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A Trick of the Light / (by Ashton David, 2016) -

A Trick of the Light /   (by Ashton David, 2016) -

A Trick of the Light / (by Ashton David, 2016) -

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An Inspector McLevy Mystery 1
An Inspector McLevy Mystery 2
An Inspector McLevy Mystery 4
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A Trick of the Light / (by Ashton David, 2016) -
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2016
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Ashton David
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Ashton David
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upper-intermediate
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15:29:32
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

A Trick of the Light / :

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.pdf ashton_david_-_trick_of_the_light.pdf [14,07 Mb] (c: 16) .
audiobook (MP3) .


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A Trick of the Light TO SONJA 1 One of my cousins, long ago, A little thing, the mirror said, Was carried to a couch to show, Whether a man was really dead. JAMES THOMSON, In the Room Leith Docks, Edinburgh, 1864 The man had been running for his life. A shaft of light from one of the creaking ships moored in the harbour caught his face like a lovers hand and tilted it to the side as he came to a juddering halt in one of the narrow wynds; the stone passages that spread like broken veins from the main artery of the Old Docks. Breath jagged in his throat, heart jumping as he listened. Nothing. Good. He had lost them. The face was almost petulant, a drooping full lower lip somewhat redeemed by the bony hooked nose and flecked hazel eyes. He had lost his hat in the chase and his golden hair glinted treacherously like a beacon in the stray beam of light. It flopped over one eye in a manner some might describe as affectation but his wife thought most becoming. Like a true plantation owner. A shadow in the sugar cane. A bitter smile crossed the mans face. His name was Jonathen Sinclair. He was an officer in the Confederate Army and a measure out of his depth as a clandestine agent beyond the battlefield. And his wife? She was far away. Lost in a dream. The silence was profound; just the soft hissing of the rain, hardly audible, a saturating, insidious blanket of moisture that seeped into his very bones. Melissa. Sweet Melissa. They had married with the approaching Civil War as best man. Since then, only snatched moments of marital bliss where the grim spread of death and blood did not stain her pretty dress nor lessen the desire that her husband must acquit himself a hero. But that was before Cemetery Ridge, and before the Alabama was sunk in Cherbourg breakwater with thousands howling on the shore as the ship went down. How many men swam under the sea that day? How many brave sailor boys? What songs were they singing? Jonathen Sinclair realised approaching midnight in the Leith docks, in a foreign land, in a damp, dank climate where the sun seemed to grudge each moment in the sky that he was not a hero. Not by a long travail. He was capable of heroic deeds most certainly, but he could not hammer through the long pain. A real hero endures. And when he dies, angels lead him to heaven where a white house stands upon the hill with a woman looking out the window. A farmers girl. Her face always the same. Loving and full of welcome. Waiting for him. He almost burst out in a reflex of laughter but that small moment of release was strangled by a sound somewhere in the dark empty space that unrolled in all directions before him; one of which was out past the nudging ships and into the blank pitiless ocean. Footsteps. Certain in pursuit. The fixed betrothed, coming for her ravaged bridegroom. A sudden shriek on high and he clapped his hand over his own mouth to forestall startled response. As if he had divided into two parts; one the grim guardian who had watched his own men, under the merciless hail of Union artillery, splinter into the sky, grey uniforms spouting red. And the other? A young officer stands looking at himself in the mirror, slouch hat firmly upon his head, cord with acorn tassels stitched in place, travelling cape over his shoulders. A handsome dandy. It was a seagull. No more. Damned bird. Screeching like a lost soul in the black sky above. And the footsteps had stopped. Perhaps they had never existed. A figment of his guilty conscience. Sinclair removed a hand from lips that had tasted forbidden fruits and puffed out a short breath. He had learned the value of stillness, waiting in the reeds by the river to surprise a Union munitions column; arms so badly needed that they might justify the inglorious action about to be taken. Early morning, the sun new-risen, clouds like cotton, as if the world has just been born. When I was young I usd to wait On Massa and hand him up his plate; Pass down the bottle when he got dry, And brush away de blue-tailed fly. Abe Lincolns favourite song they said. A minstrel song. A slaves song. Of revenge. A large horsefly with a blue-black belly had landed on the back of his hand where he gripped the revolver. It was searching out blood and stung through just as the ragged volley of shots rang out and the dark uniformed Union soldiers fell from their horses into the yellow waters. His own soldier boys whooped and screamed as they waded out, bayonets fixed, knives in hand, to finish off the few survivors. The blade driven deep, cut and drown rather than waste a bullet, savages in threadbare Confederate grey; the war had turned them all into barbarians. As they hauled the plunging horses with their precious cargo back towards the riverbank one of the floating bodies suddenly sprang to life and a terrified young Union soldier ran towards what he hoped might yet be safety amongst the long rushes, not seeing in his blind panic the still figure of the officer standing there. Then he did. Halted. His mouth opened as if to say something in explanation before the back of his head exploded and he toppled to lie in the shallow water, fragments of bone and blood swirling forlornly around Sinclairs muddy boots. Corporal John Findhorn, who had fired the shot and would die of his wounds on the long retreat to Virginia after, like Sinclair, surviving the slaughter of Gettysburg, looked down at the corpse and shook his head. That man should have stayed dead, he pronounced. Findhorn, a Baptist from Arkansas, tended to the laconic. Sinclair found him a great relief. Most people, including himself, talked too damned much. He sucked the back of his hand where the insect had drawn blood and spat it out to join the rusty streaks in the yellow water. He and the corporal looked across and read death in the others eyes. Then Sinclair gazed up to where the sun burned with fierce indignation above in the powder blue sky. The South had no base from which to build. Their only ironclad, the CSS Virginia, had been scuttled to prevent capture. No ships or guns; the Confederates could only steal or buy and the Union naval blockade was strangling them like an anaconda. The blockade must be broken. A sound jerked him back to the present. In front of his retreat, ships creaked quietly in the harbour like docile beasts of burden. Behind though. Surely he had not been outflanked? He turned slowly, hand sliding into the folds of a thick coat where his revolver had its resting place. He had but three bullets remaining. His eye caught a flicker of movement in the darkness. Low down. A crouched shape. Too small for a man, too large for an outcast dog. Sinclair lunged with his free hand, the other gripped to his gun, and his clawed fingers found purchase on hair. Human hair. He hauled up, backwards to the faint light and looked into the feral, terrified face of a young boy. Dont mark me, sir, the captive whimpered, face crunched up in pain. Im no harmful. What are you doing here, eh? Sinclair spoke softly and dragged the boy close by to muffle the exchange, only too aware that more dangerous foes might lurk in the shadows. Where I sleep, replied the other with muted indignation. A right for some. This pallid show of gumption brought a brief smile to Sinclairs lips. He chose his words carefully. The Scots valued consonants more than vowels at times and he had mitigated his accent accordingly. Light and clear. Keep it so. What is your name? Samuel Grant. Not Ulysses S.? he asked with a bitter smile, reminded of the Union General who was a thorn in the flesh of the South and had driven the Johnny Rebs from Tennessee to open a route through Atlanta into the heart of the Confederacy. Ulysses? The other screwed up his face at the unfamiliar name. Thats foreign. Sinclair laughed softly and a glint of animal cunning showed in the boys eyes as if he thought there might be some advantage to be taken. Ive seen you, sir, he whispered. Where? At the Happy Land. The mans own eyes hardened. Lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. It was indeed true that after dark the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow were littered with the poverty-stricken discards of society but some were thieves, some were dishonest whores and many took the guise of helpless victim. And then struck. Sinclair realised that his fingers were still entwined in the boys greasy hair. He spread and released them, then stood back a little to fish in his pocket, producing a coin held up before him. Forbidden fruits. How would you like to earn this? he whispered. Whit do I have to do? Close your eyes and open your mouth. A look of sullen resignation came over Samuels face and he swallowed hard before performing as commanded. Sinclair grasped him by the back of the neck then popped the coin in and jammed the jaws shut as the boys eyes shot open in surprise. Now leave and forget me, said Sinclair, coldly. Before I cut your throat and feed you to the buzzards. The coin was almost gulped down at this but then spat out into the hand and Samuel Grant fled silently into the darkness of the nether wynds as if the hounds of hell were on his trail. Sinclair took his pocket watch from a high waistcoat pocket where it exchanged beats with his heart, and squinted in the faint light. Quarter before midnight. His grandfathers gold timepiece rarely lied. Rendezvous was the hour itself. Now or never. He took a deep breath, replaced the watch and sauntered out into the docks like a man without a care in the world. It only took a dozen steps. Enough for him to observe the sailing ships close by with a few small steamers beyond not at all suitable for blockade running, not enough speed and backbone; the ladies he desired, iron-paddled, schooner-rigged, the Emily, the Charlotte, the Caroline, were already built or being so back in Glasgow. But that city had become infested with Federal agents of the Union and so he must transact commerce where the power lay. Every lady has her price. And a respectable pimp to boot. Brothers of the Gusset. Edinburgh, He had spent a week here in sober negotiation and opposite pursuits. Now, it all must end. While these thoughts ran through his mind, his senses had been preternaturally tuned to the surroundings. There was a dense, muffled quality to the air as if everything was held in suspension, but nothing behind. No footsteps. He whistled a tune under his breath. Devil take the blue-tailed fly. Then a figure detached itself from the shadows up ahead and stood directly in Sinclairs path. At least his equal in height, the face hidden, shrouded in a black oilskin cape which fell to ankle length; like a deadly shade the figure waited for a reckoning. Sinclair had twisted and turned in vain; he knew both the identity and intention of his adversary. A dull glint of metal showed as the man raised his arm to point directly at the target. Sinclair gazed down with regret at his own hand where all that glinted was a thin gold wedding ring; he would never get to his revolver in time and would die like a dog for a vanquished cause. The South was doomed. And he was no kind of hero. A dull explosion and then the bullet smashed into his body. Jonathen Sinclair fell back and then lay still, fair hair spilled over the one hidden eye. No angels came to take him away to a house on the hill. For him at least the war was over. 2 Warped and woven there spun we Arms and legs and flaming hair, Like a whirlwind on the sea. WILLIAM BELL SCOTT, The Witchs Ballad Leith, Edinburgh, 1882 James McLevy awoke with a snort of fear, hair standing on end as he shot bolt upright in his lumpy bed. Of late his dreams had been giving him hell and this was no exception. Now was he truly out of the Land of Nod? As a policeman he would demand of his senses proof. Pain. Pain is a great indicator of the conscious state. A pin. A pin would be irrefutable, stuck into the back of the hand, but where do you find a pin in the pitch dark? He scrabbled for a phosphorous match, struck it up and lit a squat dismal candle that had its place by his bed on a small rickety table. As the candle coughed its way towards a feeble luminosity, McLevy regarded the still burning match. Caught yet by the wild fancy of the dream, what followed made perfect sense to him. He extended his thumb and wafted it over the flame. A howl of pain followed, the match was blown out, and the inspector then stuck the fleshly digit into his mouth to suck upon it like a distraught child. A foul nightmare. Buried alive. He had found himself in a cavernous long passage that wriggled ahead like a worm, having been led there by a female form that he might only observe from the back; the presence was shrouded in a long scarlet cloak with the hood pulled up as to obliterate all recognition. How hed got there he had no idea but it was surely connected to a previous fantastick episode where hed been dancing naked round a fire; no, not naked, not him, he was in coat and low-brimmed bowler, in his heavy boots, the rest were naked or damned adjacent female naked. Was Jean Brash one of them? Surely not. She was a bawdy-hoose keeper with a fine taste in coffee, not one of these loose-lipped, loose-limbed wanton creatures capering round the flames. Their bosoms bounced with no regard for modest gravity and their rounded bellies heaved and shone through the draped shreds of discoloured linen that shook in ribald accompaniment to all this gallivantation. The inspector should have arrested the sprawl where they pranced but what was he doing dancing in tune? Then it was as if someone had drawn a curtain and the scene was blacked out. And he was in the narrow tunnel, following the Red Figure was it fatal? Had Edgar Allan Poe, a man McLevy found close to his own dark imagination, not penned The Masque of the Red Death ? The effigy did not look back and the passage became even more confined, with a glutinous creamy scum hanging from the curved walls. This doesnae look good. He remembered thinking that at the time and then the figure vanished from sight and he was left to stumble alone into the uncharted murky orifice insinuating onwards. McLevy found himself upon his hands and knees, crawling like a Jerusalem traveller, the roof pressing down, the surface below a dismal brown claylike substance that clogged and sucked as he squelched forward. The creamy scum wasnt much help either and some instinct told him that if any of that landed upon bare skin, it would scald a hole like hot fat through a stretched membrane. His lungs were shuddering from lack of air as if a clawed hand were reaching through the wall of his chest and an impulse flashed into his head that hed better get to hell out of this rats nest. At the end of the passage was a small chink of light where an egg-shaped hole, too meagre for a man of his bulk to negotiate, indicated a possible source of succour. But how was he to squeeze through? He jammed his arm and head in but that was as far as he could get, no chance of his big backside following suit and anyway he could now see that the beckoning light had its origin from a lantern held by the Red Figure, who had popped up into view once more. She stood by a small jetty. A rowing boat was moored in the still night-blue water where a spectral oarsman, black garbed and hunched over, rested with his back to the proceedings. Not a promising sight, but then his attention was usurped by the slender white hand emerging from the folds of the red cloak to move towards the hood that still obscured the figures countenance. For once in his life Inspector James McLevy abandoned the consuming curiosity of his natural bent, because he knew in his bones that once he saw that face the game was over. He reached down into the depths of his being, where all this turbulence was wreaking havoc, and wrenched himself up and out of it into a shocked salvation. Witness him bolt upright, hair aghast, thumb wedged between his lips, with the beginnings of a snottery nose. He removed the singed digit, wiped the seeping organ with the cuff of his crumpled nightshirt and swung out of bed, feet landing with a thump on the cold floorboards of his attic room. McLevy flapped his nightshirt over bare calves to create a welcome draught of cold air coursing up and over his clammy skin, then took a deep breath. He was still alive, conscious of crime before it even stirred in the womb of Iniquity, a renowned thief-taker in his own city, feared by lawbreakers high and low, prone to violence when necessary and sometimes just for the hell of it, a great drinker of coffee, a sharp splinter in the rump of authority. He had survived bullets, knives, strangulation by a servant of the Crown and a drug-crazed thuggee, drowning even though he could not swim a stroke, at least two lethal women and ten times that number of murderous bastard men one of whom had tried to spatter out his brains with hobnailed boot and viciously executed downward stamp. The inspector realised he was muttering all this to himself: the sign of a disorderly mind. A charred and dented coffee pot of discoloured metal stood on a stone ledge beside the hearth, where the dead ashes of last nights fire lay scattered. He picked it up, shook it gently to and fro with his head cocked to the one side, then poured out the thick sludgy brew into an equally discoloured cup and sifted the mixture through his teeth. The liquid hit the pit of his stomach like a falling stone and almost at once provoked his bowels into subdued commotion, but it did the trick. He was himself again. James McLevy. Inspector of police. A solid, save for the bowels, proposition. With measured tread he retraced his steps to the bed and shoved his feet into a shapeless pair of old socks. This action he followed by solemnly donning a nightcap with a dangling wee toorie a birthday gift courtesy of his landlady, Mrs MacPherson, who knew well the prevailing chills of her attic rooms and then made his way towards the large draughty window, which overlooked his beloved Edinburgh. En route he stopped to regard himself in a mildewed oval mirror, bought from a toothless female hawker in Leith Market who had obviously no interest in further vanity. The glass was laid at an angle against a pile of his literary and scientific books. It reflected McLevy in all his glory. He saw a distorted version of Wee Willie Winkie. A man of some bulk. Curiously dainty hands; the one holding the cup raised a pinkie in elegant acknowledgement of his own image. Sturdy enough calves, from being on the saunter so long in the streets of Leith, a barrel-shaped corpus tending to a wee bit too much heft round the stomach, the broad shoulders sloping deceptively. And then the face. It was on top of the body. That much you could say for certain. The light from the candle threw a fragile arc round the room that rimmed him at the neck so McLevy craned forward, peering down to confirm what he already knew. White parchment skin, pitted and creviced, full lips with a curious pout like the ornamental fish of Jean Brashs new garden pond in the Just Land, a slightly spread nose from keeking hard up against too many windows, tufts of salt-and-pepper hair sticking out from the nightcap, and, below a gloomy brow, the eyes. Slate-grey. Lupine. Not friendly. Seen too much. McLevy turned away abruptly. Like the hawker he had no use for further vanity but had bought the damned reflector because of a recent incident at the Leith station. He had entered full of autumnal relish but became aware of sniggering amongst the morning shift of half-witted young constables. His own right-hand man, Constable Mulholland, hiding the amusement in his blue eyes, stooped down from a great height and informed the inspector that the dishcloth stuffed round the neck that morning to avoid the spilling content of a yolky egg at breakfast upon his whitish shirt, had failed to be removed and was hanging down his front like a dogs tongue. McLevy had lost face. To know that folk had laughed behind his back. A childhood memory of similar humiliation had surfaced. It cut him to the bone. A gang of boys following him through the wynds, howling names, spittle and stones showering his back. His mother had cut her throat, mad auld bitch. Jamie McLevy would be next. Mad for certain sure. Thank God that Lieutenant Roach, his superior in rank if not in merit, had failed to witness the incident of the overlooked dishcloth. Ergo the purchase. Every morning, before setting forth, McLevy surveyed his fa?ade in the glass, before twisting over a shoulder to make also sure the back of his thick coat held no trace of a careless repast, or the inadvertent detritus of a solitary life. This weakness angered him. Why should he give a damn how people thought or what he looked like? It was a recent personal tremor, a self-conscious frailty. Why should he give a damn? But, he did. He set his cup down on the spindly-legged table in front of the window, where he read and penned such thoughts as struck him worth the trouble into his diary, pulled back the faded brown curtains and gazed out over his city. Auld Reekie. The sky was dark as would befit the time of year, trails of street lamps on the main thoroughfares paid homage to the correlated straight lines of planned logic but off all of this mathematical probity ran crooked wynds, narrow deviating slits of passage, and sly conniving side streets his hunting ground. The night was silent. But McLevy fancied he could hear the ticking of a thousand clocks, the sighs of a thousand sleepers; men, women and children all sharing the peaceful slumber denied to him. So be it. The city was like a huge beast, flanks heaving as it slept in the darkness, and McLevy felt his breath shift in rhythm to that deep motion. A movement on the roof to the side and he caught from the corner of his eye a slinking form padding with swift sure steps on the oily slates. Bathsheba. A cat that often visited but not now. She had something in her jaws. He focused his eyes; was that a tail hanging from her mouth? McLevys long sight was exemplary, though from short up the edges blurred with increasing incidence; he tapped upon the window pane and the cat halted and turned, her yellow eyes gleaming in the sooty blackness of an Edinburgh night. Aye. Right enough. It was a long tail. Even had a vestige of life, looping round with the cats swivelling turn of the head. But the rest of the body told a different story. Dead as a doornail, the jaws clamped shut around. From the feline point of view Bathsheba observed a disembodied bulbous white shape gawking through the window, so she slipped behind a chimney stack to enjoy the fruits of her labour in peace. A nearby church clock tolled out its verdict on the state of Scotland. Four oclock. A distance from dawn. The Witching Hour. It might have been a trick of the light from the flickering street lamps but it struck the inspector that the holy spires sticking piously up into the sky to remind God that they were aye on parsimonious and pious duty, were listing somewhat to the side; slanted, as if some insidious force were magnetising them from the straight and upright. However. It was only a trick of the light. October had almost gone, the dark half of the year approaching. Halloween. The old legends had it that evil spirits were abroad and it were best to be in disguise lest they steal your very soul; but all good Christians would be well protected, buttressed by faith, wrapped tight by rectitude, sin-proofed to Satans three-pronged attack. Only those with a spotted conscience need be concerned. The likes of James McLevy. Marked by madness. Or worse. The inspectors thoughts returned to his dream. And what of these naked females, cavorting round the flames? Try as he might he could not recall their precise features, just a general impression of libidinous ecstasy. McLevy realised that his feet were freezing, even in the woolly socks. There was no point in going back to bed, however, not with a troupe of sleekit females lurking under the covers. He let out a grunt of amusement at that notion but could not rid himself of a feeling of foreboding. Who was the figure in the red cloak and why did she put such fear into his heart? Perhaps he might coax some flame from the ashes with judicious blowing plus a few tinder stalks, then a wee bit of coal, and rustle up another pot of coffee? Yet he did not move from the window. Perhaps they were all uncanny wraiths from the primitive depths of vanquished time, to be dismissed or at the very least taken into custody. Naked as sin. Just as well hed had his hat and overcoat on. Yet what was he doing dancing in tune? 3 I could not get the ring without the finger. THOMAS MIDDLETON, Master-Constable To see the two women in the Princes Street tearoom, it would never have occurred to the ignorant or unwary that they might have in mind a desire to rend tooth and nail the flesh that held the opposites very skeleton in place. One was unassuming in her dress, respectable and neat as a maiden aunt, frills forbidden, small-boned and dowdy almost, a heart-shaped face, tiny almost claw-like hands, the nails a little longer than custom might prefer. Her eyes dark, beady, like a restless birds darted here and there under the lowered lids. Her nose was narrow, as if it had been sucked by some inner force to press up against the cartilage in order to accentuate the cheekbones on each side. The mouth in contrast was wide, small milky teeth lurking behind wet lips as she sipped the scented tea. The other was dressed in the height of fashion; a gown of vivid aquamarine brought out the colour of her green eyes and the red hair, swept up save for some cunning tendrils that had escaped to call attention to the contours of her neck, contrasted with the porcelain skin of her face. A mocking twist to the lush, slightly parted lips below a delicate nose completed the picture. A pretty female, perhaps a little empty-headed even, the observer might have concluded. Flighty. Not like the sober wee soul opposite. Both women had taken great care in how they would present themselves one to the other. The bird of paradise and the sparrow. Neither, of course, might be what she seemed. Deadly rivals they most certainly were. The dowdy woman was known only as the Countess and the vision in aquamarine, Jean Brash. They shared the same profession, that of a bawdy-hoose keeper. While Edinburgh matrons discussed the relative merits of French cakes, mesmeric influence and petticoat tails, the Countess poured out more tea with a steady hand. Darjeeling. I always find the fragrance sosoothing, dont you? she remarked, in an accent that more than hinted at some passing acquaintance with the Balkans. Im more of a coffee hand, said Jean. Black. You prefer stimulation? I like to keep busy. Welcome all comers. The Countess sighed as if this statement carried hidden undertones, which indeed it did. I have asked you here, Jean Brash, she murmured, so that we may not quarrel. The other took a sip of her coffee and made a face. Bitter, she said. I dont like bitter. The older woman smiled in sympathy and then a look of concern came upon her face, as if she had just remembered something of vexation. She straightened up and her restless eyes became fixed on Jean. You have taken two of my girls, she announced. They came running. The Countess put the provocation of this statement down to the bitterness of the coffee. One of them, Simone, ma petite demi-mondaine , she is highly skilled, supple to the double joint, and represents a large investment. I doubt she will return, Jean announced, looking into the cup as if it might improve the flavour somehow. Why not, if I may make so bold? Simone told me pain had begun to outweigh pleasure in her obligations. The Countess smiled in polite disagreement. Pleasure begins when pain completes itself. Sometimes the Tiger needs a little blood. Ive seen the stripes, said Jean flatly. Indeed, the girl, who obviously specialised in waiflike crushed-flower creatures what Hannah Semple, the keeper of the keys of the Just Land, would call one o thae lily pads had shown Jean the livid marks a certain ship-owner had quirted on her lower back and buttocks. There was an element of seduction in the display and Jean was reserving judgement on Simone, the French aye being a tricky proposition, but one thing was for sure the skin did not lie. Part of the profession, replied the Countess. Not in my house. Not my girls. Justice for all. The older woman laughed as if genuinely amused, her eyes glittering with a sudden merriment. But my dear Mistress Brash, your house is like a market place where everything is laid out like a fleshers slab. In my hotel, the client may indulge himself in total privacy to the furthest extent of his wishes. I attract the most distinguished of men for that very reason. Jean had lost two judges, the aforementioned ship-owner and, at the last count, at least three High Churchmen to the Countess. All with money to burn. It rankled greatly. She had stuck to her principles but it still stung like hell. Accordingly, shed been delighted when the two magpies had flown over to the Just Land. And no-one was going to escape the consequences of comparing her immaculate bawdy-hoose to a fleshers slab. Simone tells me that a deal of your tigers are so old, they must bring medical support. And the reason they have to inflict pain is because theyre incapable of anything else. Stick that up your moth-eaten drawers , she thought. The Countess carefully replaced her cup and tapped her nails on the rim of the saucer. There was a sudden hush in the tea house as the door swung open and a tall elegant young woman slipped in, accompanied by a large imposing man who sported a curling moustache of splendid proportion and whose dark magnetic eyes swept over the assembled matrons, pausing fractionally to register Jeans cool gaze before sweeping on. The woman had the bleached, almost translucent quality of someone who rarely saw the light of day, her eyes lidded as if the brightness of assorted bone china and white tablecloths were blinding her where she stood. The man seated her with a courtly gesture, removing his soft wide-brimmed felt hat, which sported a small dark green feather in the band. This action revealed a shock of black unruly hair, carrying more length than fashion would dictate, a lions mane. He shook it from side to side as if revelling in the attention the pair were attracting from all quarters. When he smiled, his teeth were large and white, a picture of health. The womans own hair was ash blonde, lint white , as the Scots might say, neatly swept under a grey buckram hat with a small crown that perched equally neatly upon her head. Her skin was pale, almost that of an albino, and when the eyes suddenly snapped open, they were of a dark violet hue, searing against the white skin. For a moment the eyes rested on Jean and, despite herself, the bird of paradise flinched slightly in reaction. Then the woman bent over the menu card, which listed a plethora of delectation for the Midlothian sweet of tooth, and the moment passed. The tea room breathed again, gossip recommenced, and the Countess leant forward so that her face was in close proximity. There was a scent of cloves from her skin and for some reason it reminded Jean of the plague. An exotic coupling. The Countess smiled, the small teeth tucked behind stretched lips. Do you know them? Not personally, replied Jean wrinkling her nose. Sophia Adler and Magnus Bannerman. From the American shore. I have heard him speak. He is magnificent. What does he talk about? Events beyond the grave. I leave that to the minister. Reverend Snoddy. Hes awfy severe on the sinful. The Countess smiled once more with a hint of condescension and Jean wondered if the woman believed the one before her to be as simple and shallow as presented; that would be more than useful. Of course she well knew that the couple had been doing the rounds of high society in Edinburgh, Magnus Bannerman preaching the possibilities of an Unseen World and Sophia Adler a trumpeted conduit to the same. They had not as of yet seen fit to visit their talents upon the Just Land. Perhaps the incorporeal nature of their calling was incompatible with a bawdy-hoose but Mister Bannerman seemed certainly to be a man of parts. She would place him about forty-five years but in prime condition. A fine specimen. The Countess was now so close to her that Jean could discern a faint straggle of hair just below the thin nose as she spoke. The woman is a sensitive . A bridge to the future. The future? Jean looked dubious. I have enough mischief in the present. Indeed you do, said the Countess and the beady eyes found purchase, hooking into the green gaze opposite. The French girl. I want her back. That is not possible. This uncompromising retort was accompanied by a dazzling smile and nod of the head as if they had reached an agreeable solution. Shes settled in nicely and theyre all cosied up. Cosy? Her and Francine. Francine? Shes French as well. Theyre all over the place. Jean let out a silvery peal of affected laughter, which would have appalled anyone of her intimate acquaintance, one police inspector in particular. Francine dishes it out though. Theres not a tiger born can match her stripes. Before she might confide further titbits from the boudoir of applied as opposed to received flagellation, the Countess reached across and laid her hand upon the back of Jeans, nails resting lightly upon the others bare flesh. There was something invasive in the gesture, penetrating, as if it contained the seeds of violence, and Jean felt a shiver run up her arm like the electric current of a primitive defence mechanism. She had wanted to meet this woman face to face to gauge the opposition. Well, she had gauged and there was something evil behind the unassuming fa?ade that could not be ignored or underestimated. An enemy. Lethal, equal and opposite. For Jean Brash was also a dark and dangerous creature. And the shiver was as much in recognition of her own propensity for visceral and bloody conflict. Nor had the woman been fooled by the vacuous act. Jean could read it in her face. I want the French girl back. That is not possible. Almost identical statements, but this time the claws were unsheathed on both sides; Jean calmly removed her hand from under that of the Countess and rested it some inches away. I never force people against their will, she remarked, quietly. It just brings grief. Dont make an enemy of me, Jean. I hope you enjoyed the tea, came the response. That coffee was a disgrace. The Countess laughed and leant back to gather her possessions as if accepting dismissal. As she did so, she spoke almost casually, drawing on a pair of black leather gloves, which encased the small hands like another skin. But of course I know your history, she murmured as she prepared to rise. For you everything must be a fight. You dragged yourself from the gutter, and the habit remains. To provoke, antagonise. From the gutter. How sad. Youd best depart, said Jean. Before I burst into tears. The Countess stood, fished in her handbag to find a small purse from which she extracted some coins and then laid them carefully on the table. For your trouble, she remarked. Then she waited for a moment, gazing thoughtfully down at the seated woman. I have always considered, she said finally, her eyes