Authors: Will Thomas
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Historical, #Mystery & Detective
To Kingdom Come
New York London Toronto Sydney
Also by Will Thomas
Some Danger Involved
A Touchstone Book
Published by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents either are products of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual events or locales or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2005 by Will Thomas
All rights reserved,
including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.
and colophon are registered trademarks
of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases,
please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales:
1-800-456-6798 or [email protected]
Designed by Melissa Isriprashad
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
To kingdom come : a novel / Will Thomas.
New York : Touchstone, 2005.
1. Private investigators—England—London—Fiction.
2. Great Britain—History—Victoria, 1837–1901—Fiction.
3. Irish Republican Army—Fiction.
4. London (England)—Fiction.
ISBN 13: 978-0-743-25622-3
eISBN 13: 978-1-439-10720-1
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
—William Butler Yeats, “Easter, 1916”
To Kingdom Come
WAS FALLING THROUGH AN INDIGO SKY. I REMEM
ber the wind whistling in my ears and my coat flapping about my knees as I plummeted. My head hurt, and as I gazed up into the remote, star-studded vault of the heavens, I was having a little trouble piecing together exactly how I had gotten there. I felt as if I’d suddenly fallen off the edge of the earth and would hurtle forever, but the logical portion of my mind told me that all this falling must ultimately end. Unless Parliament had suddenly repealed Newton’s law of gravity, I was eventually going to strike something, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant.
Raising my head just a little, I saw the large edifice of a bridge passing swiftly by, black against the cobalt night. Vaguely, I remembered thoughts I’d had once of jumping from a bridge and shuffling off this mortal coil, but that had been a few months ago. Had I finally done it? I wondered. To be truthful, I wasn’t sure I had the nerve. If this was an attempt, I could congratulate myself that it was successful, which was a novelty, since I’d rarely been successful at anything in my twenty-two years. If that actually was a bridge above me, then presumably I would strike water
shortly, which was far preferable to pavement, being less messy. I had another thought, or the beginning of one, but then I struck the water, and it was gone forever.
Water is something I’ve always considered soft, yielding, and changeable. One drinks it, pours it into vessels; it soaks into the ground. This water was about as yielding as cement. I struck the water with a loud slap, limbs splayed, flat upon my back. It actually might have killed me were it not for the coat that my employer, Cyrus Barker, had given me and insisted I wear. It was of Barker’s own design, with built-in pistol holders and a lead lining, near impervious to bullets. I account that it saved my life. It was also very heavy, unfortunately, which explains why I did not dawdle on the surface of the Thames but continued my descent.
The Thames is not the most pristine of rivers, despite the paintings one sees in Grosvenor Gallery of idyllic country scenes, men punting along the river, poles in hand, while their best girls lie in the stern in immaculate white dresses, shaded from the sun by parasols. It’s not like that at all. I would think twice about offering a glass of it to even the most hateful of aunts, even if I were her sole legatee. It was certainly not a place to go swimming in July. But then, the choice had rather been taken out of my hands.
Eventually, I came to rest on the bed of silt at the bottom, among the rubbish and detritus of London civilization. I lay for a moment, blinking up into the total blackness.
Perhaps I should just give up,
I thought. It would certainly be easier. But, no, something within me refused to surrender life without a fight. I had to get out of that coat, but it clung to me like a paramour. I struggled and flailed until reluctantly it started to give me up. I was tugging desperately on the second sleeve when I realized I was clutching something that was too big to get through it. It was my pistol. I’d forgotten that I’d been holding it before the fall. No matter. I let it go and pulled my limb through, finally free of the coat.
All I had to do was to swim to the surface and to breathe sweet air again. But in which direction was it? I was in stygian darkness, and my convulsions had even lost me the bottom I had just rested upon. I began to panic, and some of my precious air escaped. I reached frantically after the bubbles: they went down or, rather, up. I was on my head. I turned and swam after them.
I had no idea how far I’d fallen through the water, but the air I’d let escape needed to be replenished. I thrashed upward as my lungs began to insist, to scream for air. I became convinced I wasn’t going to make it. In two seconds, I was about to breathe in that fatal gulp of water. Thomas Llewelyn was going to fulfill his destiny and become another anonymous floater on the river.
my limbs cried, going slack.
It’s dozens of feet to the surface. You’ll never make it.
Just then, my mind seemed to split in two. One part began to make peace with its Maker, preparing to be ushered into His presence—
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want
—while the other, less pious, more skeptical side wanted to unravel one last puzzle before going into the beyond. I needed to disregard the pain of my splitting head and aching body and try to remember the events that had brought me here. In effect, before I died, I wanted to solve my own murder.
It was a sublime sound, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. It wasn’t loud—not much more than a thunderclap, really—but it was profound. I felt it echo from the outbuildings in our garden before reaching my ears. My employer, London enquiry agent Cyrus Barker, looked at me through his opaque spectacles, as if to ask
What the deuce has happened now?
Barker and I had been in the garden behind his house, performing what he called “internal exercises.” It had been two and a half months since he’d hired me as his assistant, and I was still recovering from the effects of our first case in which I’d been injured severely, not to mention nearly killed. It was in the back of his mind, I believe, to take advantage of my convalescence and turn me into a wiry bantamweight through the physical training he taught at Scotland Yard. He had me at the dumbbells and Indian clubs constantly. I didn’t object, because, first of all, he paid my salary and, second, I felt the training was to my benefit. The internal exercises were another matter.
There we were in our shirtsleeves, moving placidly across the lawn, waving our arms in slow, precise movements resembling postures of self-defense, save that one would have been struck long before completing any of the motions. Barker, who had learned the art while growing up in China, took it all very seriously, but to me, the exercises were no more useful than playing hopscotch. I did them all the same, of course. Aside from paying my salary, he also provided room and board.
The sky had been clear that day, and we had been treated to a shimmering sunset, blood red at first, as if a volcano were spewing forth west of us, then giving way to salmon and violet and finally deepest blue. The ornate garden behind Barker’s house in Newington was a pleasant place to be on a warm evening in late May. When I had first seen it in mid-March, I thought it austere and exotic with its large rocks, pebbles, and dwarf evergreens. Now the garden had erupted in a riot of color, resembling one of Mr. Whistler’s mad canvases, and Barker and his crew of Chinese gardeners were hard-pressed, clipping and pruning, to return it to its more stoic appearance.
Harm, self-appointed guardian of the property, reigned over his domain from a flat rock in the stone garden. Barker had informed me he was one of less than a dozen Chinese temple dogs, or Pekingese, in Europe. The dowager empress of China had given the dog to him “for services rendered,” but what those services were, he had not revealed. The Guv’nor could be exasperatingly reticent when it suited him. Our motions might have interested the little dog had he not seen us do them a thousand times. From where I stood in the bed of thyme, slowly waving my arms about like an inmate from Bethlehem Asylum just down the street, I could hear the dog snoring on the rock. I rather envied the little fellow.
It didn’t help my concentration that we faced the back of the house. On the other side of the door, there was a well-appointed
kitchen with a pantry, which at that moment contained an apple pie with cognac and caramelized sugar, prepared by one of London’s premier chefs, Etienne Dummolard. Etienne came in most mornings from his Soho restaurant,
Le Toison d’Or,
with enough freshly prepared food to last us through the day, like so much manna from heaven.