in
Lord Carrington’s journal of his encounter with the prostitute—though the journal
itself was nowhere in sight.