resting on the contours of Jeans gown, the show of colour to be somewhat vulgar. I like to be noticed, was the retort. A shake of the head as if taste was a subject wasted on the garish, then the Countesss face once more set itself in concerned sympathy. Dont go beyond your class, my dear, she announced gravely, especially if you wish to avoid pain. And then she was gone. As Jean sat alone toying with her teaspoon, stirring the coffee to see if it might alter the taste, a woman who had been sitting at a distant table walked across, dainty cup and saucer in a stubby-fingered hand, to seat herself heavily in the chair previously occupied by the Countess. Her name was Hannah Semple. The keeper of the keys of the aforesaid Just Land, loyal to her mistress unto death. The death of others, that is. Hannah had a cut-throat razor and it was her boast that she rarely snapped it open without drawing blood. Not in a Princes Street tea room, of course. The clothes of respectability sat somewhat uneasily on her solid frame. By her own admission Hannah Semple was no beauty; a squashed pug-like physiognomy contained round deep-set eyes to echo the canine theme. Broken veins, which age and bitter experience had etched into her cheeks, added to the fine mix. She reached across and munched into an untouched slice of Dundee cake. Jean said nothing. Hannah munched on. Neither had noticed a small portly man who had slipped out from a table near the window and followed the Countess as she made her dignified exit. He had not paid his bill but that was not unusual for Alfred Binnie; his function was more a matter of exacting what was due and punitive. He had paid keen attention to Jean Brash, weighing her up with dispassion as a poulterer would a live chicken. Calculating which way the feathers would fly. Upwards usually, as the blade came down. Binnie left unseen. His speciality. No bad cake, pronounced Hannah, sending a few crumbs flying to scatter like birdseed on the table. Too dry, though. Lacks moisture. She knew her mistress well. Jean Brash had that broody look upon her face. Things had not gone to plan. I am afraid, Hannah, said Jean, that the Countess and I did not find a measure of agreement. Over that wee French trollop? A bruised and innocent lamb. She hasnae the pox, right enough, replied Hannah, helping herself to another slice. The doctor confirmed same. Clean as a whistle. I meant tae tell you. I am glad to hear it. Shell be useful, no doubt, was the stolid summation. Innocence is aye useful. The Countess wants her back. Uhuh? I intend to keep her. Hannah shook her head gloomily. She had a bad feeling about all this; mind you she had a bad feeling about most things most mornings. Did ye offer payment? Did I hell. That took care of that then. Trouble would ensue. For certain sure. Sharpen up the cut-throat. The other yins a menace. Jessie? None other. Lippy. A menace. She has a deal to say for herself, agreed Jean. But we may knock her into shape. Jessie Nairn, a pert wee magpie who had found her way over from Paisley to the Countesss establishment, had also flown the coop. Her reasons were not scored so deep and Jean suspected a restless temperament allied to an eye for the better chance, the Countess being allegedly mean of payment and disposition. Jean had seen many such types as Jessie pass through her hands, but the girl had spirit. Besides she had arrived with Simone. Justice for all. She stays as well? muttered Hannah. She does. Your decision, mistress. It is indeed. There was a gleam in Jeans eye Hannah recognised. A fancy name for it would be the light of battle . Looking for a face tae punch would be another. Jeans own nose had been out of joint since the Countess had opened up a rival establishment in Leith and the fact that the boy Cupid had not been hanging round her skirts of late did not help. Ah well, whits fur ye will no go by ye , Hannah resolved, even if its warfare and violence . She joined her silence to that of her mistress. They made an odd pairing: a dumpy thickset creature and the refined woman of fashion. Both were warriors. However, what was coming would be a cruel reminder that no-one is as strong as they hoodwink themselves to be. A universal truth. Rarely realised. For Sophia Adler, across the room, waiting patiently for a slow-witted local lassie to emerge from the depths of the kitchen with a pot of your finest Scottish brew as Magnus had commanded, it was a different contemplation. She had been content to watch her companion wreak havoc amongst the plump pigeons of the tea room with his hawk-like demeanour, but then her attention had been drawn towards the two women sitting diagonally opposite. One was beautiful, one was not. Sophia had the fleeting image of a dark shape shifting between them. Death perhaps. It was much on her mind. Of course the moment was broken by the thud of the teapot as it landed on the table, spilling some brown liquid out of the spout to stain the white covering like dirty blood on an altar cloth of course, and her lips twisted in a smile of wry amusement as she watched the scared waitress scuttle back to the safety of the kitchen, it could have just beena trick of the light. Now you see it. Now you dont. 4 I think for my part one half of the nation is mad And the other not very sound. TOBIAS SMOLLETT, The Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves Lieutenant Robert Roach clove easily to moral indignation, long upper lip swirling in ethical distaste as he heaped scorn upon the luckless Constable Ballantyne. He had found the young man in the small cubbyhole of a room set aside for the lesser beings of the station to store their spare boots, waterproof capes and whatever other paraphernalia made up the office of constable; a room that Roach rarely ventured within, it being subject to the unwholesome odour of a leaky water closet and the fetid smell of discarded footwear; a room that should not have contained the spectacle of a policeman gazing earnestly at his own image in the cracked mirror and waving his hands in what he imagined to be a gamut of spellbinding gestures. Mulholland watched with some sympathy as the strawberry birthmark that spread from Ballantynes neck to at least half way up one side of the face, pulsed with shame. The constable himself, none other, in his own identity, had once been caught by Roach staring into that very same cracked mirror, but he had been in love at the time and that made it, to his mind, a slightly less heinous misdemeanour. The fact of that once precious love being now dust in the wind, and his prospects of making sergeant blown to hell along with it, seemed to be of no concern to his superiors. Roach had buried the matter like a bad drive in a bunker and McLevy, a man for whom Mulholland had risked life and limb on more than one occasion, had the cheek to look aggrieved when recently informed that he, the inspector, was making an eejit out of himself by reason of hanging a tea towel round his neck like a washing line. A bitter residue still lingered in Mulhollands heart from that unlucky time of lost emotion. He had been unjustly castigated for inadvertently causing the father of his budding beloved, Emily Forbes, to hang himself by the neck with a pulley rope as a by-chance of trying to solve a case all on his own and therefore gain promotion with the welcome addition of a blushing bride; something any red-blooded young fellow would surely attempt. Surely. But it put somewhat of a damper on the wedding prospect because, as McLevy had remarked at the time, it is difficult for a father to give away the bride with his neck at a funny angle and his tongue hingin oot. Hilarious. Anyhow, it was a bitter residue. And not his fault. The welter of self-justification has ensnared many a stalwart man but Mulholland was sprung like Perseus from the labyrinth when Roach turned and asked, Well constable and what is your opinion? Mulholland had drifted away on the tide and so missed the previous part of Roachs diatribe but he had enough on hand to take refuge in ancestral wisdom. Terrible, terrible, sir, he avowed. My Aunt Katie always says that a man who looks into his own face overly much often, is looking at catastrophe. Does she indeed? muttered Roach, who considered Mulhollands Aunt Katie an Irish myth whose effect was not unlike the sea haar that descended on a clearly defined golf course and fogged up a perfectly decent approach. He turned his baleful gaze back onto Ballantyne who, in truth, was a harmless, innocent soul and totally unfitted to be a policeman. I will not have mesmeric conjuration within the legal boundaries of the Leith police station, Roach thundered like some prophet from the Old Testament. I will ask you once more, constable. Was there, at any given moment, demonic intention in your mind? The young constable blushed anew and struggled for words, which were never his friends at the best of times. It wisnae the devil, sir. Then whom were you regarding? Me. Jist me. And the gesturing of your own appendages? Ballantyne looked down at his hands, the long and finely tapered fingers at odds with rest of his awkward body, as if they might supply an answer. Have a life of their own sometimes, sir. And what was in your mind? Ballantyne bit his lip and almost swallowed the words rather than let them see the light of day. Jist hocus-pocus. Hocus-pocus? Roach let out a baffled growl and Mulholland who, in truth, was wondering why the lieutenant was getting himself into such a twist over a piece of daft behaviour, decided to bring some much needed intelligence into the situation. This mesmerism stuff is all over the city now, is it not constable? he asked with a friendly smile. Ballantyne cheered up at the encouragement, little suspecting what might be behind the fa?ade; the boy was, as has been noted, too trusting for his chosen profession. Aye. Everybodys talking. And you thought to have a pass, eh? Aye. A bit of innocent fun? Uhuh. Not a thought in your mind. No really. A hesitation, and the interrogator in Mulholland was onto it like a flash; it is astounding how often humanity begins with apparent intent to assist the afflicted and ends up screwing down the coffin lid. But there was something, eh? Some little thing. What was it now? Roach watched in silence, instinctively sensing that Mulholland was close to something. The tall constable flicked a glance his way as if to acknowledge the subtle interplay between them. Neither of these prescient beings noticed a figure slip in at the back and rest up against the wall. Softly does it , thought Mulholland, not hammering in like a certain abject personage. What was that little thing? Ballantyne hesitated once more, then looked up into the blue Irish eyes of his fellow constable and blurted out the pitifully painful truth of the matter. They say it can make things disappear. So you looked in the mirror to put the fluence on and do a vanishing act? Thats right. And what would you want to make disappear? This was the moment when the lieutenant might re-evaluate his promotion prospects if Mulholland displayed a continuing talent for such fine-milled investigation. Ballantyne fell silent. They waited. Hounds on the trail. One of Ballantynes hands, which indeed had a life of its own, crept unconsciously up to touch the livid birthmark that disfigured his face. It was as if something had kicked Mulholland hard in the pit of his stomach; in the name of his own cleverness, showing off in front of his lieutenant he had humiliated a fellow constable, a fellow human being, and if the ground had swallowed him up like another vanishing act, he would have accepted it as part of his just desserts. Lieutenant Roach though was made of sterner stuff. He searched in his mind for a phrase to indicate that whatever mitigation of physical defect, he, as premier authority in the Leith Police station, could not allow mystic influences of any kind access to a cracked mirror. Strangely enough, nothing much came to mind. Out of the ether, however, a voice sounded forth. Away ye go, constable, said James McLevy. And tidy up your desk, it looks like a midden. As the grateful Ballantyne quit the scene, the lieutenant reflected, not for the first time, how his obstreperous, noisy subordinate had the ability to ghost up out of nowhere. At the most inopportune moments. McLevy shot the shamefaced Mulholland a look to blister tarmacadam, and then turned to gaze enquiringly at Roach. The lieutenant found he had an obscure need to defend his actions, but why should he? He was the superior and he had no need to vindicate his conduct. I caught Ballantyne in the act of gazing wilfully into his own personal likeness, he vindicated, nevertheless. I gathered that, was the terse response. Mesmerism has no place in my station! Its all the rage, said McLevy, annoyingly. Im sure Mrs Roach is intrigued, is she not? It is superstitious drivel, Roach retorted, but was aware of the ground underneath his feet shifting as twere in a sandy bunker at the mention of his wife who was, in truth, intent upon dragging him shortly to some society cabal on the subject. For some reason arguing with his inspector often had this effect; the man instinctively perceived a weak point and then poked it with a sharp stick. McLevy adopted a mild, even more irritating tone. There is a measure of scientific doubt, sir. And while science doubts, we must all hold our breath. I shall hold my breath for no-one. The pernicious influence of spiritism is creeping round this city like a pestilence. Like some sort ofCatholic plot. Oh, you blame the Pope, do you? I would not be surprised, expostulated Roach, who suspected his inspector of ultramontanist leanings; no-one knew where McLevy worshipped, if he did so at all, and the man was known to whistle seditious Jacobite airs to boot. I had no idea. Had not of what? asked Roach, who was beginning to lose the thread. That the Spider of Rome was weaving this web. Roach took a deep breath. Our country is founded upon the decent God-fearing bedrock of Protestant Christianity, McLevy. Undermine that, and anything can happen. So, in the defence of your realm, said McLevy, his tone changing of a sudden to reflect the angry contempt he felt within, you would hammer in upon a glaikit wee boy who seeks to rid himself of the brand our deeply compassionate Lord has seen fit to burn upon his face? For the second time that day Mulholland felt the ground swallow him up but, strangely enough, though a muted hiss escaped from Roachs lips, he did not respond in a fashion the constable would have anticipated. It is not our task to question the ways of the Deity, inspector, he replied firmly. And, I would remind you, thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Thats between him and me, was the equally obdurate response. Roach, in his lieutenants garb, was an immaculate assembly of straight lines and knife-edge creases. He had a long snout of a nose, dry skin and irregular snaggled teeth that were the bane of his life. A crocodile in uniform. He was half a head taller than his inspector who, despite the mild late-October weather, was muffled up in his heavy coat looking like some bad-tempered winter animal newly emerged from its lair. Just leave it , Mulholland begged silently of McLevy. While youre still at the races. But no. Too much to hope. If Ballantyne chooses to delude himself that some mysterious magnetism can change the workings of his body cells and leave him with a skin to match the purity of his innocent intentions, then good luck tae him. For a moment McLevys voice thickened and Mulholland guessed the cause to be either bile or sentiment. He hoped sincerely it was bile; the idea of his inspector having finer feelings was an alarming one. Its his delusion, went on McLevy, his eyes shifting to where Ballantyne sat disconsolately at his desk, trying to impose order onto what indeed was an irredeemable mess. His delusion, and he is welcome to it. Roach narrowed his slightly bloodshot eyes. What the Lord lays upon us, we may not avoid. His mercy is infinite. His burden is heavy. McLevy sniffed, and then, with a mercurial change of mood, grinned savagely as a random thought struck home. Anyway, ye should have let him finish the job. And why, pray? Because had he done so to no effect, it would have proved that the forces of the occult could hold no sway with the malediction of a Presbyterian Almighty. The inspector let out a wild whoop of laughter. Now Ballantyne will be in doubt for the rest of his life. You have created the opposite of your intent. Jist like God. What Mulholland found bewildering was the way these two went from one level to another. That is close to sacrilege, James, said Roach quietly. The pagan in you rises. Its near Halloween, came the reply. Ill be dancing at the bonfire. Before Roach could muster a response to this profane assertion, there was an altercation of sorts at the station desk and, having had little satisfaction from Sergeant Murdoch who had his inert domain there, a young man strode towards them. He was almost as tall as Mulholland but broader of frame, wearing what looked like an old sailors coat with brass buttons; he wore a naval cap of sorts, set at a rakish angle tipped to the back of his head. The fellow was fresh complexioned, open faced, with a thick walrus moustache, obviously an attempt to add gravitas to the twenty-two-year-old countenance chosen for its domicile. His eyes protruded slightly, almost fish-like, pale blue, but they had a fierce directness of purpose. He committed himself to Roach, totally ignoring McLevy who stood aside in mock deference, a gleam of amusement in his eyes. Indeed there was something childlike and disarming about the whole presentation before them, a brash young boy caught inside a giants body. Are you in charge here, sir? he asked, the voice a little higher-pitched than the frame would warrant. There may be some who would dispute such, replied Roach, dryly, but that would seem to be my function. The young man blinked a little at this, and looked round all three policemen as if they were in disguise. I am here to report a crime, he announced finally. Youve come to the right place then, said McLevy. No denyin that, added Mulholland. Roach, of course, at this point, should have handed the case to McLevy and walked off to gaze at the portrait of Queen Victoria that hung in his office, comforting himself with the thought that both his sovereign and the Supreme Chief Constable in heaven would find no fault with their loyal servant, but some imp of perversity seized him and so he stood there as a member of the silent trinity. It is the habit of policemen when they are in any way uneasy as Mulholland was with the roasting he was expecting from his inspector, Roach with the realisation that the persecution of Ballantyne had unearthed a streak of cruel intolerance in his nature that he had himself suffered from greatly under the rigid edicts of his long dead father, and McLevy with inappropriate ribald images still surfacing from his dream that they will displace the emotion in accusative form upon the first member of the general public unfortunate enough to swim within the murky depths of their oceanic authority. And so they stood. Not one regarding the other, all focused on a stranger in their midst. Whits that in your poche? said McLevy out of the blue. He had noticed a suspicious bulge to the right side of the strangers reefer jacket. No a revolver I hope? The young man looked down at the pocket and frowned; this encounter was not turning out the way he had seen it in his heroic imagination. He plunged his hand into the deep recess of the garment and brought out the suspicious shape. A cricket ball, he declared. Ye indulge at the cricket? asked McLevy, as if it was a sign of anarchist leanings. I play cricket, football, hockey, swimming and rugby, was the proud response. What about golf? queried Roach. A splendid pastime. Roach nodded approvingly but McLevy was not yet finished with his line of enquiry. Ill wager ye also try your skill at boxing? A look of surprise flashed into the strangers eyes. I do. Last night Ill be bound. Indeed. The young man hesitated but curiosity got the better of him as the inspector knew it would. What draws you to that conclusion? The skin on the knuckles of your right hand is somewhat abraded, McLevy remarked. Of course ye could have received such chasing a ball, but there is also a bruised discolouration indicating impact and I also note the marking of a mouse under your left eye. The inspector pursed his lips and assumed the manner of a discriminating deductor. It is therefore my premise that your opponent had a hard head and got lucky wi a swipe or two. Mulholland and Roach exchanged perplexed glances; this was not McLevys usual mode of speech or behaviour. The young man, however, let out a burst of spirited laughter. By God you are right, sir. He did indeed have a frontal skull bone fit for a granite quarry. And I made the error of aiming down. Ye should aye punch up, said McLevy. More leverage. He was enjoying the looks of bafflement on the faces of his lieutenant and constable so decided to put another dent in their brainpans. I also surmise, he pontificated, that such a wealth of sporting activity and the leisure time available to pursue such, can only point to one vocation that of a university student. This time when the young man laughed the face expressed merriment and humour but no sound emerged, as if the laughter was choked at source. Almost exactly so, sir, except, and here he stepped up before McLevy with some purpose, almost as if he was about to engage him in a bout of fisticuffs, that I have not long before attained my degree. In medicine, no doubt, the inspector punched up as his opponent towered over him. Ye have the natural arrogance necessary to the medical profession but not enough brains tae disport yourself in the legal. Besides, he continued, as the young man let out a puff of air as if slightly winded, you would seem tae me to lack the requisite treachery to succeed in law. You represent the law, came the shrewd response. And I am steeped in perfidy, the inspector replied urbanely. You, on the other hand, are jist beginning. A blink of the eye showed the blow to have gone home and McLevy decided that was enough deductive intuition for the moment. Ye came to report a crime, I believe? Yes. A friend of my mothers. Her home. Up in flames? Broken into and robbed. In Leith? No other place. Indeed there is not, said McLevy with a fierce smile, as if mortally offended. It is a well known fact that we are the centre of the universe, here. The young man looked at Roach and Mulholland to see if this statement contained a trace element of irony but the lieutenants long upper lip gave no hint of such, and the constables blue eyes and fresh complexion told of nothing but unperceived insignificance. Which brought his attention back to the inspector, who regarded him with what seemed dark suspicion. Ye can put the cricket ball away, he said. The young man did so. Whit is the precise address in Leith? 42 Bonnington Road. And the victim of this criminal depredation? Mistress Muriel Grierson. A small bell rang in Roachs head but he decided to hold his counsel. Best to keep his own wife out of it, she had a habit of creeping into just about everything. And your name? McLevy asked in official tones. Doyle, said the young man who felt that he had just lost a round and been punching air. Arthur Conan Doyle. Well, Mister Doyle, said his elusive combatant. I am James McLevy, inspector of police. Let us go and investigate criminality thegither. 5 I tell you what I dreamed last night It was not dark, it was not light, Cold dews had drenched my plenteous hair Through clay; you came to seek me there And Do you dream of me? you said. CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, The Convent Threshold Magnus Bannerman whistled cheerfully to himself as he laid out the cards. Two pack solitaire, shuffle and deal. Forty Thieves. Otherwise known as Napoleon at St Helena , it being the pastime with which the defeated Emperor beguiled himself on his last and lonely exile. Magnus enjoyed the idea of himself and the little Corsican reading the tableau and making their plans. The Frenchman dreaming of a lost empire and he on rich pickings in a foreign land. As in many other solitaires, kings were a drawback. Took space, were hard to move. You had to build up foundation from the aces. Royalty gummed up the works. Careful planning. You saw a space; the first impulse would be to fill it up, but then a vital link might be lost for it was necessary at some point to dig into the covered talon of cards; the past must be resurrected. It was all a matter of recovery. And careful planning. His large spade-shaped fingers were surprisingly dexterous as he twisted the cards over to lay them face up. Now he was left with the pack of the pasteboards held over, sixty-four in total. The hand . Face down in a solid rectangle. You may only turn them once. If they had no place, thence to the talon . Before he began, Magnus surveyed the spread. It had possibilities but would depend on the order of what ensued from the pack. Now if he was a true sensitive he might intuit what was to come. But he was merely a gambler with a gift of the gab. Before he made his first move, Magnus snapped open a small silver case and extracted a slim cheroot, which he lit up to puff out a thin spurt of smoke, eyes closed in tobacco heaven. Some preached against the leaf but they had no idea what it added to the pleasures of the flesh. He opened his eyes once more and gazed round the well-appointed hotel room. Yes indeed, the lap of luxury, who would have thought a riverboat gambler down on his luck could have found such a sweet little ace in the hole? His eyes flicked to the side door behind which Sophia was enclosed. His own quarters were out across the hall for proprietys sake but the woman shared her bed now and then if she had an itch to scratch. Not presently though. Something in the tea house had set her mind inwards and Sophia had retreated to the separate small side room in her quarters she always insisted on possessing no matter where they had their lodgings. And it had to have a lock. What she did in there was anyones guess; commune with the spirits? Another mystery was the small leather suitcase she carried by herself everywhere they travelled. That case Sophia kept in the side room as well and when he had made the mistake one day of trying to spring the catch in a London hotel lobby, the Langham no less, while she was powdering her pudenda, the damned woman somehow knew and in a white fury warned him that if he wanted to keep his procreative means intact, hed best contain his curiosity. Or his testicles would pay the price. She hadnt exactly phrased it in such blunt fashion but Magnus had got the message. Yes, indeedy. And the other message received was that of the milk cow. These fine young teats of hers, with a tug here and a tug there, brought forth rich reward. But it was her milk. She provided. He merely managed the liquid flow. That was his talent. Magnus had always been a showman, a gambler, a handsome brute, a ladys man; he hid his card manipulations behind a ready smile and friendly, open face. He was also blessed with a fine baritone voice and eloquent sincerity of speech; he could have been an actor or nostrum salesman but Lady Luck had claimed him as her own. For a while. Then the damned Civil War had blown the steamboats out of the water; not that he had taken sides, a gambler never takes sides so he cursed Abe Lincoln and Jefferson Davis in equal measure. Between them, however, they had wrecked the fine currents that Magnus plied his trade in, and if that were not enough, then came the railroads. No romance to the iron horse. Where was the full moon shining on the Mississippi water, where a man might wander up to a pilgrim who had made a killing in some cattle deal, had money to burn, whisky on his breath, leaning against the rail dreaming of some woman who was never in a million years his wife, and offer up a friendly game of cards? The air would smell of river blossom; some mulatto girl, bare-legged, with long slender arms, slowly washing clothes by the bank, a travellers mind wandering to some tryst with such a succulent creature, and in that splendid state of priapic suggestibility he would be a lamb to the slaughter. A secluded cabin, a whisky bottle on the table, perhaps some other travelling men, a fresh deck of cards and that sweet thrill when the deal went down. No such delight upon a train. Conductors, railway detectives and sour-faced women keeping an eye on their sad-faced husbands. In the long years after the war, his luck had gone to hell even with the calculated skill he could bring to bear. He gambled now in saloons where the pilgrims were sharp-eyed and quick tempered. Ended up in San Francisco, down by the docks, lost all his money in a game of poker. Some dewy-eyed kid turned over a full house and cleaned the table. Magnus walked out of that bar with a five-dollar bill in his shoe, court of the last resort. He was over forty years and running out of luck. Somewhere off to the side he could hear a bunch of heathen Chinee squabbling over a game of mah-jong on one of the junk ships. A crescent moon above hooked into the sky, and it seemed as if he was the last man left alive as he walked along the creaking waterfront. How long he had wandered, hed lost count of that. Hours, days, nights, his head was full of dark thoughts: damned Irish stock, Bannerman, a name for someone who carried the flag at the front and died first in battle. Found himself, like something in a dream, in front of a tall building that stood alone, composed of slatted wood, weathered by the salt currents of the sea. By the door were pinned cards advertising the wares of various flowers of the night who promised innocence and satisfaction. Penetrate the one to achieve the other. Then, almost in keeping with the exotic macabre feel of the occasion, a melancholy pulsation as if it was his last moment alive, his attention was caught by a newly tacked-up piece of thin white vellum amongst the promised joys. The paper was already curling up, as if recoiling from the company it kept, and on impulse he ripped it from the nail and held it out under the light to reread the words he had already registered. What is your future ? said the message. Magnus came back to the present. A hotel in Edinburgh. Turned over a card. It was the jack of diamonds. He knew that future now. The side door opened and Sophia Adler slipped through, locking it behind. She had changed into a simple pale green gown that fell softly round her uncorseted body in seductive folds and for a moment Magnus felt a carnal urge to leap across at her like some natural animal. But then he observed she had that distracted air and slewed, swivelling motion to her eyes; as if she had been floating in a fluid universe and was still immersed in some opalescent reverie. Accordingly he returned to the cards, turning them over slowly while she walked to the window and looked from the hotel onto the sober thoroughfare of George Street spread out below, not yet echoing the busier parallel of Princes Street a few roads further down. The weather was mild but the distrustful citizens paid no heed to the possibility of clemency; heads down, hunched as if suffering a driving rain, they shuffled and darted in the gloomy afternoon amidst carriages and sundry vehicles like denizens at the bottom of the deep, half-blind, anxious to avoid contact lest it contaminate. At least that is how it appeared to Sophia. So much of her time when alone was spent in a world of shifting shapes and snatches of voices on the wind, that she was sometimes unsure where one world ended and the other commenced. But she had worshipped at the shrine and cleansed her soul. Now it was almost time to begin. Vengeance. She was nineteen years old and had waited long enough. This was the city. Sophia had made her plans. Now it was time. Magnus snapped over a card and muttered in annoyance at the result. Then he suddenly laughed; it was one of his most attractive features, a sound that seemed to come from low in his belly and fill the room with genuine physical pleasure. What is your future ? he said, sliding one more unsuccessful card into the overlapping talon . She smiled, remembering the way the flimsy door had creaked open in San Francisco and she had clutched a small derringer under the table in case her intuition had deceived, but no a man stood there, liquor on his breath, a wild, desperate look to his eye. Caged inside himself. The chosen one. An empty space that she could fill. It would take time but she had the power. He was the instrument. How much did you charge that night? Magnus asked. Five dollars. It was all you had, she answered from the window, watching a vagrant dog barely escape the wheels of a hurtling carriage, the coachman whipping the horse on in brutish fashion. As the vehicle plunged off, the barking dog was joined by another, a yellow cur, slinking, less brave, the weaker of the two animals. But strong enough to kill a rat. Magnus laughed once more and puffed out a last thin column of smoke before stubbing out the cheroot. She liked that smell on his breath, it brought back memories. Good before they became otherwise. Her mothers eyes looking into hers. Dilated, wild and wanton. The broad back of a man. A man she recognised only too well. She pulled herself back from memory. The hotel room was a pale peach colour, which she found restful and untainted by previous association: the place newly converted from three buildings meshed together. The Spiritualist Society of Edinburgh, though not the main thrust of the organisation, had done them proud. It was the end of a long tour of Victorias kingdom and Sophia had insisted Magnus arrange that it end here. They had travelled all the main cities, word of mouth creating a hunger for what they had to offer. Another world. Where the dead spoke. But not all of them. Some stayed hidden. Waiting for a sign. Waiting for vengeance. She shivered with a hunger of her own and crossed back to lay her hand upon his shoulder. Corporeal comfort. Magnus was halfway through the game. Finely poised. You think it can be solved? he asked. How would I know? she replied. Something in her tone stilled his restless fingers and he remembered the moment when he had pushed open the door and entered that dirty little airless room to find a figure sat facing him in the shadows, face and hair concealed behind a white veil like a brides, one hand under the table, one palm upwards pointing towards him. Like any good gambler he had established the ante, slid over his last five dollars, and waited for his future to be told. No crystal ball to look within. The figure spoke and asked his name. He gave it. She had a soft accent, Southern hint perhaps, hard to tell. His own had no trace of a family of ten, in Pittsburghs fair city, grinding poverty and empty guts. His father all the way from Armagh found a German woman to his liking and set about recreating the very reason he had left Ireland in the first damned place. A big man. Big hands. Michael Bannerman. Worked in the steel mills on the south side as a puddler. Magnus was the oldest. He got the knuckle first. His privilege. Truth be told, he was probably an evil brute to have around, big like his father, violent in temperament, and, from an early age, slippery with the stair-head girls. The breaking point had come when his devout mother Marta, back early from kissing the Popes backside, discovered her own first born bare-arse naked with the wife of her husbands best friend, Sonny, who worked down the docks with an iron hook instead of a right hand. Turned out the damned priest had keeled over, a heart attack, hence Marta back at the wrong time, hence her scream to see a decent neighbour and wife spread-eagled up against the cellar wall, hence her wastrel son hauling up his pants and rabbit-footing out of there never to look back. Magnus sometimes wondered what had happened to the wife, Maria, Spanish blood she had running in her veins, hot to touch. Then he thought of that hook. Spanish blood. He was fifteen. After that, on his own. Took on another identity. Clever with cards, words, took on another voice, buried the stink of a ferrety existence, buried the times when his fathers fist had smashed him to the floor, buried all his dark violence deep behind a smile, down forgotten deep to the entrails. Buried the beast. That was the past. Another life. Put your hands in mine, the voice had said. The figure extended both of hers, palms up, across the table and he covered the white fingers with his own great paws. He felt a jolt of sorts run up his arm and the shape opposite shuddered as if lightning had struck her down the very middle. She whipped her hands back and regarded him through the veil. The silence brought out anger, as if she was intruding into a secret, like someone at a circus peering in a cage. At the hidden violent animal. I have paid you five dollars, he growled, as a bear might. I demand to know my prospects. There was a sound behind the veil that might have been smothered laughter, then the gauze was lifted and he looked into a pair of violet eyes that pierced him to the bone. Youre a dead man, she said, pale skin glowing in the dark. Youve run out of time. You have no prospects. He knew this to be the truth. She was young, he could see that now. Might be no more than seventeen years. Or seven thousand. That damned superstitious Irish blood; it infected him with wild belief. He had switched away from the eyes. Down to the mouth. The lips were rosebud pink, sensuous. Forming words. You have but a single chance, they said. The only future left is the one you have with me. Thats where it had started. All this had flashed through his mind as recollection froze him in front of the spread deck. Sophia reached forward and in a sudden movement, smashed all the cards together, foundation aces, kings, queens, treacherous one-eyed jacks, she destroyed their various citadels, then pulled his head round so that he was looking up at her. The only future left, she said. After such a declaration, her eyes crossed focus, a comical phenomenon that happened when she had been in the fierce grip of the other world or as a harbinger of sexual passion. Either way, it always made him laugh. But then he delved deep into her body and the power was like nothing he had ever known. And then he forgot the world. 6 Oh! What a snug little island, A right little tight little island. THOMAS DIBDEN, The Snug Little Island Muriel Grierson lived in fear of her husband, Andrew. The fact that he was dead in no way lessened the anxiety she felt at his house being desecrated by the removal of its most valuable contents while she and the maid Ellen were out shopping for provisional salvation at Leith market. Of course this expedition had been at Andrews posthumous behest, for he frowned upon money wasted over vegetables or meat the cheapest cuts simmert lang, taste aye as guid as hutheron veal was his oft-repeated dictum. Although it was nigh on two years since he had last glowered at her over such a repast bolstered religiously by the root vegetables in season mair time buriet, mair flavour tae be found she could not rid herself of the parsimonious habit of picking over the stalls that offered wrinkled provender. So, when she returned with the laden Ellen trailing behind after such a frugal foray, her first response on opening the front door to find the furniture agley then going into the drawing room to discover drawers pulled out, contents scattered, was to look up in horror at the portrait of her husband, draped in black cr?pe, that scowled accusingly down at her; her second action was to scream. The sound still echoed in her ears, to a certain extent numbing her against the awful aftermath of finding her few pieces of jewellery gone; most galling of all a diamond brooch that Mamma had bequeathed her, being an especial sad loss, a mother-of-pearl music box that played Flow Gently, Sweet Afton a wedding present from Andrews employees at the funeral parlour and a large amount of cash she had foolishly not lodged into her British Linen Company savings account when she had discovered it recently, hidden in a locked bottom drawer in Andrews desk in the study. The desk had also been hastily ransacked, the papers strewn over. All this in varying degrees of accuracy, detail, and emotional heat she reported to McLevy as he stood like a block of wood amid the carnage of the rifled drawing room. The inspector noted it all down while covertly observing the way Muriel rested upon the manly arm of young Arthur. He, of course, was unaware that dependence has its own tendrils but in the inspectors experience when a woman leant upon you, it was always a good idea not to lean back. Tempting, but not a good idea. The wifie had an oval-shaped face and was pretty enough in a china doll fashion but McLevy sensed a restlessness of sorts. As if she had spent her life striving for something just out of reach. Not an uncommon condition for the female; women often dream of a better life in another universe. He evidenced her age at near forty, though she dressed younger, and guessed there were no children. Funeral parlours do not encourage procreation. Roach, his own lieutenant, had undertakers blood running in his veins, and he was also childless. McLevy and his constable had snuffled round the house, outside and in, to discover a few things that the inspector was keeping to himself for the moment. Mulholland was presently closeted with the now unburdened Ellen; the constable was good with maids and this one, short and dumpy, with a face that would never threaten Helen of Troy, was tailor-made for his Irish charm. The inspector just frightened dumpy women. Arthur has been a tower of strength, declared Muriel, with my own poor husband dead and buried. McLevy, as soon as hed seen the portrait, had recognised Andrew Grierson, a miserable bugger who aye looked as if sizing you up for an imminent wooden box. Im sure Arthur has been, he muttered, and will be ever more, but whit was he doing here? I beg your pardon? said Muriel, who was beginning to form a dislike of this uncouth creature. Could he not see her distress, her demonstrable lack of jewellery? Arthur, who had been conscious of her hand tightening on his arm, sending a palpable tremor through the limb, sensed insinuation of some kind in the inspectors words and hastened to defend the fragile form beside him. But he did so with some care, because Mister Doyle, despite headstrong ways and occasional rush to judgement, was no-ones fool. He had observed that McLevy unsettled people. The inspector had done it at the station to his colleagues, to Arthur himself, and was doing it again. To the unsuspecting Muriel. Doyle recognised the technique himself from the rugby scrum. It was all a matter of equipoise. Keep the opponent off balance, the feet slipping under, limbs splayed, then apply the pressure. And hammer him down. I happened here by chance, he offered. I was delivering a note from my mother to Mistress Grierson. Mistress Doyle and I are old friends, added Muriel, and were to meet this evening. The note was to confirm a time, Conan Doyle said firmly. A little later than planned. But I may now have to postpone, said Muriel, with this dreadful loss of property. Thiscatastrophe! McLevy had a fine ear for the tonal nuances of respectable Edinburgh and this seemed to be quite a song and dance from her, as if something was being concealed, but he nodded as if it all made sense. On a cursory examination, there appears no sign of forced entry, he announced, shoving his notebook deep into his coat pocket. All windows front and back apparently intact, no boiler hammer crashing through the panels of your door, no jemmying of the outside locks. While stating the obvious, he had one ear cocked to the other room out by the hall where Mulholland was no doubt beguiling the stolid wee Ellen, his hair neatly parted, blue eyes shining as if butter would not melt in his mouth. But it would. Butter. That hornbeam stick of his had cracked open many a criminal pate and had the man not looked up at the suicidal revolving feet of his once potential father-in-law? The constable had been down many dark alleys and was as near to insidious and shifty as McLevy himself in the onerous pursuit of justice at all costs. He also had an innocent face that invited female confidence, which he would have then no scruple in abusing. But since McLevy had not heard any wild self-incriminating cries, he must assume that Ellen was holding also to her story. Abody sticking to their guns. Ye left the house after a bite tae eat at half past one oclock in the afternoon, he stated pedantically. And returned at three oclock, that same day. An interval of one and a half hours. Doesnae leave long. Conan Doyle nodded a mature agreement. I would concur with you, inspector, he stated, as if indeed they were investigating the crime as equals. And it leads me to an inescapable conclusion. Whit might that be? Mistress Grierson assures me that the front door has a spring mechanism that locks automatically upon closing; I myself, on finding larceny, examined the outside back locks and windows before searching out authority. Authority, the inspector scratched his head as if puzzled by something. That would be me? Exactly! beamed the young man, as if the slower student had caught the current. I agree with you, sir, no sign of a break-in. Apparently. Definitely! What do we then conclude? Oh, you go first, was the shy response. Doyle drew himself to his full height under Muriels admiring gaze. Examining the known facts I can only therefore deduce someone has procured a copy of the house keys. For a moment a shadow crossed the womans face and then she let out something very close to a wail. Oh, say not so, Arthur! The young man tried to soften the severity of his supposition. No-one is blaming you, Muriel I never let them out of my possession. Whit about Ellen? grunted the inspector. Does she have a set? Ellen has been with me for nearly ten years, I would trust her with my life! But could ye trust her wi your jewellery? was the thought in McLevys distrustful mind. Whit about your husbands keys? They were buried with him. Alongside his measuring stick for the deceased and his wedding ring still upon the finger. It was stipulated so in his will. While McLevy mulled over that strange request, Doyle put his hand to his chin in a manner that suggested deep contemplation. So, we have two possible sources, both of which would seem Three! McLevy, who had endured quite enough of this highfalutin elucidation, marched out into the hall followed, after a second, by the others, Muriel letting go her vicelike grip on Arthurs arm to squeeze her skirts through the door. The inspector walked rapidly up to the front entrance and pulled aside the draught excluder curtain to disclose a bunch of keys hanging from a nail. Oh dear, said Muriel feebly. I forgot. The spare set. Theyve been hanging there since the beginning of time. Andrew always kept them by the door in case of Catastrophe? Conan Doyle paid no heed to the sardonic tone in the remark. Of course. Now the solution is obvious! he cried. Is it? Nothing in McLevys experience was ever obvious. All things had, lurking within them, a subtle subversion. Remove the keys, said the young man eagerly. Press them into soft wax, imprint both sides, replace, then make a metal copy from the imprint and no-one is any the wiser. The inspector put on what Mulholland would have recognised as his daftie face where he let his jaw drop and eyes widen; it served him well in that the more folk felt obliged to elaborate, the more they gave away. He did not necessarily suspect the fellow before him of malfeasance but somebody somewhere had something up the sleeve, up their jooks, a secret thought, a notion withheld. Who would do all that? he asked. Anyone who knew of the location. And who might that be? Someone who was often in the house. Such as who? This stopped the train of deduction in its tracks because the one person present who might qualify for that possibility was Doyle himself. However Muriel, who had been, for her, strangely silent since the revelation of the twitched curtain, suddenly launched forth like someone with a story to tell. Of course, when Andrew died the house was invaded by tradespeople; the reception of the coffin, the mourners, the relatives, it all needed to be catered for. Aye. Nothing like a deid body tae provoke appetite. Muriel nodded vigorous agreement. Ellen and I were rushed off our feet; I had to employ extra staff, provide food, whisky the amount of whisky consumed at a funeral is nothing short of scandalous and I distraught with grief. That would surely be the time and opportunity. Conan Doyle had moved out of the limelight and now watched from the side. Although he had a highly developed sense of chivalry towards the frail vessel of womanhood, he was also trained to observe. And it struck him with some force that the inspector was playing Muriel like a hooked fish. Had he, Conan Doyle, man of medicine, acute of sensibility, a student of the great Joseph Bell who taught him to be on constant alert against the assumptions of a lazy mind, to take the contraposition to implication and only deduce from known facts had he also been played like a fish? For a moment he caught a glimpse of himself in a long mirror that hung by the side of the coat stand in the hall, and with his protruding eyes and droopy moustache, he might well have been mistaken for a large cod. With an effort he shook off this unflattering comparison to hear the inspector cast another query. But your husband died two years ago. Why wait until now to utilise this presumed copy. What has changed? McLevy hauled his notebook out and licked his lips, turning pages, peering down as if to refresh his memory. Ye found a sum of money in his desk. Notes of the realm. Near a hundred pounds, ye said? A nod in answer. Silence is golden. Approximately two weeks ago, ye said? Another nod. A deal of money. Ye should have banked it. Bankers aye like to see money coming in at the door. I didnt like tohandle such. Was it tainted? It was Andrews. Well, its gone now. A fierce amount. What use would he have had for it? I do not know. The garrulous Muriel had suddenly clammed up like a clabbydhu. A door further up the hall opened quietly and Mulholland slipped out. McLevy had positioned himself so as to have the vantage, looking out past the other two down the corridor. The constable shook his head to signal that Ellen had tucked in her elbows and given away nothing. Conan Doyle cleared his throat. His features had altered from cod-like, more towards that of a Chinese Mandarin. Is it your contention, inspector, he announced gravely, that there is a connection between the discovery of the cache of money and the larceny? Possible. Possible. All things are possible. This cryptic response galvanised the policeman into sudden action as if what he had just said had unleashed a font of energy in his own being. Who else did ye tell about this treasure trove, eh? he demanded fiercely. Only Ellen, of course, replied the startled Muriel, And Arthur, of course, said McLevy. Naebody else? A moment, then she shook her head. A moment. But McLevy registered such slices of time. He suddenly smacked his hands together, which sounded like a gunshot in the stillness. Youd be surprised the number of folk who leave their spare keys on a nail by the door and anyone who knows the working of a household bereft o common sense would, as I did, check their whereabouts. Now! He almost jumped up into the air, and Mulholland, who had witnessed this explosion of energy before, often with violent consequences, hoped that nothing untoward was about to happen to Big Arthur and wee Muriel. I examined the keys for traces of wax but found none, McLevy continued. That means damn all. They could have been cleaned, and it is my contention they played a part in all this but not in the way, Mister Doyle, that you would have me believe. I would not have you believe anything , inspector, replied Conan Doyle stiffly. I merely suggested a possible mode of deduction. Deduction? McLevy gave another little jump. Deduction depends on experience, sir. And experience is hard-earnt! Having delivered that pithy aphorism, he strode past, heading towards the rear outside quarters of the house; as they trailed after him, the others were taken aback to see the bold Mulholland looming in the narrow space as if he had materialised out of nowhere. The constable nodded politely but did not follow. He moved instead towards a small window at the hinder part of the premises and took up his station there as a silent jerk of the head from a passing McLevy had so instructed. Left alone for a moment, the constable felt a strange lightness enter his being and whipped out his hornbeam stick to brandish it in the air in the manner of The Count of Monte Cristo . He thrust it forward into an imaginary opponents guts, a man who bore a marked resemblance to his own inspector, and was about to eviscerate a dead ringer for Lieutenant Roach when a dry cough brought him round to face the maid Ellen. She must have emerged behind him as silently as he had accomplished earlier and regarded him with wary eyes. Ill away and make some tea, she announced. 7 Swerve to the left, son Roger, he said, When you catch his eyes through the helmet-slit, Swerve to the left, then out at his head, And the Lord God give you joy of it. WILLIAM MORRIS, The Judgement of God The inspector was out in the garden looking at the back wall of the house by the time Doyle and Muriel caught up with him and he gestured all around as if to say, whit do you make of this? Truth to tell the place was not a verdant proposition; a despondent lawn of sorts, some wilting blooms that had shot their autumnal bolt and various gorse bushes that no doubt longed for a wild highland hillside. Perhaps this emaciated Eden might have served as metaphor to the state of joyless marital rectitude within, as the vibrant growth of Jean Brashs fauna and flora at the Just Land testified to the luxuriant and fertile nature of sin, but the inspectors attention was fixed upon an area of earth just below a small high window. The large leaves of some yellowed ornamental brassica of sorts obscured the patch but when McLevy knelt to separate the leaves, the part print of a shoe was revealed. Whit dye make of that? he asked of Doyle. It is very small. Uhuh? A dwarf maybe? This was unfair to a certain extent, since McLevy and Mulholland had already more or less worked out the modus operandi of the break-in before the inspector had decided to wreak further havoc in the despoiled household. A normal tactic for McLevy, who considered that in burglarious activity the crime from outside usually had its counterpart within. Yet why he chose to involve Conan Doyle in the process was a mystery, except that there was something about the young man; his mixture of bumptiousness and sensitivity, arrogant belief in his own acuity allied to a vulnerable awkwardness that irritated and intrigued McLevy at one and the same moment. Who else could he possibly know that might fit such a description? Having displayed the dwarfish concavity, the inspector then indicated a part of the wall below the small window. Doyle peered keenly at the house bricks and noticed some faint scrapes on the stone. This he reported to his mentor, who then asked for a conclusion. An animal of sorts? Doyle responded somewhat weakly. Ill show ye a trick, said McLevy. Mulholland! In answer to this bellow, the small window high above suddenly flew open with a wrenching shove and Mulhollands long nose poked out, followed by the rest of his face. It is a simple matter, McLevy declared to the bemused Muriel and the young deductor. If you examine the wood of the window frame you will see it bears the mark of a thin forcing tool, low down. I would imagine it has aye been hard to shove open and pull shut, swollen wi weather nae doubt. Yes, offered Muriel, anxious to make a contribution. It has never functioned to proper office, I was forever saying to Andrew Aye, well, Andrew is no longer extant, said McLevy callously. I take it to have been jammed shut but not fastened secure. Neither flesh nor fowl. Yes. Muriel swayed slightly but Arthur did not offer the steadying arm she desired. He was on the case. McLevy now spoke quietly, almost disinterested. Your movements are watched. There is a side lane runs along where ye leave your bins out for the scaffie men and as soon as you depart, two of the thieves scale the wall into your garden. Quick tae the back part of the house, one on the others shoulders, lever open the window and then But the size of the aperture! Doyle could not forbear interrupting. No for the likes of you and me Mister Doyle. A dwarf ? A snakesman, said McLevy. Conan Doyles mind entertained the sudden picture of a creature, half man, half reptile, slithering up the wall. A small boy, Mulholland said loftily, on the back of an accomplice, wriggles in at the window. McLevy resumed the tale. To the front door, keys from the nail, unlocks. The accomplice, dressed perhaps as an honest tradesman, has knocked upon the front door, it is opened as if by the maid, he steps inside. To any onlooker a normal procedure. The criminals make a heavy lift, wedge the high window back shut, keys replaced on the nail, out the door, close it fast, spring lock jumps into place. All is as was. Mulholland watched from the aforementioned window as his inspector spread his arms like a man about to perform an illusion. Hey presto: the mystery of the locked room! After a short squeezed bark of laughter, McLevy dropped his arms to scrutinise the man and woman before him. All this jiggery-pokery is not unusual for the criminal fraternity; they are a devious crew, indeed it has aye struck me that if they applied such intelligence to lawful pursuits they would rule the Empire no that is not unusual but it leaves some questions hangin in the breeze. He ignored Conan Doyle and fixed his gaze upon Muriel. Assuming, as I think it just to do so, that the money found was the felonious motive, how did the criminals know this? How did they know about the jammed window? How did they know the location of the keys? The mistress of the house made no reply; her fingers which, like her mind, had not been still this whole time, curled into her palms to make two small fists. At this moment, Ellen the maid, a stoical wee soul, born and bred in the locality, came wandering out the back door from the kitchen, her demeanour showing no trace that she had witnessed a police constable attempt to skewer two of his superiors where they stood. Ive made a pot o tea, mistress, she announced. Can I tidy the drawing room and lay out the cups and saucers? Muriel looked at McLevy, who nodded permission; he had made severe examination and gleaned all there was to hand. I shall now make some enquiries amongst your neighbours as regards tradesmen at your entrance, he announced to Muriel. But respectable folk are remarkably unobservant and Im not hopeful. Ill wedge the window tight, Mulholland said helpfully. But you need to get a decent joiner in and a strong catch new-fixed. So saying, he popped back out of sight like a jack-in-the box and the window was duly pulled shut. There was another moments silence. McLevy stood completely immobile, as a stone statue. A bird sang. Short, staccato notes, like a warning. Would ye no have a wee cup of tea, inspector? asked Ellen out of the blue. She might indeed be dumpy but showed no sign of fear. He looked into her eyes. They reminded him of his Aunt Jeans, brown, steadfast under scrutiny, and it was to his everlasting shame that he might suspect this honest maid of having a lover on the sly and tipping the transgressor off about a bottom-drawer bonanza. He could hear his aunts voice. Jamie McLevy, is there nothing in this wide warld that ye dont hold in deep misdoubt? Muriel and Conan Doyle were somewhat taken aback to see a warm smile light up the inspectors face as he inclined his head respectfully towards Ellens chunky form. No thank you, miss, he said. I have business on hand. A policeman aye has business on hand. She smiled in return and for a moment he was reminded of someone from childhood, then he turned towards the others and pointed down to the earth below the window. Dont touch the soil. I shall send a man round to make a cast of the footmark, though to my eyes it is a common shoe, nondescript amangst its fellows. He had not removed his low-brimmed bowler during all this time but now tapped twice as if to wedge it on his head before stepping up close to Muriel. Mistress Grierson, he began and for a moment her heart thudded against the tight confining corsetry. Her thoughts ran wild. What if he suddenly said, I arrest you for the murder of your husband Andrew that you have poisoned tae death wi rancid meat and buriet vegetables, and I suspect you also of fondling the flesh masculine what if he knew her guilty secret? But he said nothing of the sort, though his face was solemn, grey eyes piercing, seeking a trace of culpability in her own. Once more I am brought back tae the question; who knew of the discovery in the desk, the located spare keys, the jammed window? Somebody did. And used that knowledge. Her chin came up slightly. In that I cannot help you, inspector. I have lost a great deal that is precious to me. I believe it is your task to find it. Once more she grasped onto Arthurs arm. This time in a firm taking. And I have disclosed nothing to a living soul! McLevys face was impassive at this vigorous denial. I shall make enquiries in the usual quarters for your purloined valuables, but you can kiss the money goodbye. A brusque nod and he was out of sight. The bird sang once more. A sharp, piercing note. Muriel avoided Ellens eyes. Ill awa an lay out the tea then, said Ellen, but at the doorway she suddenly stopped. My mother knew him, she remarked. I beg your pardon? Muriel asked. McLevy. The thieftaker. Is he noteworthy? Doyle said with sudden interest. Aye. In Leith especial. Abody kens him. And fears as well. High and low. No mercy. For a moment Ellens eyes narrowed as if she had some personal experience of such to relate but then she resumed her theme. Anyhow, my mother knew him. The inspector. Her family lived in the same cobbly square as him and his auntie. When he was a wee thing. What was he like? Conan Doyle enquired eagerly. Hammered, was the succinct response. The big boys battered hell out of him every day. Why? he pursued. Jist devilment, I suppose. Then one day it stopped. For what reason? Nobody knew. But my mother was playing that time. She saw the leader o the gang. A big shamble of a laddie. On his hands and knees, crawling, bleeding like a pig. Spewing like his bones were broken. Jamie McLevy was half his size. Watching on. Tackety boots. His auntie must have bought them. Iron at the toe. Brand new upon his feet. These were the most consecutive sentences Muriel had ever heard the maid utter in her life. I think I can draw an inference there, murmured Doyle. My mother said when she looked intae his eyes it was like a wolf on the trail. A wild beastie. Ellen passed on into the house. Muriel wondered if it was worth her while to become tremulous but Arthur had a faraway look in his eye. Meanwhile outside, McLevy and Mulholland walked slowly in silence to put a little distance between them and the persecuted front door of 42 Bonnington Road. What do you think to all this? asked the constable. That wifie is hiding something, replied the inspector, scowling at the innocent pavement. And I will find it out. Something between her and Big Arthur? I doubt it. On his side certainly not. Then they stopped and looked at the houses surrounding, each with the shut-faced prim expression of a spinster at a wedding. I dont fancy our chances, said the constable. Neither do I, grunted McLevy. But it has tae be done. You take even this side, Ill take the odd opposite. And yet neither of them moved. Since Conan Doyle had approached them at the station, this was the first moment of a guarded privacy they normally enjoyed day in day out. On the saunter. Each with his thoughts but an understanding forged by bitter experience of the dark side of humanity. Mulholland still immune with a young mans vitality, McLevy only too aware that everything gathered during the years was no protection against his own transitory nature. As is the habit of men they spoke about such things rarely if at all, but something had changed. Or was changing. Ye made a right show of yourself wi Ballantyne, McLevy said grumpily I was only trying to help, came the huffy response. Ye were sookin up tae the lieutenant. The boy is afflictit, an easy mark. Mulholland flushed in anger and shame. He bit his lip to restrain a riposte of how the affliction did not stop the inspector tearing lumps out of Ballantyne if he banjaxed a case procedure. At that moment a call turned them both round and Conan Doyle came striding up towards them, the picture of health and certainty. Inspector McLevy! he cried breezily, as if the two had just met by chance. I wonder if I might beg a favour? McLevy made no response. Favours were not his speciality. I dabble a touch in the writing of stories. Adventures. Tales of mystery. Haunted houses. Doyle roared with laughter, as if recognising the ludicrousness of a hale and hearty fellow like himself having truck with such pastime. But I have great interest in detection. In-vestigation. And I wonder if I might accompany you at such. I dont detect ghosts, said McLevy. You cant get the restrainers on them, Mulholland added somewhat stiffly. Of course not. Having agreed this, Doyles face took on a serious mien and he spoke quietly, soberly, a different man entirely. But does not the function of policeman and doctor bear similarity? We analyse, we observe symptoms, eruptions on the body and mind, you of guilt, me of malady? Identify the offender, cure the contagion. Protect the innocent. McLevy scratched his nose. It had begun to itch. Crime, he remarked tersely, is certainly contagious. Yet we all desire to catch it, do we not? Indeed we do. A glint of humour came into McLevys face. There was a shrewdness to this young man that belied his bluff manner. From Doyles point of view, he was intrigued by a similar incongruity of overt behaviour and subtle thought. I would consider it a great honour Doyles voice lowered in tone, if I might attend yourcasebook of enquiry? The inspectors lips quirked at such portentous description as regards some of his more mundane enquiries, for instance, the time he and Mulholland had trawled the back-yards of Leith to find half a dozen abducted hens, solving the mystery through the deformity of one which, though plucked of all its feathers, still lacked the one eye and one leg it had lost during a life of adversity. However, he had also witnessed bodies hacked to pieces, and on one particular occasion a face blown so far apart that it looked like a spilt bowl of stewed rhubarb. Ill bear it in mind, said he. But it cannot be these present shenanigans; you have too personal a connection and its no enough challenge. You will solve this case? Never all of such. Theres aye a loose thread. Its only in books everything is remedied. McLevy looked up at the sky, which was unremittingly overcast, and pursed his lips. Ill try tae find ye a ghost or two wi murder thrown in. Good man! exclaimed Doyle, as if all were done and dusted and he had not perceived the sardonic tone. I shall await your pleasure, sir. With that he nodded to the silent Mulholland and then strode on up the street, scattering a few pedestrians in his wake like the liner Oceanic . Did ye no wait for your cup of tea? McLevy called after. I have to get back to mother, came the unabashed reply. Family comes first! McLevy watched the young man until he turned the corner and disappeared. The inspector became aware of his constables critical scrutiny and wondered what expression had been on his face. Whatever shape taken, it was vanished now. All right, he said as if all so far had been an everyday occurrence. You take the even, Ill take the odd. 8 An when Massa rode in the arternoon, Id follow wid a hickory broom; De poney being berry shy, When bitten by de blue-tailed fly. TRADITIONAL, The Blue-tailed Fly Glasgow, 1864. My Dearest Melissa, I have little idea if this letter will ever reach you and I can offer no kind of address to which you may reply should that eventuality occur. I have been mightily sick crossing the Atlantic Ocean to reach this godforsaken place. I call it so because I am staying in lodgings down by the docks and what I see from my window does not induce the notion that any kind of decent God-fearing people exist in these parts. Rather I watch the Devil in all his many guises and humanity so wretched and base as near defies description. Possibly I am seeing all this through jaundiced eyes. I disembarked but two nights ago, was smuggled in like a plague carrier and have been kept out of sight ever since. The only time I ventured forth was last evening in the darkness when the streets were awash with a tide of men and women spilled out from the taverns. The Scotch are in the main a small race and damned ugly. How did I come to this pass? The night I spent in your sweet arms still lingers with me but directly after came horror one hundredfold. Gettysburg. The battle lost. After the defeat, it was a nightmare journey, the wounded groaning their lives away, dragged on wagons, calling for a mercy we could not grant them. We were attacked on all sides by the Bluebellies, a heavy rain beat down on us as if the Almighty himself was on the Union side. The screams and shrieks of the dying haunt my sleep and burn images indelibly in my mind to this day. There is little glory in war that I can see. We took refuge in the town of Williamsport and had not Jeb Stuart and Fitzhugh Lee arrived in time with their troops, it would have been all up with us. The Confederate Army would have been no more. General Robert E. Lee would have broken his sword. But they came. And so the war continues. We made it through to Virginia although the Potomac River was swollen to flood by the rain and therethere I am afraidI forswore my reason. Fell into a fever. How long I cannot say. Time lost meaning. When I recovered, I was told that I might serve my country in another capacity. I was then taken to a rendezvous with Secretary Mallory, a heavy-set man with a thin rim of beard and shrewd in the eyes. I was given orders, papers I must deliver in person. I will seal this letter now, the messenger is due to leave by the Evelyn; Curious how many ships bear names of the gentler sex. I pray he will make it through to Galveston and see this delivered. As for me, I wait for further orders. I am still a soldier though at present I discharge the duties of a secret Confederate agent. Bonded to stealth. I miss your sweet face. But love seems to have little purchase in this world. Let us hope the South wins, and that we may all find peace. Your husband, Jonathen 9 Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand! Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back: Thou hotly lustst to use her in that kind For which thou whipst her. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, King Lear The chattering magpies of the Just Land had descended on Leith market like tidings of such birds. In their gay bonnets, bright colours and fashionable outdoor coats, parasols twirling, daintily avoiding the muck below lest it cling to their shiny black halfway-laced boots, they moved from one glittering bauble to the next with little cries of joy and excitement, displaying such innocence that the onlooker would have been hard-pressed to guess their chosen profession. Perhaps a boldness in the gaze, a candid assessment of the males before them, either passing respectable or the cocksure peddler at his stall, that weighed such men in the balance and found the exact avoirdupois and possible cost of their carnal inclinations. Perhaps that might have tipped the wink. The peddlers looked them straight in the eye; the passing respectable if they had previous acquaintance and a wife to hand craved invisibility, as if they were on the other side of a thick veil. Or if no previous acquaintance enjoined, they clenched buttocks in distaste as golden opinion does when confronted by noxious depravity. It is difficult to walk in such a state and the motion often resembles a bad case of haemorrhoids; yet virtue surely thus contained must be its own reward. A distance aside from the main party, Francine and the Countesss Simone rattled away to each other in quick-fire French, much to the chagrin of Lily Baxter who was accustomed to being Francines light of love. Of course she could not give utterance to her annoyance, being a deaf mute, but her face, which was by nature sunny, was set in sulky lines. Beneath curly tousled hair, the childlike open countenance bore witness to the unhappy thoughts that ran in her mind. Lily and Francine had been lovers and followed their craft for nigh on two years. They had stretched, scourged, thistled, and inflicted requisite degrees of pain upon the supplicatory clients of the Just Land, sending them home milked dry of deviation to their wives who would have, in the words of Hannah Semple, died wi their leg up , had they known of their husbands compulsive drive for subjugation. Francines speciality. The Frenchwoman ran the show: severe, leather-clad in the manner of an Egyptian princess, her chalk-white beautiful face gazing with dispassion at the hopeful mounds of flesh spread-eagled below; like a cartographer plotting out proposed lines of mortification. Lily darted here and there around the Berkley Horse, a piece of equipment that had set Jean Brash back a pretty penny but was worth its considerable weight in gold, giving access fore, aft, over and under to the quivering recipient. At the altar of agony, in the cellar of the Just Land, Lily was the acolyte, bearing the instruments of salvation with an innocent fervour, only the occasional grin letting show the mischief in her mental process. Now and again she popped her head up above the straps and buckles of the horse like a jockey who had just won the race. A wicked flash to her lover, then out of sight. Two of a kind. But that had all changed since the arrival of Simone. Both women were from Paris, but while Francine was of an educated background, a sophisticate whose artistic bent for painting had been sidetracked into stripes of a different kind, the other was a guttersnipe whose assumed airs and graces fooled most, but not Francine who knew the real thing, or Lily who could smell the fake a mile away. However it amused the Frenchwoman as she watched Simone change shape like a chameleon to attract and seduce. Francine was attracted for certain but the other verb had yet to come into play. Now that Francine spoke constantly in her native tongue her voice had dropped in tone, the French vowels and gutturals sliding into ancestral cadence, the language a warm, sensual flowing stream, no longer shot through with Anglo-Saxon ambiguity, and Lily, who could not hear all this in any case, was left out in the cold. A touch on the elbow brought her round. It was the other girl from the Countess, Jessie Nairn. She was also from the streets Paisley, the west of Scotland and the harshness of her life showed in the eyes. Whatever good deeds done or witnessed were lost in the mists of time. Jessie spoke slowly, forming the words with her lips; she had already learned how to communicate with Lily. Have ye lost your big rub-a-dub then? she asked. Lilys eyes narrowed. Id help ye out, said Jessie. But I like the hairy men. Bigger the better. She roared in most unladylike laughter while her eyes appraised Lily with cool calculation. The mute turned her head away and looked over to where Francine was standing with Simone, the tall woman wearing a dark mannish jacket that accentuated the slim lines of her figure. She jutted out one hip and Simone laughed at some remark. Very Gallic. Very gamine. Very droll. I hope she burns in hell , thought Lily, the jealousy rising in her throat as a fear of loss, a fear of the love that made her tremble in the moist night never being hers again, never filling her eyes with tears, never catching her breath away, never This time the touch on her elbow was more like a sharp punch. Ye must be desperate, Jessie asserted. The womans nothing but skin and bones. The image of Francine as a skeleton in leather caught Lilys fancy and her eyes lit up in sudden humour. She punched Jessie back in the muscle of the arm and stuck up her small fists in the parody of a prize-fighter. Cmon, said the Paisley girl. Well buy you a scarlet ribbon. The market was still crowded, though some of the barrows were being wheeled away. While Big Annie Drummond, who was supposed to be keeping an eye on the assorted magpies as senior heaviest member, was distracted by a cream cake stall and two of the barrows had crashed wheels with vituperative results, a small portly man stepped out from one of the crooked wynds that fed into the square. Simone had found a pretty embroidered handkerchief and was holding it up to the light admiringly while Francine impaled the hawker with a glare as he tried to charge her an extortionate price for a miniature wooden figurine. God knows how it had ended up in Leith but it was of African origin with a rounded belly and tapered breasts, the shape of which reminded her of Lilys. Her recollection jolted, Francine looked up to see her lover staring at her from across the square while Jessie rummaged amongst a tangle of cheap ribbon. The Frenchwoman smiled but Lilys face did not move a muscle and while all were thus engaged, Alfred Binnie, the portly man, uncorked a small phial of liquid and, as he passed behind Simone, poured it delicately high on her back. For a moment it was as if time suspended, everyone frozen in the scene except Binnie who passed through like something in a sleight of hand; then came the acrid smell of burnt clothing as the powerful acid found its way through the thin outdoor coat, inwards into the crinoline folds of the dress, burrowing further like an incendiary worm to the epidermal layers. And there it found a place to feast. A piercing scream from Simone rent the air and all except Lily stopped in their tracks to look around for the source of such howled disturbance. From the deaf mutes point of view she watched her rivals mouth open and close in silent agony as her body shuddered in pain; then Francine ripped off the back of the coat with her powerful hands and further ripped the layers of respectable apparel off the body like an impatient lover until white skin was revealed. A livid mark ran down parallel with the backbone and the revealed naked flesh in a crowded market place might have put Francine in mind of some morality depiction from the middle ages, had she not been otherwise occupied. One of the market folk, an old man who sold posies and blooms, cut, lifted and stolen from reputable Leith flower-beds by his own grandchildren, grabbed a cheap linen tablecloth from an indignant fellow hawker, dunked it into a bucket of water and threw the dripping material to Francine who caught it like a matador and pressed it up against the smouldering skin. Simones body arched and she fell limply backwards so that her head rested upon Francines shoulder. The rest of the magpies, with Big Annie in the vanguard and showing a remarkable turn of pace for one of her tonnage, hurtled towards the pair, feet churning up the mud, their faces contorted with concern. Again from Lilys vantage, it was like a shadow play for children where the grotesque shapes collide and spin around each other but no harm is done. The only other person who had not moved in all of this was Jessie Nairn, who stood beside Lily with a thin piece of scarlet ribbon dangling from her fingers. She was calculating her chances of survival. One way or the other. 10 Many a carcase they left to be carrion, Many a livid one, many a sallow-skin Left for the white-taild eagle to tear it, and Left for the horny-nibbed raven to rend it. ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON, Battle of Brunanburh Jean Brash in a fury was a fearsome proposition. Her green eyes were ablaze with wrathful animosity as she leaned over the balustrade and looked down at the policeman below who, from her vantage, was an unwelcome foreshortened intruder. What the hell do you want, McLevy? she almost spat, having emerged from an upstairs bedroom. Big Annie Drummond, who had puffed her way up the stairs to deliver the news of the inspectors arrival, now made better weather of the descent while the man himself gazed up at her mistress with a bland expression of general goodwill. I hear one of your girls had a wee contretemps, he remarked, standing in the ornate hall festooned with d?cor arabesque and fancy mirrors designed to flatter the clients into thinking they might be Pashas rampant and incarnate should they glance at themselves before ducking into the doorways of sin. McLevy furnished an odd reflection in his low-brimmed bowler and it is to the mirrors credit that they withstood the burden of this adverse radiation without cracking into lines of distressed complaint. Whats it to do with you? came her terse response. Big Annie before she disappeared into the main salon shot the inspector a look as if to warn, hold onto your hat . It would appear as if, he offered mildly, there may have been some criminal intent involved. Intent ? Criminal. I investigate such. That is my profession. There was a silence as they measured each other up. To be truthful McLevy when he heard about some stramash in the market had jumped at the chance to abandon Mulholland in bootless pursuit round the pawnbroking fraternity for trace of stolen jewellery. The inspectors opinion being that whoever had committed the theft was too long in the tooth to pledge the articles in such an obvious slot. They would be fenced after the heat had died down and reappear in Aberdeen or some other far-flung outpost. So he had left his umbrageous constable in the lurch and headed for the Just Land in the hope of a cup of Jeans excellent coffee while deducting, as young Arthur would have it. Plus the fact that he was nosy by inclination. Ye better come up, said Jean finally. For sure Ill never get rid of you if I leave it to natural causes. So, he did. Come up. Simone lay face down in the bed, inert and silent. Her bandaged back, high up near the shoulder blade, provided a stark contrast to the lacy confines of a room more usually reserved for clients who had a yen to re-experience the warm glow of infancy. Everywhere McLevy glanced he saw babyish frills; the coloured friezes on the wall depicted various nursery rhyme characters, one in particular, Little Bo Peep, eminently prominent, shepherds crook clasped firmly in one hand while she scanned the horizon for absent mutton. For some reason, the inspector found this disconcerting so he concentrated hard upon the body in the bed. She appears peaceful enough, he volunteered. Laudanum. That would explain it. The doctor put a salve on her but he is of the opinion that the scar trace may remain. Scar? Acid. Poured down her back. Dearie me. Who would do such a thing? Jean did not answer. McLevy tried again. Did anyone witness the culprit? Culprit ? This seemed a feeble word to describe someone capable of such a vicious attack but Jean was also aware that McLevy was a subtle swine, especially when on a case, and might well have used the word to provoke an unwise reaction. So she held to silence. Wrongdoer, then. Assailant. Nasty piece of work. Not a thing. Nobody saw a damned thing. Man or woman? Not even that. Dearie me. It looked as if his chances of scrounging a cup of coffee were somewhat slim, but McLevy was wondering whether to believe Jeans assertion of this mysteriously invisible spectre who poured acid onto folks hinterlands because, if she did know who had done this, the person concerned would suffer a swift reprisal that had nothing to do with the law unless in the Old Testament connotation. An eye for an eye. Bugger the coffee, he went for blood. This is your own fault, Jean, he said bluntly. How so? The streets are hoachin with two things. One is the advent of mesmerism in our fair city and the other is that yourself and a certain arriviste have been spoiling for a rammy since she opened her doors. Arriviste ? Dont keep repeating whit I say. The Countess. The word is a certain French lassie broke ranks. This on the bed wouldnae be the girl by any chance? Jeans face betrayed nothing but she cursed the fact that there was not a dark happening in Leith that did not reach McLevys ears. He had a nest of informants second only to her own, but where she garnered intelligence by understated influence of favours granted, dispensed over and under the counter like drugs in an apothecary shop, the inspector ruled by fear. No mercy. If he asked, you answered and many were the craven souls who sought to gain what they mistakenly hoped to be protective cover should they ever stray from the path of righteousness. It is a human trait to lick the leather boots of power and it never gets you anything but a sore tongue. What if it is the girl? she replied coolly. You tell me, McLevy retorted; he had suddenly spotted the whereabouts of the sheep. They were hunched together in another frieze at a corner of the room and unless he was visually deluded, one of them, a ram no doubt, was tupping an anxious looking ewe. Why should I do your job? But having said such, Jean proceeded to perform this very function. The hand that poured the acid might not be witnessed but I believe you know the one responsible. Do I? The inspectors eyes widened. Now they had changed places. She the prosecutor, he the defendant. A vicious creature. Long nails. Cowardly. Tae strike from ahent, ye mean? Exactly. A dirty stinking coward. These foreign types, eh? The lowest scum. Worse than policemen. That bad? And you know the person. You know the name. And so do you, said James McLevy, the game over. It is your contrivance this happened. Jeans lips thinned but he continued apace, having spotted three ships a-sailing over the recumbent form of Simone on the far wall, so making use of nautical metaphor. Ye have received a shot across your bows. A warning. The message is give the girl back. Not a hope in hell. Then it will be war between you. I didnae start it. As always, you are the innocent party. The history of my life. Simone whimpered in the bed and her feet scrabbled under the covers as an animal might do when dreaming. McLevy stared at Jeans beautiful but impenitent face and wondered how sin left no mark on the human countenance. Now, here is another warning. Ye have no proof that the Countess was behind this event and if I catch you either in the act itself or instigating attempted vengeance upon the woman, I shall have no option but throw you into the cells and thence to the Perth penitentiary. This provoked severe indignation and Little Bo Peep frowned as Jean muttered an expletive under her breath while the inspector walked towards the door. And whit about her ? How come she escapes your vile clutches? Proof, came the stern response. If I find proof then justice will prevail. Justice ? Dont keep repeating what I say! As they glared at each other the door flung open and Hannah Semple burst in like an avenging angel. She had a page of paper grasped in her mottled fingers and did not remark McLevy who had nearly been knocked over backwards by the outflung portal. Mistress! Hannah cried. See whit Ive got. Lily Baxter pressed it in my hand, a decent wee soul for a she doesnae speak a word and witness the way Francine and that Simone on the bed there have been slaverin round one tae the other but see what Lily gave me! These were a lot of words for Hannah who tended to deal them out with care lest she find herself short on occasion, but the keeper of the keys was unaccustomed to excitement of this sort and she brandished the paper. Shes a good wee drawer. Acted it all out for me. A creepy bugger at the back o Simone, pouring out, passing by, and heres his likeness! Hannah stopped suddenly. Jean had made no move to take the paper. Her eyes seemed focused beyond as if a malignant presence was lurking. Then a hand reached out from behind and magicked the image out of her hand. If I may be so bold, said a voice. McLevy held the paper to his eyes and wondered for the umpteenth time if he should risk a visit to an ocular shop. In focus finally, he saw a figure of a fat podgy body with a huge head out of proportion, which he assumed Lily had created to augment the possibilities of identification. The face was round, pouch-eyed, a small pouting mouth like a mole, no nose to speak of, the chin weak and the hat above this unattractive assembly a full-blown bowler unlike his low-brimmed affair. Francine may have been the artist but Lily Baxter had a gift for caricature, no doubt about such. Not a pretty sight, he said. How high does he ascend towards heaven? Hannah now knew why Jean had looked like a cow stuck in a dank bog. She reluctantly raised a hand about four inches above her own stature of five feet to indicate height. According to Lily, she muttered. McLevy turned the page round so that Jean might share in the pictorial exhibition. Recognise this sconeface? he asked. No. Hannah thought to offer something but caught a glint in Jeans eye and sniffed loudly instead. Ugly bugger, eh? she said. I dont know him either, McLevy remarked. So his ill favour is not of the parish. But Ill find him if he stays above ground. Simone let out a small awakening groan from the bed and McLevy suddenly shot back to her side and stuck the picture before her dilated eyes. Dye recognise this malefactor? he asked loudly. She squinted, and then shook her head slowly. Not a visiting randie-boy to the Countess? Theyre all creaking bones, said Jean disdainfully. Simone shook her head once more, then her eyelids drooped and she slid back into the dream that offered a velvet cushion against inflicted agony. The inspector gave up, shoved the paper into his coat pocket and walked back to the door where he paused for a moment like an actor about to deliver the curtain line. I dont want any dead bodies of this description found on the streets or floating in the docks. He pointed to yet another nursery character that had caught his attention. Fat and egg-shaped. You leave Humpty Dumpty tae me. The door closed and he was out of sight. In the silence, the black outline of a bird flew past the window outside and cast a shadow on the veiled curtains. Im sorry, mistress, Hannah muttered. I didnae know and I didnae see ahent the door. The mans a bloody menace. Jeans face was thoughtful. She was beginning to map out the lines of strategy. Get Lily to make another drawing, she said finally. In fact, if we make use of carbon paper and keep her at it, we may have enough and to spare. For what? Handing out to my people. I wish to find this dirty wee gutterblood. Hannah nodded. Jean fixed her with a glance. Earlier. You had something to say? No certain sure mind, butin the teashop. At one of the tables. It might have been him. And I didnt notice, Jean stated with an edge of annoyance. Because I was too fixed upon the Countess. Shes a tricky customer. So is James McLevy, said Jean, while a fluted snore from the bed sounded as if in agreement. Indeed, the man himself was walking through the gardens of the Just Land with much on his deceptive mind. Despite his warning to the contrary the inspector was convinced that Jean Brash and the Countess would fight tooth and nail until one or other had the last word at the graveside of her rival. Either woman could kill two roosters in the one second. For a moment an image from his dream, the cloaked red figure, sprang into his senses and he glanced around swiftly lest the spectre be lurking in the shrubbery, but nothing was manifest. Yet why was his waking thought being harassed by a nightly vision? He could not answer that, so returned to contemplation. So be it. Then while they fought like Oberon and Titania over the changeling, he might take them both. If they broke the law, and there was no doubt they had in the past and would in the future, a habit exacerbated by the coming conflict, if they did, he would get his chance. A curious melancholy came upon him. For the Countess he did not give a damn but Jean Brash was a different matter. Where would he find another decent cup of coffee? He covered a multitude of feeling with that sentence and stopped to look into the big fishpond that Jean had recently caused to be gouged out of the harmless earth. Women were aye making something. Never content. Great wodges of thick, dark green ornamental leaves moved gently on the surface of the water, with some large lily pads of an uneasy yellow coloration spreading their empire like Victoria Regina. Beneath all that vegetation lurked some to his eyes bloated exotic fish that had never done a hands turn in their life. Sluggish, pale gold, bilious green, scarlet fins like blood in water, they cruised and nudged below the leaves. The inspector frowned. It would be his advice to put a net of sorts over the pond to guard against the advent of a marauding heron. These fat layabouts were an easy mark. But good advice is seldom heeded. Why had the Countess made such a provocative move? Who was Humpty Dumpty? A harsh cry overhead came from a passing crow, warning anyone below: Get ready tae dree yer weird. Suffer your fate. Complaint gets you nowhere. McLevy moved off towards the iron gates of the Just Land and disappeared into the evening mist like a wisp of the imagination. Now you see him, now you dont. 11 Behold I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed. THE BIBLE, Corinthians In the silence of the darkened room a distant grandfather clock chimed seven times. Possibly in another venue at the modest quarters of the Edinburgh Spiritualist Society, a ghost or two had gathered to witness the whirr of a mechanical universe and the striking result of chronological certainty but in the main salon there was so far only corporeal presence and a hushed silence. The gas burners had been dimmed to a peep so that a pale sickly light caught the occasional white shirt front or brightly pleated dress collar of the latest fashion, but the rest was subdued garmentation, gloomy and overcast as the sky had been all day. Lieutenant Roach sat bleakly beside his rapt, attentive wife and regretted for the hundredth time that he had partaken so heartily of onions at supper. He had a weakness for fried liver, bacon and the pungent bulb of the lily family; Mrs Roach had instructed the cook accordingly because she wished to flatter his stomach into accepting what his mind would most certainly reject. A visit to an otherworld where unseen influence held sway and ethereal spirits did not indulge themselves in offshoots of the Allium cepa . Now he was reaping a digestive whirlwind in the form of repetitive gaseous eruptions that insisted on bursting from whichever conduit might yield to pressure. The audience, of which he was an unwilling and uncomfortable participant, was seated in rows with a centre aisle facing onto a small stage where a single figure sat in a chair, illuminated from each side by a large honey-coloured candle on a simple holder. The silence stretched. The figure did not move. The lieutenant smothered an inconvenient upsurge and blinked his eyes. Surely the woman would have some kind of visitation shortly? Not that Roach would believe it for a moment but at least it would get the ball rolling towards the hole. Three places to the rear, in fact the back row, where his massive frame would incommode no watcher behind, Conan Doyle sat between his mother Mary and Muriel Grierson. The young man was conscious of a certain emanation from Muriels direction that seemed somewhat odorously provocative. A perfume most certainly but not a clean sharp cologne to bring a chap to his senses, more of a musky offering like a delicate crooked finger from a shadowed doorway. He took a deep breath but kept his eyes fixed on Sophia Adler, whose ash-blonde hair shone behind the white veil in the candlelight like a signal to the spirits. Magnus Bannerman had spoken first and spoken well of the gravitatio universalis , the universal fluid that linked all creatures of the cosmos and flowed through the human body, an unseen magnetic force that might connect us to these unknown worlds. He painted a picture of a parallel existence where the departed spirits floated in suspension, desperately waiting to be conjoined with those left behind. Waiting for a call, a hand to be stretched across the great divide. The American even found a modicum of humour. He, Magnus, was not that hand. He held his own up in the air and waggled the fingers. There was a sharp burst of laughter but Sophia, who at that moment was sitting at the side, bowed her head and Magnus quickly returned to serious mode. Only belief could sustain contact. The credence of those watching and the intense divination of the sensitive. From us to them. The natural. A sublime interpreter. Doyle was impressed, but not overly so, by the spiel. He had read deeply of the spiritual world with its phenomenal possibilities and this man reminded a little of a fairground huckster. Yet he could not dismiss the fellow because he sensed that under the delivery, and it did not escape his notice that Magnuss magnetic power might have part source in his handsome features and flashing eyes for the women, of course, men are not so easily swayed under the smooth hypnotic flow of words, there seemed a core of true belief. Almost in spite of the man himself, as if Magnus was being called to witness a more powerful force than his own being; he a mere mouthpiece who might only express itself in this somewhat florid fashion. Or was the fellow merely a skilful actor hinting at a reality that did not exist, as actors are wont to do? Make-believe. Or indeed was Doyle, jealous of the mans ability, projecting all this ambivalence upon a screen of shadows? Because there was no doubt that Bannerman transfixed the audience when he abandoned the eloquent modulations to speak simply at the end of his address. I do not ask you to give your credence lightly, he announced in a soft drawl. There are compulsions beyond us. Beyond our mortal understanding. If we abuse them, they may take vengeance upon us. Here he had stopped abruptly and looked over at the quietly seated Sophia. Conan Doyle at that moment understood where Bannerman received his ballast and belief. It was from the woman. Everything comes from the woman. Good or bad. Or is it all an act? If we honour them, Bannerman ended his thought, we may be blessed. With that he extended his hand towards Sophia and assisted her to mount the stage. Magnus then took her place at the side, while she sat without fuss and arranged her pale blue dress, a simple cotton affair, accentuating her appearance of innocence and vulnerability. Her arms were bare and the veil was held in place by a circlet of silver. She looked like something from a fairy tale. A princess waiting for a gallant knight. All this had happened in the past. Now, in the present, it seemed there was only Sophia Adler and Arthur Conan Doyle. He felt a pull from inside as if some force was moving him towards the fragile being on the stage. As if the complex inner being sheltered behind his massive frame had found harmony of response. His mother Mary glanced at him from the corner of her eye. She knew her son and his passionate search for a meaning to life. They had both renounced the Catholic faith, the faith of a morbid alcoholic husband and father who now resided in an institution for such lost souls. But it left an empty space. And nature abhors a vacuum. Mrs Roach, meanwhile, laid her dainty cats paw upon the dry saurian skin of her husbands hand and murmured. Robert. Do you not feel the spirits around us? Roach closed his eyes as if sensing the afterlife but in reality he was trying to control a knot of oniony wind that had gathered in his lower depths and was whipping about inside like a fireball looking for an exit. Luckily at that moment Sophia began to utter softly and the attention of all became fixed upon her while Roach gave thanks to whatever spirit had answered his pressing need. Many of the audience were ready to believe or already converted and some had even experienced s?ance phenomena. Ghostly shapes flitting in the dark, raps on the table, musical instruments sounding in their ears, though never a trombone, raising of ponderable bodies, objects falling from the ceiling including lumps of ice, fresh flowers and fruit, which might indicate that the spirits were somewhat eclectic in their shopping; all these events dubious in origin and dependent upon the eyes being distracted or deceived. Sophia Adler was none of these things. For a start there were no manifestations; nothing appeared, not even ectoplasm, no oozing smoke from an obliging orifice that writhed into deceitful shapes while the female medium slumped erotically, limbs splayed. No. That was not on show. It was merely voices. Sounds from her throat, soft at first, disjointed, rising and falling in pitch, not even words decipherable, as if filtered through a mesh of static interference. They tumbled from her mouth and distorted the surface of the veil as if struggling to get free. At one point she almost toppled from the chair, slowly lurching to the side like a newly felled tree but Bannerman leapt nimbly upon the stage and gently brought her to an upright position where she remained in better balance. Now words began to form. Phrases. Random, questing, plaintive messages, some of which began to strike home amongst certain of the watching conscious throng. A child searched for her mother. A wailing lost soul that had died of the fever. A woman called out in pain from the audience. It was her daughter. She named the wraith and there was an agonised exchange of sorts. Tears streamed down the womans face. This was not an act. Not for her. The child vanished, others took her place; some found no recognition in the watchers and were elbowed aside by clamouring rivals; behind the veil Sophias face contorted further and it seemed to Conan Doyle as if these sounds were being wrenched out of her, as if she was giving birth. Birth of any kind is a painful proposition. He had witnessed such with women as part of his studies and found it a terrifying process; indeed he was anything but sure whether men, medical or not, should be anywhere near the event. It was a dark and bloody passage. He would write about it someday. At times Sophia was like an animal growling; guttural, then yelping as if chased by the very hounds of Hell, then through the gibberish a sudden clarity as if a curtain had parted. A mans voice sounded; his wife was not to concern herself, she was to marry again and live a happy life. He had died at sea when the ship went down. An old woman closed her eyes and smiled bitterly to herself. Fine advice, my buckie , but a wee bit on the late side. These were not necessarily happy visitations but as full of ambiguity and sorrow as life itself. Which made them all the more real. The force field inside the small room was charged with a raw intensity beyond the meagre experience of the diminished reality doled out to us as life. The atmosphere was thick with untold stories and no-one dared meet anothers eye lest they see the naked emotion of a heart stricken with regrets. For do not we all hide these feelings as if they were unwanted children, pale ghosts that follow us through existence? Even Robert Roach had a momentary fear that he might hear his fathers admonishing tones cataloguing the many parental disappointments in an ungainly son, but the lieutenant pulled himself together and awkwardly attempted to calm his wife who was fluttering like moth to candle as she waited to recognise a dead ancestor that had departed with no warning and might return in the same fashion. Her family specialised in sudden death. As Roach searched in the little chamber of his emotions for a rarely expressed affection that might assuage his wifes palpitations, another disbelieving member of the audience received a lightning bolt of sorts. His name was Gilbert Morrison, one of two brothers in the shipping business. A dry stick with a cruel streak, it was an accident of sorts that he had found himself in these quarters. Accidents do happen. He had been walking along George Street when struck by a poster outside the hall that housed the Spiritualist Society. An image of Sophia Adler met his narrow gaze, with fulsome tribute in words below as to her abilities in the realm of cryptaesthesia. Her face was partly in shadow, the eyes hidden, but it had a susceptible, waiflike air that provoked a whiplash sentiment in Mister Morrison normally expressed in very different surroundings. On an impulse, Gilbert, this rare occasion, let his darker compulsion influence the public persona. Fate works that way sometimes. Yet before that he was intercepted, as all the attendance including an irritated Roach had been, by a gaunt figure with long white hair who stood at the entrance of the hall with a placard raised high. The message was succinct enough. This is against God! The mans name was Jupiter Carlisle. He was to be found in front of most theatres in Edinburgh most nights railing against the sins of the flesh as depicted by lewd actresses and seemed to have transferred his implacable hatred of evil over to mesmerism for this evening. Jupiter was haggard with rectitude and fixed Gilbert with pale blue, washed-out eyes gleaming with a zealots fire. There was an unhinged quality to the man, and though he was mocked and reviled by the very folk he sought to save from sin, he inspired a strange trepidation. No-one wanted him too close lest lunacy contaminate. The Ancient Mariner. His voice was high-pitched and parched as if he were drying up inside. Thus he addressed Gilbert. Enter into this place, he pronounced, and you enter a palace of iniquity where the Lord dwelleth not. Gilbert pushed past but Jupiter persisted. Only the Lord raises the dead. This woman Sophia Adler is against Christ and must suffer consequence. As Gilbert went through the door and was nodded past by a sleepy old gateman, the judgement followed. He will strike her down. The Lord anoints, the Lord provides. This mesmerism is of Satans making and you will lose your soul, sir. The flesh is aye weak and you are of the flesh! A confused message to which Gilbert had paid no attention, the very essence of spiritualism being a lack of corporeal form; however in this case flesh was his motivating force, his darker compulsion. So perhaps Jupiter had a point. Gilbert had been one of the last to enter and so found a seat at the end of Conan Doyles row on the extremity just by the door, closed behind by an obliging usher. There was a stronger light by this portal and so the maritime merchant was picked out by the downward shaft as if illuminated by doom or destiny. It illustrated a long hatchet of a face with deep-set eyes, high cheekbones and a mouth that invited the inserted envelope. None of the strange auditory happenings had made much impression upon Gilbert. He was distant by nature, worshipping two forces power and money both of which he now possessed in quantity sufficient to justify the vicious greed that had driven him from one act of treachery to another. Morrison was a ruthless man. Predatory. He gave thanks to the Almighty on Sunday and the rest of the week was his own; exemplifying the Presbyterian edict that a grim heart leads to God. Indeed the idea of a voluptuous or delicious deity would have sent him scurrying to a hole in the ground. As Sophia writhed in her chair, his thoughts were not of a spiritual nature but more to indulge the dark wish that put an image in his mind of acquiescent supine surrender. Therefore it was a great surprise to Gilbert when the woman suddenly whipped her head round and stared wildly, it would seem, straight to where he was sitting, surrounded by a halo of light. Slowly one bare arm, flesh that he had been regarding with detached relish, rose from the body and pointed an index finger towards him. For a moment her mouth opened and closed but no words emerged, then she let out a stifled shriek and fell abruptly back in the chair exposing a flash of white throat as if to a lovers kiss. Or bite. The stirring in Gilberts loins was matched by an agitated rustle in the audience but Magnus Bannerman announced softly that they must compose themselves, this was a delicate moment, anything might happen, the sensitive must be left to replenish her vital sources, otherwise she might be torn to pieces by the spirits. And so they fell silent. And waited. Then with a shocking crash the door burst open with a sound like a thunderclap and two howling figures ran inside to chase each other dementedly round the room. One was a devil, the other a ghost, and they emitted high-pitched screeches and cursing as they moved like will o the wisps in the gloom. Two young well-to-do louts in costume, who were anticipating Halloween by some days, had crept into the halls past the dozing caretaker and thought it a great diversion to join the whirling spirits in satanic caper. To add to the mayhem, Sophias head snapped up, the veil fell aside, and her white face shone in the darkness. At the same time the nonplussed Muriel heard a ghostly voice echo in her ears. Jezebel! was the message from the other world. And then for good measure, repeated once more. Jezebel! In fact this was a distant malediction from the departing Jupiter Carlisle, out in the street, which had floated in the still air and wafted through a partly opened small high window below which she sat at the back of the hall. In a state of susceptibility, Muriel received the arrow of accusation straight into her guilty heart and what had made it worse was that the reedy, querulous quality of Carlisles voice bore an uncanny resemblance to that of her dead husband. Jezebel! Meanwhile the devil and ghost had skipped nimbly under the unavailing grab of the ushers but then ran into the governance of Conan Doyle who had recovered from his surprise, having wrenched his arm away from Muriels panicked grip, and proceeded to exercise a rugby-honed ability to take the slippery customer in tight embrace. He tucked the cursing, fractious hooligans, one under each arm, strode out to the street and deposited them on the cobblestones with a hefty boot in the backside to speed them on their way. From a far point down the street Jupiter Carlisle howled some words at the scene, dismissing them all as heathens who merited burning in the fires of Hell. As Doyle walked back inside, brushing his hands in satisfaction, because nothing pleases a man more than to mete out summary punishment, he crossed paths with a tall thin person who brushed past without acknowledgement but was recognisable as the target of Sophias pointed finger. And he had met the fellow not long before when the University had put on a rowing competition, which Arthurs boat had won. Various shipping merchants had been invited in the vain hope that they might contribute something to the clubs coffers and this thin man and his fat brother had attended, eaten the food, drunk the beer but given damn all. Good evening, Mister Morrison, Doyle said to the mans back and received a mumbled, belated response. Perhaps he was embarrassed. In truth Conan Doyle would not have placed the merchant as a seeker after truth. When Arthur returned to the hall, the chair on stage was empty and Magnus Bannerman was soothing the startled spiritual questors who were milling around like a shoal of confused herring. We shall meet again, he assured them. There will be other times. If you have received a message from the unseen world, count it your fortune; if not, then be of good cheer and cultivate patience. Your time will come. He shook his mane of dark hair as if in wonder at what he had witnessed and walked with great dignity to disappear through a door behind the small stage. Roach, attempting to hustle his excitable spouse away from the scene in unobtrusive fashion, found himself face to face with the hero of the hour and muttered a greeting of sorts to Doyle before taking his wife and indigestion home. Arthur walked up to where the small formidable figure of his mother stood amongst the distracted crowd who were being gently guided to the door by members of the Society. Well, Mam? he demanded with a twinkle in his eye. What do you think to all that? Mary Doyle nodded solemnly. She had raised this great oak from an acorn and filled his thought with chivalric purpose to shield them both from the terrible strains of a bleak reality; scrimping every penny to keep the home from breaking apart as her husband Charles slid inexorably from a gentle artistic man to a bitter alcoholic wreck. The Catholic clergy had taken the male side, advising her to bear and suffer, for that was her lot in life. And so she created a sword in her mind then cut fiercely through the thin cord that bound her to Romanism. Her children were everything. Especially Arthur. In common with the Camelot king, he aspired to noble deeds and though no-ones fool in terms of the pragmatism of daily life and the vicious twists of humanity, yet he yearned to soar like an eagle above the grinding banality of everyday existence. The idea of spiritualism chimed mightily with these high-flown idealities. A higher plane. And in the case of Sophia Adler, a striking beauty to light the way. Marys lips quirked in amusement but held a trace of concern. The Anglican Church might attract her in the future but it would not do for Arthur. He had an inbuilt resistance to the authorities, except perhaps the sporting ones, because they spawned injustice of which he was a ferocious, implacable opponent. All this had flashed through her brain as she gazed from her small stature up at his giant frame. Her knight in shining armour. She had created him so. And now he was his own creation. Mary realised that she still had not answered his question, and so like many an intelligent woman, took refuge in Shakespeare. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio she began. Than are dreamt of in your philosophy, he ended. Although both of a questing, combative nature, they knew enough of each other to leave it there for the nonce and turned of one accord to regard the shaken Muriel. I shall never again attend to one of these events, she declared. The language was deplorable. Conan Doyle burst out into a loud guffaw and Mary tried in vain to hide a smile. I dont think the bad language came from the spirits, Muriel, she remarked equably. More from a badly raised pair of mislearnit young brutes. Muriel bit her lip. She had wondered whether to present herself after the day so far and now wished she had stayed put. The others had convinced her that it might take her mind away from things but the opposite had occurred. The whole world was laughing at her. Ravaged by burglars, accused by voices in the dark. Luckily the shaft of Jezebel that she had felt aimed so precisely at her blameworthy core seemed not to have been heard by her companions. She turned to Conan Doyle but he was no longer on hand. Disappeared into thin air. This stuff was catching. 12 What in the midst lay but the Tower itself? The round squat turret, blind as the fools heart. ROBERT BROWNING, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came Magnus Bannerman carefully poured out a measure of whisky into a large tumbler and sniffed in appreciation before downing half the liquid in a fiery gulp. It had taken him a time to accustom his Pittsburgh taste buds to liquor other than bourbon, but malt whisky slid down a subtle treat and had a kick like a mule. By God he needed the drink. It was nerve-shredding when Sophia went off on these excursions into a shipwrecked sea of souls; to this day Magnus did not know whether she was just a brilliant operator who could deliver generalities, then hone them as reaction from the audience dictated, or had some genuine connection to the supernatural. But he had recognised her talent for connecting with people and the curious enchantment she could lay upon them. Magnus had poured all his energy into promoting that talent and they had become successful in an amazingly short time. All due to his efforts. It is thus we take credit for filling our own emptiness with anothers ability. What had never occurred to Magnus, however, was the fact that since their meeting in San Francisco, Sophia had used him, not the other way around. It is often so with men and women. As Magnus lifted his glass he noted that so far Sophia had not said a word and seemed disturbed by manifestations of this night; though that was not unusual, these trips to the other world were a rocky ride. Either that or, like a finely tuned actress, she was exhausted by the performance. He never knew. That was half the fun. The other half was yet to come because after exhaustion, appetite ensued. Carnal hunger. But not right now. She was standing, staring out of the window at a brick wall that surrounded the stone yard to the rear of the hall. Yes siree. A brick wall. He sank the rest of the whisky, lit up a cheroot and laughed quietly. That was hell on wheels when these two godforsaken ghosts came shooting through the door. Sophia made no response. Hell on wheels, he agreed with himself, pouring out a smaller shot. A restrained tap at the door signalled the advent of the members of the Society no doubt, with a discreet payment to pass over for the guided tour. Enter! he called commandingly, sliding the glass a modest distance away as if it was still untouched. But it was not one of the shrivelled, serious folk who made up the committee. This was a fellow as large as Magnus himself, who filled the doorway like a bear in a cave. Of course. The behemoth that had scooped up those two little bastards and marched them out into the darkness. Magnus laid down his cigar and stood up, all civility and gallant as hell. I thank you, sir, for your assistance with these low types. Whom do I have the honour of addressing? My name is Arthur Conan Doyle, said the man, while Magnus could now see that he was young and impressionable, an easy dupe at cards Pity there wasnt a pack to hand. Just a stage-door Johnnie. Well, thank you again, sir, said Magnus, not introducing himself since he had done so earlier on a general scale. Is there something more I can do for your good self? In other words, my friend, close the door quietly and the spirits be with you in your absence. Bannerman realised that Doyle was staring past him as if he, a man of some substance, did not exist. He turned to see that Sophia had swivelled round from the window and was looking directly at their visitor. She had now completely detached the veil and her pale face glowed in the dimness of the room. The violet eyes, pupils enlarged, were fixed upon the intruder. I was most impressed by yourabilities, Miss Adler. This gauche observation from a gawking hulk in Bannermans estimation deserved little in response but Sophia surprised him by nodding gravely. Usually she had no time for stage-door Johnnies, their appellation for various male admirers who were caught between psychic appreciation and unrequited urges. It is a gift, Mister Doyle, she said. A great responsibility. I did not seek it. But I am responsible. Doyle had not remarked her soft lilting Southern accent during the evenings events but found it remarkably pleasing to his rather large pink ears. His usual mode with young women was a joshing badinage where heavy-handed raillery took the place of finer feelings but it had no application here and he found himself in all senses of the phrase, tongue-tied. I was as a matter of fact wondering, he blurted out, cursing himself internally for a blockhead and bemused by the force that had driven him to abruptly quit his mother and Muriels presence to head for the door through which Magnus had disappeared. If we might discussspiritual matters. At some juncture. As it were, at your convenience. Of course. All during this Sophia, who had disturbing and deeper thoughts in her mind, found it strangely difficult to take her eyes from his as if some bond was forming between them. The attraction was not necessarily physical. Magnus more than met her needs and Doyle though of imposing stature was not someone who so far stirred her sensual juices, yet there was something she could not define. A depth. A darkness. A fear. As iron eats into the bone, something gnawing. She could sense a procession of figures waiting to take possession. It drew her. A power of sorts. From Doyles point of view, as well as the myriad forces that hurtled him towards this woman he was conscious also of an emanation from the Muse. Could Sophia Adler inspire creation? Miss Adler has many demands upon her time, Magnus Bannerman interposed easily in the silence. If she responded to every invitation then her more important work might suffer. The words were smooth but Sophia could sense something else. Jealous. He was jealous. How ridiculous men are. Leave your card, Mister Doyle, she said quietly. I promise nothing. Promises are cheap. Doyles brow furrowed. He did not have a card. Medical students rarely do. Then he remembered that he had scratched some words out for a joke to impress his brother Innes as regards his new station in life. It was on a dog-eared rectangle of cardboard he had fashioned from an offcut sewing pattern of his mothers. A fumble in the pocket produced the object, which he handed to Bannerman as intermediary. The American read it with some difficulty; the handwriting was deliberately ornate and flowery to amuse the young reader. Arthur Conan Doyle. Doctor of Diagnosis, Magnus said flatly. Well, I will be one day, Doyle grinned suddenly, to all appearances like a young man without a care in the world. That is my intention. I am sure you will succeed, remarked Sophia, dryly. Doyle made a little circular motion of his forefinger to Bannerman who was holding the card as if had just busted a promising flush. The address is on the back, offered Doyle. Innes had insisted upon that. How can you be a doctor, without a proper spot for consultation ?, the lad had scornfully pronounced. Memory made Doyle smile. His little brother. Bannerman said nothing. Sophia made no move and the young man realised he had outstayed his welcome. Yet he could not leave without one question. At the end he said. Why did you scream? Did I? replied Sophia. Or was it someone else? She dipped her head to signal goodbye and Doyle bowed somewhat jerkily then exited, crashing the door behind. Magnus laughed; loud enough that someone might hear had they lingered outside. Dime a dozen, he announced, crumpling the card between his fingers to throw carelessly on the ground. Pick it up, she said. Magnus laughed incredulously. Pick it up. Finally he did so, making a great production out of teasing out the thin, creased cardboard and handing it over to her with a little bow. Sophia put it away carefully into a pocket of her dress. He noticed that her hand was trembling. Never seen you do that before, he remarked idly. Do what? Scream. Fill your lungs and let rip. Hed had to think quickly and stall for time while she sprawled akimbo, but he was good at that. Yet still he did not know what was real and what was not with this woman. One thing for sure. She put a strange dread into him. Along with desire. One fed upon the other. Sophia smiled and he began to relax. Not long now and he would be the master while she wriggled like a catfish. No doctor had a cure like his. He moved closer, not too close, just enough to let her feel the heat emanating from a vigorous man. What did you see? he asked softly. What do you mean? To let it rip like that. She passed her tongue over those little rosebud lips like a child. A face I recognised. From when? Not long ago. Not long at all. A few days past she had disappeared into the depths of the city and would tell him nothing on return. This was, like the scream, unusual to be sure. Magnus was suddenly surprised by a shaft of panic. As if the world was spinning out of control. Why had he made such a play over Doyle? Sure, he was a big hulk but he was no threat, just a kid. And yet he, Magnus, had reacted as if under attack. Or was it nothing to do with Doyle? Deeper. Of late he had been suffering blackouts. Time vanished and he could not remember what had happened. And always when he came out of it, Sophia was leaning over him. She told him he had slept like a dead man. Afterwards he was under the spell of a blinding headache. Sophia watched the thoughts pass behind his eyes like clouds. As for her, the decision was made. Surely as a sign from above. Vengeance. Shall we return to the hotel? she said. I have sore need of privacy. She reached out her hand to run it down the side of his neck, the nails scratching lightly on his skin. Magnus Bannerman had known many women but no-one to set his blood aflame like this one. Her body wrapped around and he forgot everything but his desire. He pulled her in, tight and fierce, as if he might crush her, bones and all. Sophia closed her eyes. That was what she wanted. That was what she hungered for. All the way back to a day in the hot sun when she had turned fifteen. A day in the sun. When her mother betrayed the memory of a good man. But now it was October in Edinburgh and time for a reckoning. There was one voice still to hear. She had waited all her life for that voice. Now she would bring it forth. Time for a reckoning. 13 And when night Darkens the street, then wander forth the sons Of Belial, flown with insolence and wine. JOHN MILTON, Paradise Lost That night a series of events took place to put a smile on Satans countenance. Each was connected to the other by intangible lines, as if a spiders web of violence and deceit were being spun over the city, where a movement such as that of a fly twirling itself into sticky oblivion as struggle created its own winding sheet, provoked another action in response. Two card-trumpers sat in the Rustie Nail tavern down by the docks and schooled their features not to reflect an inner malicious glee as they watched the mark once more take the bait. They had lured him in with a common enough ruse; the simple ones are oft the best. One pretended to be drunk, quarrelsome but with money to burn, the other amused, good-natured, not even wishing to take this fools gold as he dealt the cards in an alcove. It was hidden from the main maelstrom of vagabond whores who had flocked to the place because a ship had just docked from Holland and the tarry breeks also had money to burn. Wild women and cheap whisky make a jolly Jack Tar. The sharpers called themselves Mister Evans and Mister Todd. The game was vingt et un , where the object was to add your card values as near to twenty-one as possible without going squandered . A fancy name for over and bust. The nearest to twenty-one was the winner, unless a natural took place: that is, an ace plus ten or court card. Easy rules. Any child could play. The banker dealt the cards. That was the good-natured Mister Evans. The drunken Mister Todd bet against. Both took the part of cattle merchants who had sold their beasts for strong profit at market and were whiling away the time in rough surroundings before heading back to their respectable lodgings, thence, next morning, to the Borders where their rustic wives waited to herd them once more into the pen of domesticity. The odds of the game were in favour of the banker because if the scores tied he won, but Mister Todd did not seem to recognise this fact, protesting noisily at his continuing ill fortune. Mister Evans shook his head as Mister Todd, whose two cards totalled fifteen, called up for another twist and went spectacularly squandered as a jack of spades turned over. As designed, this attracted the attention of a small portly man who was standing nearby, observing the larger more raucous belles de nuit with a certain hunger. The man wore a bowler hat and had a completely forgettable face with small beady eyes, which glittered as he watched the cavorting mel?e. But he did not relish such rough company it would seem, so when Mister Evans caught his eye to smile his apology for his companions membership of the bad losers club the portly man came over to observe matters. After two further defeated hands, Mister Todd went to relieve himself on the misty late-night cobblestones and Mister Evans suggested that the gentleman might like to join in the fun. His friend needed to be taught a lesson. There might even have been the slightest suggestion of envy on Mister Evanss part as he described the absent micturator having a larger farm, the result of a bovine inheritance from a providential marriage. A greedy glint in the small ratlike eyes as the first bait was taken. To begin, Mister Smith, as the mark so named himself, did very well indeed. Then the wagers increased. The bank changed hands as Mister Todd, puffed up with irritation and his own importance insisted that it should, over to him. But his cards stayed the same, worsened by bad decisions and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the laws of gambling probability. Mister Todd then demanded a doubling of stakes as was his bankers lien, and the other two were happy to comply. But suddenly, as if night had changed to day, the accepted order was reversed and Mister Todd began to enjoy the most incredible run of luck. He drew five to a count of sixteen; naturals and court cards followed him like obedient sheep and as the other two strained to recoup their losses, the stakes were doubled yet again. Good money after bad. The pocketbook of Mister Smith, a previously bulging receptacle, which clever Mister Evans had noted as he stood beside him at the bar while the little man paid for his beer, complaining that it stood no comparison with good London ale, began to shrink like a punctured bladder. Mister Todd defied the odds of gambling and gravity as he swayed over the table to collect his winnings, face apparently red with alcohol, clumsy with the cards; surely it was only a matter of time? A silent message the apologetic Mister Evans signalled as they pushed their stakes into the middle. All his money in the little mans case; but this hand he sat proud on twenty, the cards face down, hidden to all but Mister Smith. Mister Evans went bust. Squandered . Sadly. The banker turned over thirteen, an unlucky number. The next card up was four. Seventeen. Not enough to vanquish the two face-down cards. But of course, the banker did not know the value of the hidden hand. Twist or stand? If he stood pat, Mister Smith would win. For a moment the man hesitated and then with a careless sweep of the hand turned over the next card. It was a four again. Twenty-one. A boozy roar of triumph from the banker and an exasperated sigh of annoyance from the nice Mister Evans. Mister Smith turned away abruptly as if he could not bear to look at the loss and, at that moment, the sharpers made a fatal error. One winked at the other, confident that the mans back had no eyes to see. But there was a dirty cracked mirror in the opposite empty booth to reflect this collusion. Yet when Mister Smith turned back, nothing in his face indicated what, if anything, he had seen. His hand however, slid down the side of one plump little leg, while his face screwed up in puzzlement as if he could not believe what had just happened with the cards. Mister Evans opened his mouth to compose words of consolation; he himself had lost as well and who could believe that this uncouth fellow might stumble upon such a change of fortune? Who could believe? The words never passed his lips. The little man made a sweeping gesture under the table and both men seated on the other side froze as if an icy hand had been laid upon them. The money was scooped swiftly up and then some words were finally uttered. Thank you, gents. Having said this, Alfred Binnie turned and made his unhurried way through the swirling smoke and heaving bodies of the Rustie Nail. The paralysis of their nether abdomens being sliced through by a razor-edged knife that might disembowel an ox, held the two sharpers in suspension for what seemed like an eternity. Both looked down and saw the blood seeping out of the deep cut in their lower bellies through the thick material of the tweed trousers worn to support the pretence that they were from the outlands of Jedburgh or the like. Then the pain bit in and their groans mingled with the frenzied whoops of the tavern throng as two of the mariners burst into an impromptu hornpipe. One of them reeled backwards and crashed into the alcove. He apologised in Dutch. His native language. 14 And so I lie with her and she with me, And in our faults by lies we flattered be. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Sonnets Muriels small bedroom overlooked the side lane and a crack upon her window brought her awake with a start of fear. The breath caught in her throat she had been dreaming but of nothing she could easily remember, vague feelings of shame, and accusing voices in her mind. For a moment she lay quite still. Unable to tell what had disturbed her sleep. Another crack of pebble on glass solved the mystery. She shifted eyes to the window, the counterpane pulled up just under her nose like a frightened child or old maid in a country cottage. But she was neither. Muriel Grierson was a respectable widow. Or was she? She slipped out of bed and padded with an oddly feline gait, bare feet upon a lush carpet, to the glass where she looked out into the lane. He was standing where she knew he would be; silver hair flattened a little by the evening damp, shining wetly in the faint gleam that spilled down the narrow track from the streetlight. Samuel Grant. Her lover. The man she had met by chance in the street when a cab driver had splashed her skirts with his carriage wheel and when she taxed him, the fellow had responded in a most impolite fashion. A passer-by then berated the miscreant until the brute apologised. The passer-by. A well-set man with silver hair. From this accidental beginning he had courted her but of course most discreetly; it would not be proper for Muriel to be seen enjoying such company. How could one put it? She was yet, though decked no longer in widows weeds, carrying the indefinable marks of grief and he was somewhatnot quite of the same class. Well mannered to be sure, a trifle flamboyant in his dress, stocky of frame, in age perhaps some years less than her buthow can one put it? In fact there were more years between them than she realised but ignorance is often bliss as regards age in love. And so Muriel mused on regardless. He was a little short of grace. Not coarse exactly, just lacking a certain refinement. But she liked that. An uncomplicated, unconfined vitality. She liked that. They had met, therefore, in secret in areas of the city where she was not known and the clandestine nature had brought a certain spice as if she were having an affaire de coeur . Then one night when her maid Ellen was having her regular evening away with her family, Muriel had permitted Samuel the house. It was dark enough that no-one might notice from the street and so she had allowed him in. And then she had allowed him quite a lot. She had never enjoyed the act of love, it was something to be endured, like an affliction. Her husband Andrew had approached it as if measuring out a corpse. A grim undertaking. But Samuel Grant enjoyed what he termed rough and tumble and, to her surprise, she found that the act was not divorced from a certainpleasure. Besides Ellens regular absences, she encouraged the woman to vacate the premises on other evenings and Muriel was worried that her maid smelled a rat. Yet she grew more reckless; sexual pleasure does have that effect. Rules the roost. They pulled the curtains shut and Samuel had the run of the house. The master bedroom where the marital rites had been grindingly performed was abandoned in summary fashion and, pleading melancholic memories, Muriel had shifted to a smaller bouncier mattress in a more compact room. With no family portraits looming above. This space she decorated in bright, vibrant colours, indulged in feminine frills and boudoir fripperies that would have given her late husband a heart attack had he not been already deceased from exactly that. And it was from this chamber of guilty excess that she looked down upon the cause. Samuel waved up cheerily. She had warned him previously that even though Ellen had her evening off, a long-standing social engagement must be fulfilled this night. No matter, declared bluff Sam. Hed come late or he wouldnt come at all. This was his style. And she liked that. But this time when she opened the front door and he slid in fast to embrace her in manly fashion, she retracted from desire in order to tell him the terrible events of the day. Samuels eyes widened and he let out a small whistle of surprise. Thats a lift tae lose, he announced. I want my mothers brooch. I was fond of the music box. The rest is not important. What about the money? I do not mourn it especially. Muriel shook her head to emphasise such and stepped back. A light from the hall lamp outlined her body through the thin nightgown and Samuels mind, never a strong, fixed point at the best of times, wandered. But a lustful lunge might be misinterpreted as a cavalier attitude and there was no telling where this conversation might lead. As I told you, I suspected Andrew had kept the money hidden for a reason. Some things are best paid for in cash. Such as? she asked sharply. Whores for one, came into his mind but he kept his expression bland and open; it had served him well with many women to act the child in man. They suffered the flinty exactitudes of matrimony and flowered like cherry blossom at a friendly face and joyful rumpling of the bed sheets. Muriel was such a woman. Cherry blossom. But not at the moment. At the moment she regarded him with a wary questioning stare. I showed you where that money was kept. You did, my dear. And now its gone. It has. For certain sure. As if the thieves knew exactly where to find it. He nodded as if she had made an irrefutably wise assertion but cursed his big mouth because putting two and two in summation, a boastful whisky speech in the Foul Anchor tavern to a certain Seth Moxey might yet come back to haunt him. Samuel had a round, pleasant face with a little goatee beard and radiated a kind of damaged innocence, as if lifes tribulations had left a mark but the spirit was undaunted. He was known to his acquaintances as Silver Sam both because of his hair, which had prematurely attained this hue and gave him a gravitas far beyond his actual age, and the fact that he enjoyed personal artefacts of the precious metal. Watch and chain, silver ring, tiepin, take your pick. He enjoyed the glitter; however, this was not the time for outward show. Muriel was not directly accusing but harboured suspicions that she longed to be disproved because women, despite their innate mistrust of men, always hope to meet an improved specimen somewhere along the line. Yet Samuel knew that protesting innocence too loudly might imply a feeling of guilt. A mans excuses never quite ring true. I will make enquiries, he said. So will Inspector McLevy, she replied. Samuel winced internally. That was not a name he wished to hear. No-one of the fraternity wanted that bugger on his trail. Yet he is a policeman, my love. Certain doors may be closed against him. Unlike my own, which seems to be open to all comers. A bitter riposte. They trembled on the edge of their very first quarrel. We all begin with such high hopes, do we not? She knew that he was a dabbler on the fringes of respectable society, a buyer and seller of this and that , as he was wont to say, and it added to her relish of cocking a snoot at accepted custom. But witnessing that unlicensed, licentious freedom was the grim effigy of her husband who looked down from the various portraits in the house that she dared not remove for fear of adverse comment. Perhaps Andrew was correct. She was cheap. Besmirched. This was no better than she deserved. A deep breath then out with it. Give me your word, she said. For what, Moumou? His pet name for her brought no softening to her face. Swear that you are not compromised by this theft. He placed his hand solemnly over the heart area, or as near as he could, given that his pocketbook resided there. I swear upon my mothers grave. The mother that had thrown him out as a young boy to make his living on the streets of Leith by whatever his wits might conjure up. Samuel had pimped, lied, stolen, been abused and defiled many times one way or the other but had somehow managed to haul himself out of the mire. And he was never going back. Not if he could help it. Muriel looked into his eyes. They did not flinch. He had learned this at an early stage. Steadfast mendacity. Upon her grave, he repeated. A long silence where he noticed that there were some thin lines from the sides of her eyes as if a crow had walked past in the snow. Age withers us all. I believe you, she finally declared. He bowed his head to hide a relieved smile. And I shall strain every nerve to find your jewels, he murmured. Later in the bouncy bed, having tested the springs with vigorous consummation, they lay side by side. She was snoring. Lightly. Ladylike. But snoring. He watched her with some fondness but not enough to alter the train of his thought. Seth Moxey was a dirty dog. And he, Samuel Grant, was a bletherskite. A liar and a buffoon. But still alive. What a bugger that McLevy was involved. Muriel came awake with a jolt and looked down at an admittedly naked breast, the nipple of which was like a sentry at attention under his absent-minded caress. Jezebel , she announced to the ceiling. Who might that be? he asked cautiously. A wicked woman who was trampled by horses and eaten by dogs. In the Bible. Samuel blinked. His knowledge of scripture was not vast but it sounded like one of those punishments from on high. He was not a follower of that sort of retribution, in fact religion struck him as attracting stiff-necked folk who then dished out Gods will to make up for what they lacked. He was more for live and let live. She must have been wicked, right enough, he offered, transferring his thumb to the other nipple in the interests of equality. Andrew was forever talking about evil women in the Bible. It seemed to fascinate him. Muriel shook her head, troubled by pleasures close connection to guilt, for instance in the case of papillary stimulation and worried memories. I was called by such a name tonight. By whom? he demanded with indignation. Ill punch their nose aside! Muriel thought of trying to explain that the nose in question might not be materialised, finding its physical expression through a sensitives visage behind a veil, but decided to leave things be. Yet the timbre of the spirit voice had sounded weirdly like her dead husband and Jezebel had been his crushing verdict on any woman who wore trace of cosmetic covering or flaunted an improvement upon what nature had provided. What if hed been watching them all this time? What if he were watching them now? Muriel was not someone who liked to delve into the dark crevices of the mind and regretted most bitterly that she had agreed to accompany Mary Doyle and her son to the Spiritualist Society, but Mary was an old friend, Muriel had welcomed the distraction, and Arthur waswell, shameful to admit such, but in her new-found sense of fragrant release, she was attracted to his courtly manners and massive frame. Plus vibrant innocence. Innocence always attracts the opposite. Was she depraved, or merely awakened ? What if hes watching us? she whispered. Who? Andrew. His ghost. Samuel glanced around somewhat uneasily but then his essential practicality came to the fore. Well if he is, he said, hell just have to thole it. Were alive and hes departed. Life is hard. It was not the only thing. Muriel had been trying to keep her mind focused on the dark events that seemed to presently lurk in her life but found that her hand, not unlike herself, had strayed into temptation. And provoked the risen Adam. A creature of sensation. She wheeled over suddenly and straddled him, the first time she had performed such an action. If Andrew was watching he might as well get his moneys worth. Do you think I am wicked? she demanded of Samuel. Only when you smile, he answered. And they rolled down the hill into loves oblivion. 15 Tis not what once it was, the world, But a rude heap together hurled. ANDREW MARVELL, Upon Appleton House When Jean Brash approached the gates of the Just Land she was astonished to see all the lights ablaze and three extremely drunk young men roaring fit to burst upon the verdant lawn for Jean had green fingers. Facing the men was an indignant Jessie Nairn; she seemed to have taken the place of the ex-blacksmith Angus, who doubled as Jeans coachman, doorman and keeper of order in the Just Land. He was out in the streets with a paper likeness of the acid-pourer clutched in his meaty fist and woe betide the little swine if he was found. Jean Brash and Hannah Semple had been closeted in a safe house in Laurie Street not far from the Leith Links, one of Jeans many mansions. There they had met with various street-Arabs and keelies, a substratum of criminality but invaluable for reconnaissance. Her people . It would not be wise to have so many visitors to the bawdy hoose, so therefore the safe house. Now the hunt was on. But with no success so far. A reported knifing in one of the taverns, two sharpers cut savage deep and a man answering the description of the quarry. But he had disappeared out into the night. A watch was also being kept on the Countesss hotel but nothing to report except various respectable pillars of the community ducking in for illicit pleasure, one of whom, Gilbert Morrison, had been politely screened from the delights of the Just Land due to a predilection for inflicting punishment and was indeed the very man who had left the welts on the derri?re of Simone. Which had provoked her to leave the Countess. Which was the cause of this war with Jean. Casus belli . Cherchez la femme . There had been a violent run-in in the back wynds of the Tolbooth with one Patrick Fraser, who was a bully-boy for the Countess and had gathered a crew of like-minded thugs around him. During the fracas Patrick had received a sharp reminder from wee Donnie Toms that size is not always the point at issue. Donnie had kicked up a storm. Blood had been spilled, bones broken. The streets were hotting up. Various guisers on a Halloween approach were also on the randan; imps of hell, witches, satanic figures in livid finery roamed the byways, startling the carriage horses with ghostly apparition. The city was seething with disquiet and everywhere there was a feeling of things breaking apart, as if the earth was moving under the scrabbling feet of Edinburgh gentlefolk. Nowhere more apparent than within her own grounds, Jean observed. For a moment she was tempted to plunge headlong into the rammy, because it had become so itchy-scratchy in the safe house waiting for news to break that she had left Hannah Semple to run the operation and walked briskly back through the streets praying that she might bump into a man answering the likeness of Lily Baxters sketch. No such luck. However, she would not take her grievance out on other folk but employ a stately approach. Like Victoria Regina. So Jean walked softly. As for the roaring boys on the lawn? Logan Galloway was a contemptible young snotter whose father had made a fortune exporting horses to France where they were no doubt cooked and eaten, hooves and all. He was a skinny runt, nebby by nature, temper not improved by an earlier incident that evening when he and a companion had thought it great high jinks to don Halloween disguise and terrorise a meeting of the Spiritualist Society, in the certain knowledge that none of the impotent attendance would be able to lay a glove upon them. They had been unpleasantly surprised to find themselves picked up by the scruff of the neck and booted out by a man mountain that Galloway vaguely recognised as a rugby player for the University. Then they had been pursued through the streets by a madman brandishing a placard. After giving him the slip, they had met with a similarly inclined young lout, drunk like sand-beds in the tavern, and presented themselves at the door of the Just Land for further recreation. But something had gone agley. As Jean slipped up by the shadows, the combatants were well into their stride. You little hure! screamed Galloway, face flushed and eyes glazed. You stole my money! I stole nothing, said Jessie. Ye spent it. Youre a liar! And youre mortal fou, said Jessie, a hint of insolence creeping into her tone. A few catcalls from the lighted windows added to the fun and Jessie played up to the watching magpies. Ye spent your money, ye had your pleasure. Now, away an cock yer feathers on the dunghill. More laughter from the windows. Galloways countenance, which was not unlike some of the wretched horses his father shipped across the Channel, in that it was long, bony, and swivel-eyed, near sundered itself in wrathful umbrage. How dare you address me so, ye little bitch, he almost foamed at the mouth. Ill split your insolent face! Galloway unexpectedly, for Jessie had him pegged as a wee bag of wind, threw out a haphazard fist and hit a glancing blow on the shoulder that tumbled her to the ground. Flushed with this triumph and the sudden silence of the jeering magpies, though this may have been in part due to something else they had just noticed, Galloway lifted his hand to swipe the impudent wee hure flat across her mouth. He then found an odd event to transpire. As if by unseen force his expensive jacket was sliced open from side pocket all the way up to the armpit. As he gazed, violent act arrested, at this rent in his fashionable attire, as if by magic a female form appeared before him. The apparition had green eyes and red hair. You may leave us now, said Jean Brash, who had abandoned her stately approach through force of necessity. Galloway staggered back but then recovered his nerve as he realised Jean was on her own. No Hannah Semple, no Angus the enforcer, just a single woman. With a straight gleaming blade in her hand, but that might be overcome. He signalled to his cronies and they began to close in. Now there were no more threatening oaths but the danger was more real. Jessie scrambled on her hands and knees further back towards the house and stifled shrieks came from the watching magpies. Jean remained calm but it was one thing to cut lumps out of a swankie young halfwits jacket and another to inflict physical damage. You could get arrested for that. Especially if you did it in the public eye. A cruel drunken light in Galloways eye; companions, equally aroused, egged him on with grunts of encouragement. Strong drink and a weak mind are bad company. Galloway grinned like a rat and feinted to catch at her but before it was possible to see how far this confrontation might progress, a voice from the darkness moved into and across matters. Aye, Jean. Cutting back the weeds, eh? James McLevy stood in the semi-darkness on the fringe of the arc where the house lights expired, with Mulholland by his side. Both men then moved forward unhurriedly; Mulhollands hornbeam stick hanging loose at his side as he loped forward, the inspector with the deceptively benign air of a man out for an evening constitutional. The policemen had met up again at the station where the constable reported that he had got nowhere with the Grierson robbery enquiries, and were out on their usual evening saunter round the streets of Leith when word came that, amongst a few other incidents of note, Patrick Fraser had received a severe kicking that involved the bridge of his nose being squashed like a cowpat. Retributive action was being sworn by his gang. McLevy had planned to head this off should the vengeful crew have made for the Just Land but found instead another altercation. Halloween often bred them. Inspector. Well on hand. This witch has attacked me! Galloway blustered. Just a wee snip, said Jean. The jacket flapped dismal agreement as Galloway continued his litany of complaint. I have been most foully robbed in this womans establishment. My wallet emptied! While you danced the Reels o Bogie? McLevy enquired sardonically, this being the poet Robert Burns allusion to copulation of a frenzied nature. A shrewd shaft dismissed by the justified sinner. I deserve and demand satisfaction. Demand away, Jean muttered, wondering how the hell McLevy seemed to manifest all over Leith. Her people had reported him down by the docks the last she had heard and not that long since. Mulholland had been silent so far but curled his lip at Galloways protestations. You dont deserve a damned thing, he pronounced. Look at the odds on hand. Three to one. Thats shameful. I was here! said Jessie, who had reappeared at Jeans side now that matters were less turbulent. This was ignored as the two policemen placed themselves directly in front of the sullen malcontents. What would your Aunt Katie say tae these specimens? McLevy asked mildly of his constable. To a certain extent things had been a little strained between them and it was nice to get back into an old routine. Get out o my sight, youd give the dry boak to a dead badger, was the uncompromising response. What a woman, said McLevy admiringly. He suddenly moved in very close to the young men. You heard the constable, Galloway, absent yourself while you have the chance. I catch you or your friends near these grounds again, Ill run you in for trespass. There was a mean glitter in the inspectors eyes; it had been a long day and he was in no mood to suffer fools. The other two had piped down immediately at the sound of his voice but as they slouched off towards the gates Galloway turned round to indicate he had some puff left. I shall complain to your Lieutenant Roach! he cried. Do that, replied McLevy. He could use some humour in his life. Now honour us with your departure. Mulholland moved threateningly to the loitering Galloway who stepped away to splash his foot into the water in Jeans fishpond, thus alarming the large piscine inhabitants and causing great amusement to the audience of magpies who hooted further as his fashionable shoe became entangled in some exotic fronds. As he shook his leg unavailingly to clear it of the weeds fond embrace, Galloway strived for the last word. This is not finished, Jean Brash. I was robbed, I can assure you, and I will have lawful redress! Fear grips me by the throat, she called back, mockingly. However she was annoyed to find herself in the situation of arguing with a runty snab under McLevys amused gaze. She shot Jessie a look to indicate that there would be words exchanged as soon as the chance presented itself. The swankie boys finally quit the scene, slamming the iron gates shut to indicate their manhood was still intact, which left four survivors of the incident. Jean became aware that McLevy was looking with interest at her hand and realised she was still holding the implement which had changed the shape of Galloways jacket. Thats a fine sharp knife you have, he observed. Jean had taken it out as a precaution, it fitting snugly into the reticule on her arm. In fact, if you discounted the fact that she kept a bawdy hoose and sliced folk up to the armpit, the woman cut an impressively respectable figure in her evening coat and elegant bonnet. Its for pruning the roses, she answered. Anything that protrudes, in fact. McLevy extended his hand and she placed the knife carefully across the palm. He peered at it closely in the gloom, and then passed the weapon to Mulholland. What dyou make o that, constable? he asked. Mulholland hefted the blade expertly in the manner of a man who had read The Count of Monte Cristo . Well balanced. Finest Italian steel. Its from an admirer, Jean offered. A cutpurse? McLevy asked, retrieving the thing from Mulholland who was waving it around in deft circles. No. A surgeon. Her dry response provoked a whoop of laughter from the inspector. He was beginning to enjoy himself; life had been a bit quiet recently other than his outlandish dreams. Now, to paraphrase the great John Milton, McLevy had a feeling that all hell was about to break loose and it cheered him up no end. The inspector nevertheless wasted his breath in one more warning to the mistress of the Just Land, stepping in close so that the conversation between them was low, like lovers in the shadows. Ah Jean, Jean, he murmured. The path you travel can have but one destination. A prison cell. I shall sweep it clean with my own hands. Dont delude yourself, she murmured also. And may I have my pruner returned? He handed it over with ceremony and then tipped back his low-brimmed bowler with one finger to a rakish angle. Well, constable, he announced, loudly, best be on our way. Duty done. Fair maidens saved. The fair maiden sings your praises, Jean remarked ironically to his departing back. He did not turn round, indeed the rest of the exchange was conducted with him marching off into the darkness, the lanky figure of Mulholland trailing behind. They made an odd contrast but she had seen them both in action and the swankie boys didnt know how lucky they had been that the stramash had not spiralled into further violence. Mulholland dealt it out dispassionately with that hornbeam stick like the hand of God, and McLevy? He was the most physically dangerous man she had ever witnessed and had a reservoir of fury profound as death itself. She recalled him as a young constable lying on the tavern floor and a thug ready to bring his boot crashing down into the upturned face. Jean was a nascent whore working in the Holy Land then, and her pimp, Henry Preger, was the thug in question. A vicious bastard she hated with good reason. In the moment before Preger brought his boot down, she had winked at the young policeman, to provoke, to encourage, who knows, but he came off that floor like a madman and battered Preger from one end of the tavern to the other. The man died not long after and folk were inclined to put it down to the after-effects of that beating but Jean would have put her money on poison. And she should know. These were her thoughts as she watched McLevy walk away. By the by, Jean, the inspector called over his shoulder, I hear that Patrick Fraser had a nasty accident. He keeps bad company, she shouted over. A raucous laugh came in response. Oh, you and the Countess sounded his voice in the gloom. Well matched, the pair o ye. As the policemen strode past the pond, Mulholland shook his head in disapproval. They want to put a net over that, he announced gravely. Birds of prey will be queuing up for these fish. Ive tellt her, said McLevy, who in fact had not done so, he had just thought it. However, it was nearly the same thing. When have you ever known a woman take a telling? Not so far in my life, was the solemn response, as the constable thought to the past where his beloved Emily had refused further communication on account of her father having hung himself high by the neck. Mind you, it was a hard thing to get round right enough. Walk under, but not get round. They had reached the gates, which were still reverberating from the previous abrupt closure and McLevy at last turned to survey the Just Land. It was a strange sight, the place ablaze with light and a womans face in every window. Jean remained where he had left her, with Jessies figure standing to the side like a rejected conspirator. For a moment the inspectors face was thoughtful, then he grinned and bawled out a last piece of advice. Watch your back, Jeangardyloo! McLevy then observed his constables face to be somewhat overcast and guessed that memory had made an unwelcome intrusion. Young men bruise easy. Come along, Mulholland, he declared in hearty fashion to cover any trace of what would be an equally unwelcome show of compassion. Well away tae the Auld Ship, chap at the back door, see if they can rustle up a twa-eyed steak. Mulholland shivered at that prospect, which was a strong smoked herring in Leith parlance. Itll repeat on me all through the night, he said. All right then, my mannie, rejoined McLevy. Ill tackle the fish and well scare you up some sheeps heid broth. And so melancholy was banished in favour of a stewed head of mutton but as they began to walk down the brae, a thought occurred to the constable. You didnt mention that knifing at the Rustie Nail? he said. Sounds like the man shes after. No, I didnae mention it, replied McLevy, and neither did Jean Brash. Ill let her think shes got one over on me. When folk think that, is when they make mistakes. Mulholland shook his head at the sleekit depths of his inspector and McLevy began whistling an old Jacobite air. Charlie is my darling, the young Chevalier. The strains of the tune made its way back to the garden of the Just Land where Jean watched the two men disappear into the night. For a moment she felt oddly moved, as if something that had been a fixed point was changing and would never be the same again. That melody she always associated with a side of James McLevy that no-one ever saw. The fighter of lost causes. Madness in his mind. The law was his life. He had no other. And as for love? God knows what feeling existed between her and him, but it was deep. A sensation of loss swept over her. With an effort she shook herself free of premonition and then turned to Jessie. Back to the real world. Burnt backs and drunken half-wits. She gestured to where Galloway had been ranting. How did this happen? The Paisley girl shrugged. They spent a their money on champagne, or better he did. The other two were sookin on his titties. Then he opened his pocketbook. His money was gone and then he got rambunctious. Then I pit him out the door. Then he started yallyhooing. Blood in his eye. A pithy enough summation but Jean was not impressed. Hardly through the door yourself, Jessie Nairn. How come you stuck your nose in? Jessie shrugged again. She was wearing her working assemblage; that is, a simple dress with a certain amount of d?colletage but not overly so. Jean did not approve of too much vulgar show, despite the Countesss jibe about the fleshers slab and the contents thereon. The dress was however somewhat skimpy and now that the furore had abated, Jessie felt the dank October night. She shivered uncontrollably, her sharp feral little face screwing up. Jessie was no great beauty but there was an impudent gleam in her eye and a proud lift of the head that provided her own pert brand of desirability. Her apparent discomfort was not intended to garner sympathy from Jean nor did it receive such. I asked, said the mistress of the Just Land, how come you stuck your neb in? Naebody else did. He was kicking up hell. What about Big Annie Drummond? She doesnae like a rammy. This was undeniably true, Annie was a motherly figure to all the magpies and could command a certain authority but, unlike Hannah Semple or Jean herself, she was a gentle soul. In fact if Jean was being fair she might acknowledge that Jessie had done her a favour of sorts but she was not in a rational frame of mind. Things were falling apart, inside and out evil spirits abroad. Therefore she behaved like a sour-faced scold and Jessie was confirmed in the way she had always been treated in life. Even if she had to create the circumstances for herself sometimes. We are all complicit in our own persecution. I thought I had explained the rules of the house to you, Jessie Nairn, said Jean with a sniff because the cold air was beginning to get to her as well. If a customer is too puggled to know what hes done with his money, humour him, sit a girl on his knee, coddle him like a wee baby. You didnae do that, Jessie quite reasonably pointed out. It was too late then! Jean snapped grouchily, aware she was losing the exchange. He was beyond redemption. Thats whit I thought, said Jessie. Another reasonable remark. This time, unanswered. The Paisley girl shivered once more. Ye better get inside, said Jean. Jessie shrugged, a mannerism that could easily get on the nerves, and walked slowly back towards the house. The windows began to empty of magpies as they caught the power of Jeans cold gaze. Annie Drummond, who filled a frame all by herself, looked shamefaced and bowed her head but two figures who remained in view were French. Simone cut a frail portrait at the high window of the nursery room with Francine just behind, a proprietorial hand on the others shoulder. Jean shook her head. She could smell trouble a mile off in that configuration, and where was Lily Baxter? Come to think of it, where were all the clients? Are there no gentlemen callers this evening? she enquired of Jessie who had finally got to the door and was on the point of disappearing out of sight. Some early birds, but they pecked and ran, Jessie called back. A quiet night. Except for the rammy. The door closed. Jean looked up again at the two figures. The French. Trouble and strife. Down in the cellar of the Just Land, Lily Baxter sat astride the Berkley Horse. Dotted around the walls of the room were various implements for inflicting sought-after suffering to any given area. Lily did not desire agony but she had it just the same. She had deliberated long and hard before revealing that she had witnessed the man who had attacked Simone. Finally she had passed the paper with the drawing to Hannah Semple because she could not bear to approach her lover Francine. Lily rocked back and forwards on the horse. Eyes closed. Lost in another world. 16 Tis witching night, the criminals ally; it comes accomplice-like, wolf-soft; the sky slowly is closing every giant door, and man the rebel turns a beast once more. CHARLES BAUDELAIRE, Le Cr?puscule du Soir The hunched, bear-like figure moved silently across the damp slates of the rooftop with animal certainty. A black cloak billowed out behind it, with a scarlet lining that suggested some flayed internal organ. The cloak had a hood, which obscured the head of the creature, but oddly the feet were bare, toes fastening onto the slimy, angled surface with prehensile skill. For a moment the figure paused and sniffed the air as if picking up the scent of prey but it was the acrid smell of smoke coming from a nearby chimney-stack had attracted its attention. This marked the spot. A sign. The stack was crooked as if it had been struck by lightning, unlike the adjoining roofs where the chimneypots and surrounds pointed straight at the sky. The middle house of the terrace. The beast knew this was the mark. But the smoke meant someone was awake. Still alive. Care must be taken. There was much to be done. A low, coughing grunt emitted from its throat. A series of words burnt into the mind. Find. Kill. Destroy. It was only right. The good man lay dead. Like a dog. Nothing left. Bits of flesh. Not even a face. Only right. Pay for the sin. Hell is hungry. The beast moved sideways, lurching at speed, knuckles close to the slates as it moved with silent precision to a window set into the roof. A skylight. Fast locked. Bolted at the inside. The hinges of heavy metal. Hasped. Strong. To keep death out. But the betrayed call for vengeance. Nothing is stronger than that. The frame of the window had a slight overlap. The creature hunched over, gloved fingers splayed, gripping round the wood and slowly levering upwards. At first nothing happened, then with a muffled creak the whole top half of the frame began to lift up as the bolts inside were wrenched slowly out of their sockets by the immense power generating from the rigid arms and squatting form above. A metallic screech signalled the hinges parting from the wood, the screw nails ripped from their safe haven, and with a sudden jolt, the whole structure was lifted off its moorings like the sliced top of a boiled egg. For a moment the beast froze with its prize clasped between the paws, the heavy black gauntlets anchoring the timber and glass in place against its thick torso though some small splinters of metal and wood fell onto the slates to skitter down and lodge in the guttering. Had anyone heard that sound? Had the sinner within been warned? The beast waited for a voice to call and break the silence of the night. Somewhere far off in the distance a cat yowled, a low menacing growl, but nothing answered. And nothing sounded below in the house. The buckled frame was laid carefully upon the sloping roof and wedged into the chimneystack to keep it in fast position. Somewhere in the dark sky, a seagull let loose a doleful screech like a mourner at a funeral. The figure then moved to the gaping hole it had created and swiftly dropped out of sight into the darkness below. Meantime, in the safety of his house with solid walls and locked doors, Gilbert Morrison gazed into the dying flames of the fire and reflected with muted satisfaction upon his life. Heat was his one indulgence; he had thin blood and felt the cold most bitterly, unlike his brother Walter who could be enclosed in an iceberg and not remark the situation. Gilbert jabbed at the fire with a heavy poker and wondered to add some more coal but decided contra. Coal cost money. Not that he couldnt afford such but he had stayed up well beyond his usual bedtime and enough was enough. And, to be strictly exact, he had one other indulgence which had been relished this night. He replayed a scene in his mind from his visit to the establishment of the Countess and took great satisfaction. The woman supplied had been too fleshy for his taste but she had white skin and marked up in rousing fashion. The French girl had left the establishment and the little sensitive was beyond his grasp but he had kept her pale, veiled face in his memory while laying on the quirt. A most fulfilling encounter. The recollection would keep him warm in his cold bed and who knows what pleasant dreams might ensue? Behind him, the door to his study opened and a massive figure slipped inside with astonishing speed and stealth. The room was dark except for the glow of the fire and Gilbert was too absorbed in happy reminiscence to notice the addition to his company; also he suffered from wax in his hairy ears, thus tending to partial deafness. So what followed came as a big surprise. Two huge hands like bears paws circled his neck and wrenched him bodily from his armchair up into empty space. As he wriggled in agonised shock, feet kicking, eyes wide with fear, Gilbert was lifted higher until he must have been at least eight feet from the ground. He had lifted his own hands to claw unavailingly at the leather gauntlets, the nails scraping hard at the stiff material. They made little impression. Gilberts ears popped and his hearing improved to the point where he was able to distinguish the following words, coming from somewhere just beneath. It was in a guttural animal growl but just enough remained of speech that a dangling man might comprehend. Betrayed. His sweet face. Nothing left. Having uttered these words to no response from the choking man, the creature then followed the three precepts embedded in its psyche. Find . This had been accomplished. Kill . The hood of the cloak fell back and for a moment Gilbert twisted round to see his nemesis. Eyes blinked in recognition at the contorted face staring up into his, and then the beasts hands jerked powerfully and the pinioned neck was snapped like a chicken. Destroy . Gilberts body was lowered carefully to the carpet, which was thick and received the corpus with a certain amount of give. For a moment the beast caught sight of itself in a mirror above the mantle of the fire, snarled in fear at its image and tore at its own hair. Then it looked. And saw the heavy poker lying in the hearth. As if it were a sign. Destroy . 17 He who plays at dice with death must expect the dogs throw. EDWARD BULWER-LYTTON, The Last Days of Pompeii The candle flickered in a weak draught from the window and a hand was cupped round to shelter the flame. The writer laid his pen aside and peered closely at the heading on the page: The Diary of James McLevy That was the constant. What followed was variable and deserved all the secrecy granted. Private thoughts. Keep them so. But read on anyway. When I observe humanity I am aye struck by the fact that every bugger wants to have their own way. And takes it badly amiss when some other bugger, or life itself, does not correspond to requirements. Then violence of one kind or another ensues, the obvious being physical, the more deadly when the mind warps like an old piece of shipwrecked timber left out in the hot sun. Since Im the one that writes this diary and the only one who ever gets to read it, I will allow myself the luxury of overblown simile. But its true in any case. A warped mind is the worst foe. It is not easy to see and as the Bard himself put it, Theres no art to find the minds construction in the face. Shakespeare would have made a great detective. Or criminal. When does an idea become so fixed that anything to oppose it is perceived as an attack? And furthermore, anything that does not lend its weight to the bone-crushing, grinding mill of this misplaced certainty is regarded as an enemy in waiting. Whas no for me is against me. Not quite so poetic, but accurate enough. I hold to justice. It is my rock. And the law is its chosen implement. Yet the law itself can turn to persecution, thinking itself infallible, crushing all who dare question it. As a politician will ignore the very folk who have elected him, thinking them beneath contempt. Or attention. And here I am, stuck in the middle. When I was younger I had no doubts but of late I am beset with nagging misgivings like a pack of dogs snapping at my heels. I dont even like dogs. Perhaps I am being unfair, perhaps rather than some canine coven, my hesitations are subtle messages from an organism that has charged through youth and enjoyed the fruits of prime manhood but now finds the going a bit heavy, like a Clydesdale horse lugging a coal cart up a hill. And my body feels in its bones, in its cells, in the network of nerves dancing within and without my skeleton that a reckoning is being prepared. Somewhere along the line. Death is enough to give any man doubts. I have digressed. Let us return to the warped mind that is not my own. What is it protecting? What is the secret that must not be let into the light of day? Perhaps that secret is not even known. Or buried so deep that it cannot even be sensed. But it must be protected. At all costs. McLevy closed his diary with a thud. The trouble with writing is that often more questions are raised than can be decently answered by an authors limited intelligence. He carefully stowed away the bulky tome; it was in fact an old office ledger, the cover once red in colour now faded with use, a gift from a grateful banker after the inspector had uncovered a case of embezzlement. It went into a cupboard by his writing table which was ranged against the wall and contained relics of past crimes solved and unsolved; but he would not delve in there tonight. A man has too many memories as it is. The half-drunk mug of coffee lay on his desk and he picked it up before walking to the window. As usual it was the dark, early hours of morning, the city not altered much from the night before, save perhaps that there was a brooding, heavy feel to the clouds as they almost sat upon the rooftops. McLevy slurped the brew and pondered about what he had just committed to words. He had no idea what it all meant but something was coming up from the depths, that was for sure. A reckoning. A warped mind. A secret to be protected. The inspector peered into his coffee cup as if he might divine this hidden matter or receive a message from a hidden universe but at that moment a coiled shape suddenly unfurled itself from a corner of the room and flew through the air to land with a screech of claws upon his table. For a moment McLevy, as Mulhollands Aunt Katie would say, almost jumped out of his skin and left it lying there, but then the inspector realised the fiendish intruder was none other than Bathsheba. He had let her in earlier to partake of some milk from one of his many chipped saucers and she had promptly lapped her fill then gone to sleep. On awakening the cat had noticed a fat lazy fly that should have by rights been culled this late autumn but had survived in some cranny of the untidy attic room, lurking between Edgar Allan Poes The Fall of the House of Usher and a journal of forensic science. Thus fortified by literature and research it had droned through the air to descend upon some crumbs where a collection of ginger biscuits had once held sway. The fly landed, then Bathsheba landed harder. A quick snap of the jaws and only a fragment of gossamer wing was left to indicate that one of natures marvels, evolving from egg to larva, pupa to adult, had once existed. The compound eyes now saw nothing unless the fly presently inhabited the spirit dimension and buzzed around annoying the spectres on their daily round. McLevy opened the window and the cat, thus nourished, leapt from table to sill, thence to pad cautiously on the slates, disappearing without so much as a backward glance. Nature has no time for losers. Kill or be killed , thought McLevy. No matter how much ye wrap it up, thats what it all comes down to now. He pulled the window back down and considered risking sleep. Perhaps tonight he would have no dreams, or perhaps a mermaid floating peacefully under water though the last sea-maiden he had summoned from the depths of slumber had turned out to be his dead mother with maggots and water eels crawling out of her head. Up from the depths. As long as it wasnt the figure in the cloak. The naked females bouncing round the fire he could just about thole. But that other put a hitherto unknown feeling into him, a misgiving of dread that had reappeared throughout this whole day. What was it in the image that had stirred such fear? Like a heavy weight. Dragging him down to the bottom. McLevy could sense something out there in his city. A menace that would unleash its power. A deadly presence. Would it be the death of him? He softly whistled the Jacobite air of a king lost across the sea, who had carried so many desperate hopes and drowned under such a burden. Charlie is my darling, the young Chevalier. The window reflected back McLevys face like a ghost. Kill or be killed. In another part of Leith, Alfred Binnie slept like a child, the razor-sharp knife close to his hand by the pillow. There was a secret entrance to the Countesss hotel from the back lane and he had used it to slip back inside and up the rear stairs to the room at the top where she had stationed him. Not long now. As he slumbered, his podgy little body twitched like a piglet in the sty. Whee, whee, whee, all the way home. The Countess prepared for sleep, eyeing herself in the mirror. It was not, in fact, a very attractive face but she could live with that. She bared her teeth to reveal a pair of small incisors, pointed on each side of the mouth like a predatory animal. She had received from certain quarters this night information that she would put to good use. Or bad. The good for her. The bad for Jean Brash. Such thought was amusing. She laughed aloud. A pity about poor Patrick but his nose would still function and she had warned him to take no more action. It might spoil a plan that was forming in her mind. A sweet surprise. She could almost taste it. All she had to do was convince a young fool that he could take revenge and be rewarded. The sins of the flesh were useful to that end. Jean Brash slept fitfully. Her bedroom was bedecked with delicate filmy curtains that rustled a little in a damp breeze coming through the part-opened window. An oil lamp burned by her bed that Hannah Semple forever worried might overturn and set the whole place aflame. The mistress of the Just Land, however, did not like the dark. Bad things had happened to her in the absence of light. She had lost her childhood. Taken from her. No way back. She surrounded herself with beauty, pretty favours, pampered her body with oils and perfume, but there was no way back. Burn a light, but the dark is always waiting. Sophia Adler loved the night. Lying in the pitch black, still as a corpse, eyes half closed, she listened to the voices take shape in her mind. Fragments of speech, echoes of disembodied plaintive cries, a force field of garbled sound that she floated through almost like a ghost herself. But never the voice she waited for. It would come. One day. And her life would have meaning. All would be at peace. One day. Or night. In the Sweet By and By . On the boat to San Francisco, there had been a gospel choir who sang hymns. For the Father waits over the way, to prepare us a dwelling place there . Their simple faith had touched her. But that was not her fate. Arthur Conan Doyle rarely knew serenity in sleep. His dreams were often peopled with malignant vampire women who sought to chain him to their bodies, and then twist the iron till they drained him of lifeblood. They bore no resemblance to the fair ladies of beauty and grace that he witnessed in daylight. His giant form twitched uneasily as dark tales unravelled in his mind. He feared a fathers genetic demon in the blood and marshalled his mind to resist by holding logic like a sword before him. Raised high, crashed down. But the dismembered monsters crawled back into his mind to burrow and feast upon the cells of sanity. From the evidence presented, it would be safe to assume that there was a difference between the outer and inner man. Conan Doyles life would always be a struggle between what he presented to the world and the intensity of an inner vision that would not let him rest in peace. Art in the blood gives no quarter. Samuel and Muriel slumbered together as if children, she cuddled against his broad back. Her breath fluttered upon his neck and he marvelled that she put her trust in him. It made what he had committed all the more regrettable. Magnus Bannermans body smelled of soap and cologne. Sophia had bathed him like a baby then put him to bed. The blinding headache had gone and now he slept the sleep of the righteous. And James McLevy still hadnt made it into the Arms of Morpheus. Too much on his plate. The unconscious could wait its hurry. 18 One day Massa rode aroun de farm, De flies so numerous they did swarm; One bit his pony on the thigh, De devil take dat blue-tailed fly. TRADITIONAL, The Blue-tailed Fly Glasgow, 1864. My Dearest Melissa, I feel as if I am embroiled in a world where nothing can be trusted and to be truthful I am not certain if this letter will ever reach you without being tampered with, opened, read, and perhaps destroyed. In that case it will never accomplish its mission. But I must write as if it does, as if it will. It is as if I have become a shadow, as if the life I have led up until now has no meaning, insubstantial, and I hunger for one moment that might give it significance. As if my identity, what I call myself, Jonathen Sinclair, is losing shape. I am becoming indistinct. I fear that the fever which struck after Gettysburg is still hectic in my blood and I cannot trust my own thoughts, as if I am being manipulated by someone else who pulls the strings to make the puppet jump. When I asked Secretary Mallory why he would delegate such an onerous responsibility to a soldier who lacks all experience for such a task, he answered, Because you are an honest man. I would have thought honesty to be the last attribute necessary for this damned business. There is a deadly game of hide and seek being enacted in the docks of Glasgow. Lincolns Federal agents know a messenger has arrived with bonded certificates to purchase ships for the South and run the blockade that strangles our Confederate forces. It is their intention, by fair means or foul, to stop me in my tracks. The British Government is now turning against us and the local Emancipation Societies, no doubt whipped up by the Federals, are delivering petitions to the Foreign Office. Liverpool and Birkenhead are closed to us now and this is one of our last ports of call. Our own agents have contacted the shipping magnates but the usual conduits have been forestalled. They are watched. Known. We must go further afield. Meanwhile my men guard me like jealous bridegrooms, ring me round to protect that precious honesty. One of our meetings was betrayed, by whom I cannot tell, and two of our men wounded in the ambush. I myself shot at the assailants and believe I winged one, or perhaps even killed him, who knows? Do you remember John Findhorn? I spoke of him when I rode day and night to lie by your side just before that bloody battle. Remember? I left in the morning and you cried me to fight well for the South. I shouted back that John and I would whip them blind. It was I who was blind. Blinded by glory. He died of his wounds, the flies around him where he lay, with the cries of those in agony rising to the sky. His last words to me were, I wish I was home. He was a good comrade and before death claimed him, bequeathed me his revolver, oiled, cleaned and true if the aim was such. His father was a gunsmith and had made it for John to keep him safe. It was with that I fired in the Glasgow docks. I now have only three bullets left. I have been offered other weapons but I shall stay with my bequeathment. Three bullets should be enough. I glimpsed my main adversary. He wears a black oilskin cape, a man of sense given the unremitting rain, and goes by the name of William Mitchell. For a moment our eyes met. I saw belief in his and trust he saw the same in mine. Then I let fire but he ducked back out of sight, the man behind him fell and the rest of the night was spent on the run from our pursuers. The Federals outman us and are well organised. We rely on our native wits. It is like a small version of the war itself. I will send this letter by our next departing messenger and ship. Arrangements have been made for me to move cities. I shall not be sorry to leave Glasgow. A low place, to be sure. When I wheeled my horse on the ridge, you were standing in front of the house in the early summer blossom. I am sure I cut a romantic figure. If you receive this, think of me kindly. That is all I would wish from you. It is all we can do until this carnage is over and we all come home. Your husband, Jonathen 19 Lhomme est, je vous lavoue, un m?chant animal. Man, I can assure you, is a nasty creature. MOLI?RE, Le Tartuffe Lieutenant Roach rubbed a furry tongue over his snaggled teeth and reviewed the events of the previous night in his mind. The onions had finally stopped repeating upon him at the hour of midnight with the aid of some powders but his wife unfortunately was not so easily neutralised. She engaged him in an intense discussion intense, that is, on her side which ranged from some unexpected accidents that had befallen members of her family ergo, was there some curse or evil spirit on her familial trail? thence to the idea that the ether might be jam-packed with whirling ghosts jostling impatiently to get a word in edgeways and full of as many complaints as they had enjoyed in real life. Mrs Roach had a somewhat sporadic, impulsive mind which, when activated, was capable of jumping from one subject to the other with no discernible link or lack of pace. For some reason her thoughts had ended up in a whist game where her partner Muriel Grierson, whom they had seen at the gathering and barely acknowledged, had played a card so bereft of intelligence that she cost their side the game. A certain coolness had existed between the ladies since then but when Roach reluctantly vouchsafed the information that the woman had been burgled, he was subsumed in a welter of demand for details and a sudden gush of sympathy for the dear soul; not one of natures brightest creations but undeserving of rapine and pillage or whatever had been visited upon the poor creature. Though there had been certain rumours of her being seen with a mysterious man in out-of-the-way places, these were only stories and it was ever a widows fate to have insinuations follow her, which Mrs Roach hoped would never be her own doom. Roach agreed somewhat dryly and finally the woman ran out of steam. Just before they closed their eyes in the bed of matrimony, however, she had one more shaft of intuition. Robert, she asked, in the merciful darkness. Have you anything you would wish to tell me? About what? Roach responded tersely. Anythingshameful . That might have been witnessed from above? The lieutenant was not sure whether his wife was referring to an all-seeing God or the swirling spirits and hoped sincerely that the balance came down on the Christian side. But then he had to consider the question. Do we all not have something so petty and shameful hidden away as to make us cringe within? Not a huge offence such as regicide or bank robbery and the like these can be dealt with by the authorities but something so small and so morally miserable that not even our worst enemy could conceive that we might sink so low as to commit this act. And the one who cannot forgive us or forget is not the Almighty or a plaintive spectre but ourselves. In Roachs case, inevitably, it had to do with the game of golf. From an early age the prospect of a green fairway and a white ball curving in a graceful trajectory to land and then skip like a free man onwards to a destination marked by a red flag, only the top of which was visible waving in the breeze above the undulations of green hills this vision had taken root in his soul. Late spring in the Presidents Cup, however, while searching amidst the early morning heather for his chief constables misdirected drive a man who had distracted him the year before by jingling coins in his pocket while Roach contemplated then missed a tricky putt, a man who was a fellow Mason to boot and higher in the golden chain than his lowly lieutenant and therefore should know better, a man who puffed cigar smoke so that it drifted across the line of a complex mashie niblick shot Roach rested his case there but the memory of his own heinous offence against the gods of golf almost set off the onions once again. He had stood on the mans ball while it nestled in the wiry gorse. Not only stood but with full weight bore down. There was the excuse of a whipping east wind stinging at his eyes and fooling his feet, he not seeing the ball buried like a murder victim in the bonny blooming heather. It was his heel however that did the damage. And having done so, Roach did not say a word until Sandy Grant, the aforementioned chief constable, stumbled upon the impacted body himself. Under Roachs watchful eye, of course, lest the ball in some miraculous fashion be resurrected into a decent lie. It took Sandy three hacks to dislodge the thing and by that margin he lost the round. Of course the man could have taken a drop. But that was not in his character. And what of Roachs own persona? What is the fine line between accidental mishap and a cognisance that refuses to cognise itself? While the lieutenant had thus pondered he realised that his wife had fortunately gone to sleep. And when he uncloaked his guilty eyes in his station office, these thoughts having flooded inappropriately into his mind, he found himself staring at Constable Ballantyne. I knocked the door, sir, stammered the young man, his birthmark already a rising tide of red. Ye didnae answer. Ballantyne indeed, having tapped timidly to no response, had pushed gently at the door, which had to his dismay sprung open like a yawning pit. He had received a summons at his desk and expected the worst even though he had avoided mirrors like the plague. Roach frowned. It came easy to his countenance. Ballantyne, he announced severely. I have decided to overlook that unfortunate happening in the uniform quarters and trust it will not be repeated. The constable nodded gratefully. We all make mistakes, said Roach. Now, go away and make yourself useful somewhere. He closed his eyes but when he prised them apart once more, Ballantyne was still in the office. I was wondering, sir, declared the constable, emboldened by reprieve. If I might have another try at the patrolling? The last venture on the streets had ended somewhat ignominiously; a female pocket delver had dipped his police whistle and when Ballantyne had raised hand to lip in order to signal alarm, he found it empty of purpose. I will consult the inspector, said Roach, who felt an irrational anxiety suddenly seize him. Now, go away. This time when he shut his eyes the door closed with a satisfying thud but after a few moments it banged open once more. Roach was irritated beyond his usual level because the events of last night, not to mention the recalled Incident of the Golf Ball in the Heather , had set his nerves a-jangle. Whit do you damned well want now? he snapped. Ye need tae get that door fixed, lieutenant, said James McLevy. It runs the risk of unwarranted entry. Roach sighed and blinked open weary eyes to see his inspector, glowing with health and efficiency, standing at what even might have been claimed as attention before him. Just behind McLevy on the wall, Queen Victoria also stood with her hand resting on the back of a chair. It was said she had attended a s?ance at the Royal Palace to contact her beloved, deceased Albert. Sadly the departed consort had failed to put in an appearance, which might explain the disappointed look on her face as she gazed out of the portrait photograph, which Roach himself wiped clean every morning with averted eyes, lest her Majesty think him intrusive. Intrusive, however, was exactly the word for McLevy. The morning had hardly started, Roach declared, and I already received a complaint about you, inspector. Logan Galloway? The same. He claims you took Jean Brashs part against him, his wallet rifled at the Just Land, his own well-being insulted and physically threatened by the police who are for the protection of respectable citizens If hes all that winsome, whits he doing at a bawdy-hoose? Exactly the point I made before I sent him packing, said Roach, surprising McLevy by a change of direction; now and again the lieutenant was capable of something that suggested his mind did not entirely run with the Masonic pack. Not often, but now and again. I dont like the stupid wee gomeril and I like his father even less, Roach continued, but if you must side with a bawdy-hoose keeper can you do it in a way that doesnt threaten the bedrock of society? Now the lieutenant was back on track. He disapproved mightily of McLevys close entanglement with Jean Brash, believing there might be more to it than a love of coffee. But McLevy could deal with this in his sleep. Galloway was rantin fou, he replied. And I didnae lift a pinkie. It was Mulholland and some fish. Roach knew better than to follow that trail. What, I repeat, do you want in my presence? Morning report, sir! McLevy straightened up in a parody of eager, soldier-like attention. In truth he was feeling spry as a mountain goat this day; hed had five hours uninterrupted sleep and not one visitation from the weird sisters. Report away, said Roach, also straightening up; business was business after all and hed make a propitious offering to the gods of golf by deliberately missing a five yard putt the next time he played his chief constable. Two sharpers sliced deep in the Rustie Nail. By the throat? Belly. Theyll live. Gods mercy knows no bounds, said Roach, a trifle enigmatically. The perpetrator answers the description of the acid-pourer of Leith Market. A busy man. And elusive, said McLevy. I may pay a visit to the Countess. You seem at home in these establishments. McLevy ignored the caustic tone of his superior. Also we had a few rammies on the streets between the rival clans. Roach had been put in the picture as regards the conflict betwixt the Queens of Procurement, and nodded sagely. Then he put the knife in. If all this escalates to proven violence, will you be able to discharge your duties? The only indicator of a hit was that the slate-grey eyes darkened slightly. The guilty will not evade me. Even Jean Brash? Justice has no favourites. I am glad to hear that. What about the Grierson robbery? An inside job, I believe. The widow woman has a secret she keeps close. I am sure you will find it out. Roach was content to leave it there, because he knew McLevy would have covered all other avenues such as domestic staff with lovers and flapping tongues. He had a prurient curiosity as regards Muriel Grierson; perhaps his wife was correct, widows excite a strange inquisitory bent. In any case, let McLevy hunt it down. And then tell him about it. Roach folded his hands together indicating dismissal but the inspector had yet more to contribute. Ballantyne tells me ye want him out on patrol. The lieutenant was about to deny this indignantly when, on impulse, he decided to content himself with a nod of the head. If the constable was playing one off against the other then there was more to that boy than met the eye. I dont know if the parish is ready for Ballantyne, McLevy muttered dubiously. How is the constable to develop else? Now it was McLevys turn to leave it be. Far be it from him to mention that other than staring into cracked mirrors and waving his hands about, Ballantynes other pastime was collecting live insects from the busy horde that crept around the station, carefully depositing them outside lest a hobnailed boot curtail their existence. He nodded and turned to go but Roach had a question that suddenly popped into his mind. It had been bothering him since yesterday morning; the passing reference to widows with things to hide and the memory of last night when a giant form rose to apprehend the two capering demons brought it back into his mind. Arthur Conan Doyle? Uhuh? McLevy stood by the open door, his face not easy to read. How did you know all thatmedical boxing palaver about him? Deduction. Not easy to read had now become sphinx-like. Deduction ? Roach shook his head, obscurely annoyed as he often was at the outcome of certain conversations with his inspector. I dont remember you indulging yourself in that particular pastime before. Whit I do all the time. Scientific. You ? Here the lieutenant was being unfair because he knew fine well that McLevy kept surprisingly up to scratch with forensic developments, though he tended to hide that particular light under a large bushel basket. It is ever the Scots trait not to flaunt learning and give aye the appearance of someone who has stumbled upon erudition by accident, if at all. Just got a fancy name, now. But Roach was not completely accepting this; he had never heard McLevy launch forth in such flowery style to such devastating effect. But how did you come upon all this deduction ? McLevy frowned for a moment, then his face lit up. Thats my secret, he said. In the silence following that unhelpful comment, a strangled scream came from the direction of the main station room outside. McLevy wheeled; Roach, showing a surprising turn of speed, followed after, and when they emerged it was to find a macabre scene being re-enacted before them. An old man staggered around in the main hall, his hands covered in blood, streaks of the same in his white hair that then ran down his face. King Lear in Leith. His mouth opened and closed without a sound, the previous shriek having drained his vocal cords. The young constables who were just about to depart on the morning shift stood frozen at the sight. Sergeant Murdoch, who had not even noticed the man pass like a ghost beyond the reception counter, was also fixed in time and space; Ballantyne had risen from his untidy desk, a blotting paper that had held a large beetle falling limply from his hand to let the insect scuttle off towards its own fate. Mulholland who had been gazing glumly at his face in the cracked mirror emerged from the cubby-hole and swiftly moved to catch the old man before he came to harm on one of the stone pillars that held the very building in place. He helped the old fellow gently down onto one of the chairs as McLevy moved to join them. Fergus MacLean was the old mans name. He was a servant who did not live in with his master but arrived each morning to light the fire and heat the house. He was badly paid, his diligence unappreciated by his sovereign lord but, as is the manner of those who serve, regarded it as part of his drudgery. No longer. No more. The kindling and the coal were in the bunker but they would not be utilised this day. McLevy and Mulholland stood looking down at him till Fergus finally found some words. The maister he croaked. He lies. In blood. I could not raise him. So the streaks of gore were not his own, though the mans face was full of sorrow and fear as if life would never be the same. Death is enough to give any man doubts. 20 The smyler with the knyf under the cloke. GEOFFREY CHAUCER, The Knights Tale When Alfred Binnie was born there were no celebrations of fireworks or grateful peasants gathering under the castle windows to shower the newborn infant with gifts from the harvest table. His mother dropped him like a crouching animal to grow as best he might manage and join the brood of children that swarmed onto the streets of Shoreditch like maggots. Cholera had come and gone but the stench remained, safely ensconced in the dead bodies of the dogs, cats, and rats that littered the highways. The mudlarks went to scour the mud of the Thames for coal dropped by the cargo boats but Binnie stayed in the crevices of alley and side-streets, his cunning round face disguising the predatory purpose within. He was apprenticed by his kidsman to a pocket delver and learned the trade well. Alfred had swift, dexterous hands lightning swift, despite his mole-like appearance. He also learned the gift of invisibility, how to mingle with the crowd, become non-existent almost until the moment when he struck for the pocket or razor-slit the handbag. The young Alfred developed apace but few found him appealing, girls especially; the little ladybirds who gave their favours with carefree abandon to other young keelies found him oddly repellent, part to do with his appearance which was, as one sharp dollymop accurately described, like something crawled out of a rats arse. The other part was not so easily defined and in fact puzzled Alfred himself. It was as if he starved for something, a hunger that came out of his pores like a sweat and it put an aura around him that even the most hard-bitten of street dwellers found to provoke an uneasy feeling. His hungry little heart could only suffer, not name its desire, only the empty yearning. Then one day he found it. Death. His mobsman mentor, flushed with gin, a drink that encourages the careless rapture that no harm will befall a man soused and saturated with its cloying alcoholic charm, overreached himself in a flash house, a tavern where the cream of Londons reprobates mixed with the lowest of the low. All equal under the blanket of crime. It was a given rule that no pocket delving was done, no sharping, no find-the-lady. Not in this tavern. Good behaviour between thieves. However the tooler could not resist the temptation of a heavy pocketbook in the side coat of a quietly dressed mark at the bar. He signalled Alfred to supply distraction, a clumsy trip and spilling of a beer glass that would fit in so well with the boys oafish demeanour. But Alfred hung back. He had noticed that there was space around this man, no-one slapped him on the back or attempted familiarity. He had been drinking alone, steadily, the best rum, not making a show or unnecessary move. Which was what the mobsman did. Bumped in, fixed apologetic smile already upon his face, fingers upon the leather of the pocketbook, then a sharp pain under his ribcage as the knife punctured his skin and pierced the heart like a blackbirds beak. The executioner then placed the toolers hands upon the bar as if to steady him, laid down the empty glass of rum, then turned and walked unhurriedly out of the place. Tom Partridge, for that was the marks name, walked carefully through the dirty streets of Shoreditch until he became aware that someone was dogging his steps. When he turned, he saw a strange lumpen creature neither man nor child. How did you do that? asked Alfred Binnie. Practice, said Tom. Will you teach me? Partridge looked into the boys eyes and saw the same emptiness that met his own gaze in the mirror every morning. The blank, dispassionate stare of an assassin. He said nothing. A sudden uproar in the distance signalled the discovery of a dead man slumped over the bar with a smile fixed upon his face. Why did you stick him through? He broke the rules. Alfred smiled. That made sense. What did you see? asked Tom quietly. I saw your hand. The steel. But not where you kept it. Thats a mystery. Partridge sighed. He had no wish to take on an acolyte but the alternative was to kill the witness. Any witness runs that risk. He turned and walked away, with Alfred taking this as acceptance, following like a dog its master. The boy had learned and learned well. Alfred Binnie allowed himself a smile of satisfaction as he thought of the pleasure in that sweep under the table when his knife cut through the thick material to find the soft flesh beneath. The Countess, however, who was sitting opposite him, was anything but pleased. She had been informed at first light as to the events in the Rustie Nail and it did not fit with her plans so carefully constructed while the city slept. How could you do this? she asked. Alfred laughed, a strange sound. My hand slipped, he replied. You might have ruined everything. I dont like being bilked. The Countess fixed him with a cold stare and the pleasure drained from his face. You were to stay here, she said. I was confined to no purpose! This poky little room offends me and that woman you sent up was no such thing. What? All bones and elbows. His face was now like that of a sulky boy and her thin eyebrows rose in some surprise. Binnies taste ran to large women and she had provided him with the fleshiest specimen in the hotel. Not many would describe her so, she murmured. He laughed scornfully. She wouldnt play any games. I like games. Thats why I defenestrated. Indeed after realising that what he thought of as a bit of fun had produced a look of repugnance in the womans eyes, Binnie had dismissed her and then suspecting that the Countess might have a watch kept on his door, swung out of the window and down the drainpipe. It was no strain, either for him or the pipe. Binnie was surprisingly agile despite his appearance and though plump was small enough not to weigh a great deal. The two large German Shepherds that the Countess kept as watchdogs had growled in their kennels but Binnie was silent in movement and possessed the odd attribute of having no body odour. His pores gave nothing away. He returned by the back stairs, however, not the drainpipe. Alfred Binnie was no monkey. His unattractive but unthreatening form had been a great boon to him in his chosen and beloved profession; many a body mouldering in the grave, if it ever got to such a resting place, bore witness to the fact that violent death can come from other sources than the belching mouth of cannon. She watched him as his face smoothed out again till it resembled a nondescript little man, easily overlooked. Binnie had come highly recommended, laid down a fierce price that would not be haggled over and the Countess, foreseeing the coming war as soon as Simone had deserted, indeed almost welcoming the opportunity, needed a secret card to play. Needed him badly. Though now that secret was somewhat compromised. However, even that she could use to advantage. The Countess took a thin, crumpled piece of paper from her pocket and placed it before Binnie. This was delivered to me this morning from a trusted source. You are discovered, Mister Binnie. He slowly unwrapped the paper to find a crude likeness of his own face staring back. When you poured the acid, you were witnessed, she informed him, with a malicious edge. Tut, tut. Alfred said nothing but his professional pride was hurt. His speciality was the unseen strike. A witness; that was bad. The drawing was a complication but that proved nothing. The witness was another matter. Who saw me? he said quietly. A deaf mute, I am told. Lily Baxter. One of Jean Brashs impaired whores. A slow nod, the eyes blank. She cant live. That will be part of the plan. But from now on you must lie low, only out in cover of darkness, no cutting bellies in taverns, no defenestrating. A sudden glint of merriment once more in the dark beady eyes; she would keep this little monster close to hand like a dog on a lead. But now it was time to grease the palm. Was that the phrase? English was such a slippery tongue. Put out your hand, she commanded. Which one? Which do you favour? The left. Always. Extend the same. An evil little grin spread across the face of Alfred. Are you going to punish me, Countess? She said nothing. He extended the hand, and she produced a small leather bag from which she extracted ten gold coins which she dropped one after the other into his upturned palm. A sensuous smile appeared on his face; next to death this was his best pleasure, large women came a poor third at the races. That much again awaits, she promised, herself excited by the quickening in her own being. When we have executed what is in my mind. This night. Alfred caught her bloodlust, you could almost taste it; pity she was such a scrawny type. This seems acceptable, he said chastely. You will be a good boy till then? You have my word, he replied, as he pocketed the coins, but tonight, I will be a very bad boy. They sat and stared at each other like two perfect embodiments of evil intent until the Countess smiled over a random thought of impending destruction. Do you enjoy long, slow suffering? she remarked. If theres blood involved. That response brought a slight frown to her face and she was moved to more precise definition of their objective. The most exquisite torture is in the mind. We may throw in a bit of blood to keep you happy. I like being happy, he replied simply. For a moment she gazed at him with a curious fondness. You are most valuable to me, Mister Binnie. I shall take very good care of you. I dont like Scotch beer. I shall find you another kind. And I like big women. Something I can find in the dark. I will search out such a magnitude. Then we have an agreement, Countess, said Binnie with solemn gravity. We have an agreement, Mister Binnie. They each then retreated to their thoughts, his of the victims surprise and fear, hers of the delights to come. 21 I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. SAMUEL PEPYS, Diary (13 October, 1660) James McLevy had seen some messy corpses in his time but this one took the biscuit. Strangely enough the trunk and limbs were untouched save for the fragments of gore and splinters of bone that had spattered over the respectable garmentation. The body encased and covered in a heavy suit as custom demanded, the shoes shiny, though dull red drops had given birth to thin rivulets which trickled down until they had been arrested by the edging sole of a solid brogue. Everything was fine until you got above the neck. Then it was as if someone had dropped a huge blancmange, the flesh split, and the bones crushed to a pulp. It was hardly recognisable as a human head and so far the inspector had hardly been able to find an eyeball that he could call his own. Constable Ballantyne, thrilled at being included in his first murder investigation, though merely there to stand and watch, stood, watched, and then bolted outside to boak his breakfast up all over the street. The other two young green-faced constables had been dismissed to join Ballantyne lest they spewed precipitously and obliterated evidence. Mulholland, who had looked but not boaked, was in the higher reaches of the house in search of forcible entry because nothing indicated such below. It was just how McLevy liked it. Him and a corpse. Plus the word. Daubed in blood on the wall above the mantelpiece, the letters crude and misshapen but the word clear enough. JUDAS . How that applied to the dead Gilbert Morrison was a mystery to be solved. He had been thus identified by Fergus MacLean through his clothing and a scar across the palm of his hand, the result of an accident on board a ship when a sharp metal shackle had broken free from the chain cable and cut the maisters hand. Long ago. But the mark remained. Like that of Cain. McLevy had known the man and hadnt liked him. Avaricious, cruel-eyed, thin-lipped, a dry stick of rectitude. None of that left now. Not a shred. The inspector carefully skirted the huddle of fleshly remains and bent over what appeared to be the implement of destruction. A heavy iron poker, the lower third of which had the metal twisted round in a spiral so that when thrust it might worm itself into the coals. The whirling indentation had retained fragments of tissue that might be useful, although there was enough to be going on with, scattered all around. He peered at the weapon and produced a magnifier to squint through but there were no foreign substances and only smears of blood upon the handle. McLevy had read recently in the scientific journal Nature an article by a physician Scots of course Henry Faulds, suggesting that fingerprints might one day be used to identify the perpetrators of crime. The inspector looked forward to that prospect though it was still a distance off. One day. Loops and whorls. Though there was nothing on the handle of the poker but red smudges, whoever had wielded it with such ferocious purpose might well have worn a hand covering of some kind. A strange contradiction; the crime suggested mindless violence but was there an element of calculation involved? He placed the poker aside neatly, to be wrapped up and scrutinised later at the station, then moved to the mantelpiece with his magnifier. JUDAS . Very biblical. The betrayer of Jesus. That suggested vengeance. But who had been betrayed? And who desired vengeance? He bent down, and using the magnifier, carefully scanned the fireplace, grunting a little as his body did not take to folding over in such fashion. By the side of the grate, his painstaking search uncovered a thin strand of hair. He fished it out between finger and thumb then raised it up to the light. Indeed it was human filament but not the servants or Morrisons. Fergus was white haired and the deceased Gilbert, from McLevys memory, had few hairs if any, a bald pate like a monk it must have made a fine target. But this was long, darkish in colour as far as he could tell and, under the magnifier, perhaps even a little wavy. He sniffed at the hair and then his fingers. An acrid trace of ash from the fireplace but something else as well. So faint as to be near unidentifiable. A pomade of sorts? Hard to tell. McLevys eyes were not the best but his nose was infallible; possibly some oiling agent, some unguent? The odour though, what was it? Honey? A sweet smell but fading even as he sniffed; he was lucky it had lasted this long. He would store it in his olfactory bank and hope for a similar waft someday. McLevy diligently placed the hair into some thin paper and deposited it into the evidence bag. Man or woman? Long enough for either but he would wager a man. His little secret for the nonce. Mulholland entered and McLevy turned; they spoke across the crushed cadaver as if it had no meaning or life, which latter indeed was true enough. A necessary callousness becomes the good policeman; too much sensitivity and youd never get anything done. Came in through the skylight, wrenched the thing right off its hinges. No mark of a tool. Bare hands. Having announced this, Mulholland demonstrated the action somewhat dramatically for he had been impressed by the mangled frame still propped against the chimneybreast. That takes a bit of doing, muttered the inspector. You should see it. I intend to. Both men then looked at the corpse as if it might contribute to the discussion. Find anything? Mulholland asked. Looks like murder, was the answer. A glint of gallows humour but there was no gainsaying the fact that this was a crime with a strange supernatural bent as if some berserk elemental force had come in to wreak havoc and vengeance. Mulholland looked at the name on the wall. Judas, McLevy remarked. Gets the blame for everything. Something from the past caught up with Mister Morrison? Possible. Well dig it up and see. Morrison had the reputation of a ruthless swine who would sell his granny for a profit, or at the very least put her on a tramp steamer. This, however, was beyond natural retribution. This was violent death, intense and savage. The constable shivered slightly. Whatever did the deed, I wouldnt want to meet the same without a revolver to hand. Not even your hornbeam stick? Not even that. Near Halloween. Maybe the devil paid a visit. While they had been almost idly discoursing both had been sweeping the room with their eyes to see if anything besides the fairly obvious carcass was awry, but nothing seemed out of place. Just the dead body. All the mayhem had been localised. The poker is the murder weapon. I noticed that. But did you observe the angle of the neck? No. You sent me to skies above. Observe it now. The constable collapsed his lanky frame somewhat like a giraffe getting to its knees and gazed at the columnar connection between the trunk and smithereens on top. Oddly enough, though the head was smashed to bits the neck remained intact. Reasonably. Snapped clean, he announced. Uhuh. I would wager before the attack upon the face. He was dead already? Thats my contention. This put a different complexion on the event. A mixture of explosive ferocity and deliberate intent. McLevy also knelt and then took out a flat leather pouch from which he extracted a thin metal rod with a delicate sharp point. One of a matching set of lock-picks that had mysteriously found its way into his possession and which he had put to many uses. He used this one to scrape under the nails of the dead hand, finding imbedded beneath first and second fingerplates fragmentary scraps of a stiff, dark blue material. Mulholland took one and held it up to the light while McLevy sniffed at the other, on guard lest it disappear up his nose. Tarry, he opined. Scraped off but from what? Then Mulholland had a sudden thought and answered his own question. Gauntlets, perhaps? To protect and leave no trace? But they did, said McLevy. And its the protection that interests me. Again he was struck by the contrast of animal fury and careful planning. Also something that had been nagging at him since the sighting of the body had just fallen into place; probably it possessed no relevance but the inspector was a great believer in random slices of the brain. I once saw a victim as bad smashed as this but it was a bullet had done the trick. Shot from close. Down by the docks. I was a constable then. Not my case. That wouldnt be yesterday. No. It was not. We never did find the killer. The inspector seemed lost in reverie and Mulholland knew better than to disturb him. Finally though McLevy shook his head and put the scraps away in his evidence bag. Lets hope we have better luck this time, he said. The door opened and an ashen-faced Ballantyne entered, holding something low down by his side. Yere back, acknowledged the inspector. Good. Now the investigation can begin in earnest. Ballantyne nodded guilelessly. Ive been returned a bit, sir, he said solemnly. I ran out of things tae bring up. I had a wee poke about in the other rooms. Did ye now? McLevy shot a sidelong glance to Mulholland who kept his face straight; the boy had some sand to him then, from a dry boak to searching of premises in the one fell swoop. Aye, and I found this in the bottom of his wardrobe. Wrapped up in velvet. Ballantyne studiously avoided looking in the direction of the corpse and held up a pliant leather quirt. In truth he was quaking inside because he had been on his way back, leaving the other two loitering in the street eyeing up some cheeky shopgirls, when he impulsively shot upstairs and through the first door, which turned out to be the one that led to the mans bedroom. There he poked about, a phrase Ballantyne often heard his inspector use to describe apparent rootless snuffling that often had surprising results. His fear was that he had done something out of turn, that he should have waited for his superiors, but he wanted to prove there was more to him than opinion warranted. Anyway. He held the quirt up like a policeman stopping a runaway carriage. Hoping for the best. Whit colour was the velvet wrapping? McLevy asked, while he took in the tableau of Ballantyne with a quirt to hand in a murder room. Red, sir. Goes well wi the rest of him then. Ballantynes own strawberry birthmark pulsed upon his face and he forced himself to survey the crunched remains. Nothing more to bring up, as he had said, so he took a deep breath and held firm. Were there any other horsey accoutrements? Not that I could see, sir. Mulholland, observing that Ballantynes arm was beginning to waver, took pity and reached over to pluck the quirt from him. The tall constable swished it through the air and the slender rod cut a fine dash. The Count of Monte Cristo. He met McLevys eyes. I have heard rumours, the inspector remarked, that Mister Morrison was inclined in the way of chastisement. Jean Brash had dropped a hint to the effect when, in friendlier times, they had gossiped over the coffee cups. Inflicting, or taking on board? asked Mulholland. The question was never answered because at that moment the door to the room opened and a fat man, puffed up with his own importance and splendid living, burst in. He did not at first see the corpse, which was partly hidden behind the three policemen ranged before him. The rest of the room of course, was untouched by death. What is going on here? he demanded loudly. Who are you when at home? asked the inspector. Walter Morrison, no less, replied the fat man huffily. Gilbert is my kith and kin. Your fellows had the impertinence to try to prevent me entering the premises. Indeed the constables had attempted to bar Walters entry but on his insistent blustering, they let him pass, sniggering to themselves as policemen often will, at the thought of things that come to the unsuspecting public. What do you want with your brother? The fat man puffed up further at the inspectors brusque enquiry. We have a business appointment, he replied loftily. I dont think hell be keeping it. With this succinct statement McLevy stood aside to reveal the body. Walter Morrison gasped in horror. For a moment Ballantyne almost felt sorry for the man but he remembered what the inspector had once told him at the station when he found the constable on his hands and knees trying to catch a cockroach. The insect had shown no gratitude towards his would-be rescuer and had crawled into a narrow gap in the floorboards. Ballantyne was muttering over this event when he looked up to see the face of McLevy looming over like the dark side of the moon. Folk in the main are not grateful for kindness proffered, Ballantyne. So if in this life ye treat everyone you meet as a potential guilty party and deeply suspicion each individuals intentions, ye will not go far wrong. So Ballantyne held pity at bay. Mulholland did not need to be told such. He lived by that edict as regards criminal activity. The fat mans face was white, like the belly of a whale. A good colour for interrogation. My God. My poor brother. Who has done this? Thats what we intend to find out, said McLevy. Walter bowed his head and murmured brokenly to himself but McLevy was unmoved. Despite his opening question, he had recognised and placed the man as soon as seen. If anything his reputation was of being even more merciless in business than his brother except that Walter had the jollier appearance. The fat mans complexion recovered somewhat to that of a suet pudding. In, before he regains full health. Did yer brother say anything? What? About someone on his trail. Death threats, murder in mind, any wee thing like that? Not at all. Any recent enemies? Folk he did down. Betrayed. Ruined. Swearing vengeance upon him? My brother was a good man. Uhuh. But in the world of commerce enemies abound. We are respectable shipping merchants. McLevy looked hard into Walters eyes. He knew for a fact that the brothers had swindled and destroyed two decent men of business. Owed them money then denied the contract. Watched them go bankrupt, one man indeed dying of the strain and shame. Just the world of commerce. I need not remind you, sir, he said sombrely. That you are accounted close to your deceased kith and kin. I would not wish your fate to mirror his. Walters eyes flicked towards the bloody heap then jerked away convulsively. I would ask you once more, is there anything you can tell me, any-thing you know that might bear relevance to this hellish butchery? For a moment Walter hesitated then he shook his head. Might it not just be simple robbery? he offered. Simple? The thief disturbed in the act, lashes out? The fat man seemed to find some comfort in this notion and his terrible grief was perhaps assuaged by the thought that he would now be the sole owner of the shipping firm. Just the world of commerce. What about this then? said McLevy signalling the tall figure of Mulholland to stand aside and reveal upon the wall a word scrawled in blood. JUDAS . All comfort fled. Walters eyeballs pitched up to the word on the wall, his mouth opened but no sound emerged. Then he fainted forwards to thud onto the floor with a reverberation that paid homage to his avoirdupois. For a second there was silence as the three policemen gazed down at the recumbent body. McLevy finally addressed Ballantyne. That is whit we call in the trade, constablea heavy dwam. Out for the count. 22 Will you, wont you, will you, wont you, will you join the dance? LEWIS CARROLL, Alices Adventures in Wonderland Arthur Conan Doyle was three sheets to the wind. A nautical term whose derivation he had discovered from experience and maritime lore to be a square sail out on the lash because its control ropes are flapping in the salty gusts. The previous year in a quest for glorious adventure and some necessary financial gain, he had enlisted as a ships surgeon aboard an Arctic whaler, the sailors jacket and cap from which he still wore with pride. He had come of age at 80 degrees north latitude, then days later watched and taken part in the grisly ritual of mother seals being shot, the little ones brains being bludgeoned with spiked clubs; heigh-ho for a life on the ocean waves. In perhaps unconscious expiation for this bloody slaughter he had managed to fall into the icy waters five times, surviving, however, in better condition than the seal cubs. Heigh-ho. He had learned to hold his own with drink and hard brawling both at sea and in the Lerwick taverns, but this day had begun early with some fellow students to celebrate his friends attaining passes in their recent exams. The revels had continued till he found himself strangely alone in the nether regions of Leith. His companions had been scattered astray in the various taverns from the Royal Mile to the Shore in descending order of good vittles and beer but now only Arthur remained, full of beans and ready for anything. Witness him swaying slightly in the gathering gloom of early evening in a most insalubrious part of the docks. Doyle was large and tough enough in appearance that no-one would have marked him as easy prey, but from the side a few watched and wondered if he might be tempted by a nymph of the pav? into the wynds and there summarily relieved of the contents of his pocketbook. However, any approach was held in suspense when the frail notes of a beautiful song sounded like a summons to love in the dank, dampening air. Notes only, but Doyles mind supplied the words. Flow gently, Sweet Afton Amang thy green braes. Flow gently, Ill sing thee A sang in thy praise. They floated in the mildewed firmament of the old harbour, an invocation to the kind of tenderness that was noticeably absent in the denizens lurking by the shadows. The young man took a deep, steadying breath and licked his lips where the moustache curled. Could he, by chance, have stumbled upon the most vital clue of all? Was the purloined music box calling to him for rescue as a fair maiden has every right to do? The quavering melodic strain was issuing from a small weather-beaten tavern that crouched like a gnarled goblin at the end of a row of buildings. The sign above proclaimed this to be the Foul Anchor and it more than lived up to the name. Doyle walked with measured tread towards the dirty windows and peeped through, tipping his old naval cap back for better viewing. It was a strange sight within. The tavern was almost empty, save for two men huddled close together at a back table with a barman behind the counter, but in front of them, on the bare boards in shabby finery, were three weird harpies dancing to the music, eyes half-shut, fingers trailing in the air. Their gaudy clothes proclaimed them women of a certain profession or at least the two elder had been at one time and the other on the far cusp of whoredom. And yet their faces were rapt and seraphic, lost in the dance as the melody played on. Thou stock dove whose echo resounds thro the glen Ye wild whistly blackbirds in yon thorny den Thou green crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear I charge you, disturb not my slumbering fair. It is a tribute to the art of Robert Burns that he had produced such sweetness and dreams of forgotten innocence amongst these lost souls. But it left Conan Doyle with a problem. The chances of two music boxes playing that particular tune were a thousand to one. If indeed it was Muriels precious gift how could he reclaim it from the dragons castle? How would Sir Lancelot, or even the young Lochinvar, handle this situation? Inside the Foul Anchor, Seth Moxey watched his ladies dance and smiled to see such fun. Are they no beautiful? he observed. Ill stick the man who says otherwise. Samuel Grant nodded assent but his guts were churning inside. The Moxey gang were cut-throats to a man and woman, dance or no dance. Life was cheap to them, and Samuel, if he played his cards wrongly, might pay the forfeit. Do you have the brooch? he asked quietly. Seth grinned, the wide gaps in his teeth in no way at odds with his lank scalloped hair and the scar that ran down the right side of his face. I sold on the rest but kept this as per requestit. But, itll cost ye, he replied, waving at his good lady, Agnes Devlin, who had supported him with her earnings these many years but now was more for skulduggery, being possessed of a sharp wit for the possible criminal chance. Of the other two, Sadie Shields could still turn a penny but Jennie Martin had also seen better days. How much? asked Samuel with a dark frown. Seth took the brooch out from his pocket and laid it carefully upon the table. Five pun, take or leave. Thats robbery! Ye hae that correct, Silver Sam. Seth roared with laughter while Samuel boiled with indignation. If it hadnae been for me he began. An evil smile from the man opposite stopped him in his tracks. Indeed there was the bitter truth. If it had not been for Samuel trying to impress Seth Moxey, puffing himself up by telling of the cash discovery in the desk and how he might help himself one night while the mistress lay satiated by his virile charmsa cheap, stupid vaunt that had landed him in this mess of potage. I kennt you would never have the nerve, said Seth, a scornful twist to his chapped lips. My Agnes said so and she never has it wrong. Samuel bowed his head. It was true. He was not a thief, or particularly violence-prone. What he had not known was that Seths gang had cased Muriels house previously through an informant amongst the funeral catering staff, who had noted the jammed window but had not opportunity to copy out the keys in wax. Seth had therefore not considered it worth the risk till Mister Grant opened his big trap-door. Is the cash not enough for you? he asked mournfully. Naething satisfies, said Seth. I have many mouths tae feed. It was ane of our own nephews that stood upon my shoulders tae get through the high window. A big family. He gestured to the dancing maidens and two villainous young keelies, twin offspring of himself and Agnes, who were sucking on their cheap cigarettes tucked away in one of the corners as they played at cards. Five pun. Take or leave. Seths eyes had narrowed, the tone flat, uninterested, and Samuel knew miserably that he did not possess such a sum so he might kiss goodbye to the mothers brooch. At that moment the music box ran out of tune and Sadie Shields, herself puffing on a penny cigarette, darted forward to wind the spring once more; things had been quiet and this, for the women, was a sweet diversion. It is an oddity how in the most estranged of hearts, some crevice of feeling can still maintain existence, and who knows what dreams had been conjured by the movement of their ransacked bodies to the melancholy strain? But before her fingers touched the winding key, a voice rang through the tavern striking a different note. Hold your hand! Arthur Conan Doyle stood in the tavern doorway, a massive figure of due retribution. I have reason to believe that music box is not your property. I respectfully ask you to hand it over and we will find an authority that may pronounce upon this matter. A frozen silence followed this highfalutin assertion, for in truth Conan Doyle was not sure how a Knight Errant might address three dancing whores in a Leith tavern. Seth Moxey rose slowly to his feet, hand sliding to a side pocket where a short thick stub of sharpened iron had its dwelling place. He preferred close quarters and often allowed his opponent to haul him tight before delivering a lethal blow. The two keelies rose also, taking the parental cue, one fitting a set of knuckledusters, the other unveiling a lead cosh. Doyle took note of all this and raised his hands in a pugilists posture, left extended, right cocked under his chin. His slightly protruding eyes gave the misleading impression of fear but life for six months in a whaler is not a penny arcade and physical terror never would find purchase in his psyche. He waited. The keelies split ranks so that they were on each side with Seth facing the target straight on. All in silence. But this was not a seal cub. Finally Seth spat onto the floor just beside Doyles stout walking shoes. Are you accusing me of theftuous activity? he asked, in a parody of Doyles high tone. If the cap fits, replied Arthur. Out of the blue, both keelies moving with practised stealth slid into action, attacking simultaneously while Seth weaved this way and that searching out an opening for the iron that had magically appeared in his hand. The knuckleduster twin received a straight left that smashed him backwards, while the other, cosh upraised, benefited from an upwards right hook as recommended by that expert on pugilism, James McLevy. This caught the keelie in the throat, sending him spluttering to the floor, and as Doyle whirled round he smacked Seth full in the mouth with a lashed blow that loosened one of the mans few remaining teeth. Moxey let out a strangled roar of pain and fury ready to kill the man who had done this. Doyle moved to grab the music box but as he did so, Agnes, who was wearing a long white crushed gown with a train almost like that that of a bride that trailed over the floor, threw her skirt up in the air and jammed it over Doyles head, enveloping him in filmy gauze which smelled of far from exotic female secretions and effectively blinded him. In this state he was wrestled to the floor and when Agnes whisked away her bridal dress, Doyle found himself looking into the bleeding face of Seth Moxey. It was not a pretty sight. Moxey spat out some blood, then rested the point of the iron in the soft flesh under Doyles chin. Arthurs arms were pinioned one on each side by the twins, with Seth kneeling on his chest crushing the breath out of him. Not a promising situation. Where would ye like me tae begin? asked Seth digging the point of his iron spike cruelly into the skin. It matters little to me, choked Arthur. Mebbye Ill split your guts, pull them out like a washing line eh? Go to hell, was the defiant response. A wild light came into Moxeys eyes; he lifted the spike till it hung directly above Conan Doyles face. Agnes was alarmed; she knew her man well and had no wish to see him kill without profit. Let him be, my bonny boy, she advised. Take his money and kick his backside out of here. The barman opened his mouth to agree. He had watched all proceedings with a jaundiced eye but had no wish to see murder on his premises. Business was slack enough. Then he observed something behind the gathering that sent him back to wiping at the dirty glasses with an equally dirty cloth. Too late, replied Seth, prising the loose molar out with his tongue and spitting it to the floor. I have incurred a loss. Tooth for a tooth. He gazed into Doyles eyes and lifted the spike higher so that it hung as Excalibur in the tobacco smoke that swirled around like mist hanging over the Dozmary Pool. But there was no Lady of the Lake on hand and Conan Doyle realised with a sickening thud that this was not some ebullient adventure. This was the real world. For a moment the face of Sophia Adler flashed into his mind. Would he be a voice in her mind from the dead? Would she close her eyes in the shared experience of a departed soul? Would he reach out to her for comfort? A trickle of blood ran from the corner of Seths mouth, giving him the appearance of a Halloween vampire. The whores had grouped behind him as if waiting to be fed. White-faced. Innocence fled. Kiss yer life goodbye. Whether Moxey intended to plunge downwards or merely meant to terrify the tethered Arthur must be left in the annals of unfinished actions because a hornbeam shaft cut through the fog of nicotine fumes and cracked upon Seth Moxeys wrist. A howl of pain, then the circle of whores fell back to reveal behind them like a coup de th??tre the tall figure of Mulholland. Beside him was James McLevy. Hands in his pockets, lips pursed, a cheery glint in his eyes. Aye, Sethlifes a bugger is it not? A somewhat cryptic statement that had its roots in the fact that he and Mulholland had spent all day in the station fielding increasingly urgent demands from Lieutenant Roach himself a conduit for his own chief constable and many other Masonic worthies regarding Gilbert Morrison, the murdered man, a member of one of the most powerful lodges in the city. The demands were that the case be solved at once, the murderer found, order restored, God put back in his heaven and all the rest of it. Walter Morrison had insisted that his faint was to do with a wave of grief and not the word JUDAS . The extant brother then took himself off, refusing to disclose any of their past commercial or personal activities, citing an unblemished life of respect for convention. McLevy had contacted his reputable financial sources; it is amazing how many skeletons rattle around inside the cupboards of certain bankers of high standing. The inspector was familiar with these restless bones and knew how to play an inviting tune upon them. Only one thing emerged that he did not know already. He was confirmed in the particulars of the brothers being ruthless, treacherous and duplicitous in dealings but that was only to be expected in business. Now they were of a solid well, perhaps the beheaded Gilbert lacked a certain density financial standing, but some eighteen years previous, when they were cutting their teeth in the maritime market, there had been rumours of an overextension of capital. However, a large amount of cash had of a sudden been brandished at all and sundry, putting paid to vile rumour. Where this pecuniary injection had its origin no-one knew, but McLevys informant was adamant that it had not come from any of the known Edinburgh financial institutions. A long time ago. A distant mystery. But somewhere at the back of the inspectors mind, a vague pattern was forming. When it would emerge at the front, however, was another matter. In the meantime, on the seamier side of things, it had been confirmed through McLevys street sources that Gilbert was indeed fond of the laying on of quirt as opposed to hands, and found his predilection indulged at the hotel of the Countess. Might that be the reason for murder? A vengeful father, brother, lover? But what was that father, brother, lover doing letting the female cause for his reprisal suffer such a whipping in the first place? McLevys head had been birling with it all so he had hauled Mulholland out on the saunter round the docks, because he was mindful yet that the wee acid pourer was still on the loose and he desired to keep tabs on the streets, though also thus avoiding his lieutenants reproachful presence. He and the constable had discussed the case to and fro, up and down as they trawled the docks but could advance the investigation no further. Ergo he was inwardly delighted when he heard clamour from the Foul Anchor, slid in unnoticed save by the barman through the door, crept up behind the backs of the watching whores and then signalled Mulholland to do his stuff. Which he did. As Moxey rolled cursing away to scrabble after the spike which had flown off to land at the foot of the bar counter, the policemen observed in some surprise that the gangs intended victim was none other than Big Arthur. This mannie gets around, said McLevy. Like the plague, was Mulhollands terse response. They hauled the shaken Doyle to his feet just as two other members of the gang emerged from a side room, woken from their slumbers by the howls of Seth. That left five against three, not counting the women. A species, Conan Doyle might counsel from recent experience, you should never overlook. A veil may be drawn over most of the consequent conflict save that it consisted of Mulhollands stick whirling like a dervish, Doyles fists flying, the fear that had pumped through his system now a galvanising force, and McLevys stalking of Seth Moxey, tripping one of the twins en passant so that he ran headlong into a beefy embrace from Conan Doyle that cracked his ribs. Agnes tried to sneak up once more, skirts at the ready, but Mulholland, who had been raised in the school of hard knocks and disregard for the delicate female, poked her sharply in the breadbasket with the end of his stick and she fell back into a chair gasping for breath. The other two women left well alone and in quick time the gang were a groaning heap upon the scabby floor. Only Moxey remained, spike pointing towards McLevy in his weaker hand, the other hanging uselessly by his side. Ill have your wee pikey, said McLevy. Come and get it, replied Seth. As you will. Conan Doyle had sharp eyesight honed at sea but the movement that followed was so fast that it became a blur like a flying fish. In one motion McLevys hand shot out to grasp the wrist of Moxey just above the held spike and then jerked him off balance. The inspector, using himself as a fulcrum, heaved the man round in a circle, spinning faster and faster until Seth Moxey was a helpless victim of centrifugal force. Finally McLevy stopped. Let go. And waited. Seth managed one faltering step before vertigo took over and he pitched forward to join the heap upon the floor. Miraculously the spike had transferred to McLevys hand during this reel of unleashed criminality and he popped it into the inside pocket of his coat with a flourish. No need for violence, he announced to one and all. I am a great believer in soft procedure. Mulholland sniffed dubiously, having witnessed the opposite behaviour many times from his inspector. If I may be so bold, Mister Doyle, McLevy asked, benignly, what was the cause of this unseemly rammy? Doyle pointed towards the music box, which had been knocked off the table to lie somewhat mangled on the floor, Mulholland having stood upon it in pursuit of one of the twins. It plays Sweet Afton, Arthur declared solemnly. McLevy nodded as if all made sense then picked up the damaged box. The workings had spilled out of its innards though the winding key was yet intact. I fear it may have warbled its last note, he muttered, before stooping to haul Moxey up by the hair in spite of his avowed procedural moderation. Ye made a heavy lift frae Bonnington Road, he growled. Where is your stash? Right up my backside, Seth replied, his face creased in agony. Welcome tae look. McLevy slammed him down again and bent his gaze upon the women. Where is it, Agnes? Well find it anyhow but at least I can tell the judge ye showed willing. Her face was like stone but behind the woman in her faded wedding gown, Sadie Shields, hoping for leniency of sorts, jerked her head to indicate a door at the back where the gang had its quarters. The inspector nodded and whistled to himself, then grinned happily at Conan Doyle. Ye brought me good fortune, Mister Doyle, he said. Ive been after this rabble for many a year and now we have the entirety. Not all, replied Doyle. There was one more man at the table, and he is gone. The barman felt it was time he made a contribution to affairs. Hes no of the family, he offered. Ran out the back door. Moxeys head whipped painfully round and his lips parted in a snarl. Silver Samuel was indeed gone. And so was the mothers brooch. 23 The butcher looked for his knife, when he had it in his mouth. Roxburghe Ballads Jean Brash hesitated for a moment, then having knocked at the door to no response, pushed gently. It swung open. She took a quick, almost guilty, glance up and down the street, then slipped inside. She found herself in a long gloomy hall with a sliver of light coming from a door, slightly ajar, at the opposite end from where she stood. Deep breath. Her mind flipped back to the hand-delivered letter she had received that afternoon. Mistress Brash, I apologise for my behaviour of last night but I was sore enraged at the injustice. I know I am headstrong but I am also honest and I can assure you that money was robbed from me in your establishment. I have made enquiries with some of your other clients, men of my own stamp, and I have irrefutable proof that some of your girls are operating behind your back. Money has been taken and you stand to lose much because of it. Perhaps someone is plotting against you? I do not know but if you will visit me at the hour of six this evening, 32 Iona Street, I will show you the evidence and explain my suspicions. Come alone, and tell no-one, for there is no-one you can trust. Yours in truth, Logan Galloway Hannah Semple, the only person Jean held in credence on this earth was at the safe house by Leith Links, the giant Angus to hand, making ready to scour the streets with their people once more to find the acid-pourer. Jeans reasoning was that the little swine would not show his face during the day and she had decided to stay at the Just Land to await results, part because she was too restless to sit on her backside and part because she did not want another incident like the Galloway one. Then lo and behold the man himself had sent a missive. And it chimed with some uneasy feelings that had been nagging away at her since this war with the Countess had begun. Who could she really trust at the bitter end? Once before she had let slip the reins of the bawdy-hoose when her heart had been usurped by an unscrupulous man who had twisted her like a fool. Never again. She had betrayed herself. But what if this time it was another agent? Jessie Nairn, for instance? Or was that too obvious? She had taken in a bunch of new magpies recently, wear and tear the cause. What if the Countess had been plotting ahead, and put her own agents inside to burrow and destroy from inwards like a worm in the gut? To steal? To destroy? A bawdy-hoose, not unlike a merchant bank, stands or falls by reputation. Jean had been queen bee for a long time and now there was another on the scene. Had she grown too indolent, soft, lost her edge? So she now found herself walking down the shadowed hall to prove or disprove all the thoughts milling round in her mind. She called out softly, one hand inside her reticule firmly grasped upon her surgeons knife. Mister Galloway? If you are present, step forward. Let us make peace and parley. No answer. She was not afraid. The man was a pipsqueak. But did he have a tale to tell? She pushed at the partly opened door and it swung inwards to disclose a form wedged against the window, facing away from her. The room was in semi-darkness and the figure barely outlined by the light from outside but it seemed to be Logan Galloway, hands pressed up against the sill as if to steady himself. Jean stepped in. Hand with the knife now by her side. A girl cant be too careful. Mister Galloway? Youre away in the wrong direction. I am here, sir. Ready to attend your proof. He made no response, stubbornly gazing out of the window as if deaf to her words. Are you in the huff, Mister Galloway? Having said this, Jean stepped up with the intention to swing him round by the shoulder. As she did so, there was a sharp movement behind her and a sudden accurate blow, crisply delivered, separated her from consciousness. She fell to the floor, the knife in her outflung hand. A girl cant be too careful. Not long after, Constable Ballantyne marched up Iona Street modestly aware that he was on time for his new beat, the previous constable having reported sick. Ballantyne had jumped at the chance to take the mans place and Lieutenant Roach, in the absence of his inspector, an absence that galled the good man no end, had granted permission with the proviso that the young constable held on firmly to his whistle. However, such mistakes were in the past. A seasoned campaigner. Had he not already seen a corpse and only boaked the once? So far, little of consequence, his mere presence on the streets giving the potential lawbreakers something to fear. He checked the timepiece his mother had given him to celebrate his joining the ranks of law and order some three years before. Half past the evening hour of six, precisely correct for the patrol; he had been given the times that the other officer, now sick of some palsy but a man to whom punctuality was God, adhered to without fail. Time now to turn and make his way back home, to the end of this street and then right down Leith Walk itself, a proud but not prideful representative of authority in action. A missile of some sort struck his official helmet with enough force to make his ears ring and what sounded like a snigger disturbed the stately calm of his patrol. Ballantyne whipped round but there was nothing to be seen except Now his hawklike eyes fixed upon an open door which had escaped his earlier scrutiny. It swung slightly as if a malefactor had perhaps just dashed inside. Ballantyne noted the number. Thirty-two. It would be in his report. He took a firm grip of his now-drawn truncheon and followed the path of another pilgrim who had taken the same route some time previous. Down the same gloomy corridor, heart pumping, not daring to say a word lest it come out a wee bit squeaky. Pushed at the same partly opened door and walked inside. There was enough light from the moon to let Ballantyne come to certain conclusions. For the moment it was an assumption to be verified but it forced a gasp of strange exultation from his lips. It was a policemans dream. A tableau arranged in tasteful fashion; no gobbets of gore to spoil the elegant lines, save for one outstretched hand bearing traces of what looked like blood. Dead bodies, announced Constable Ballantyne in wonder to himself. A over the place. 24 Oh Lady! we receive but what we give, And in our life alone does Nature live. SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, Dejection: an Ode Samuel Grant might cheerfully have strangled his beloved Muriel but true love has ever steered between the rocks of passion and exasperation. The boat had navigated towards vexation at her reaction to his proffered gift. He had expected little cries of delight translating into a sidelong glance towards the room where the bouncier mattress had its domain. However in his haste, Samuel had reckoned without his banging upon the door to be answered by a squat purposeful little maid who looked at his form as if a stray dog had fetched him up upon the doorstep. Upon his insistence she had ferried him to her mistress who was sitting somewhat listlessly in the drawing room. Her demeanour changed at the sight of him as if a bumblebee had shot up her skirts. Ellen the maid was shooed from the room and once Muriel was certain the coast was clear, she, in nothing that could be mistaken for loving tones, hissed, What in Gods name are you doing here? Samuel caught sight of himself in a cunningly sited mirror and realised that his normal faultless presentation was a trifle compromised. The silver hair was standing on end, his clothes dishevelled; the canary yellow neckerchief had worked loose from its moorings and was hanging limply over the lapels of his jacket as if signalling quarantine. All this of course the result of his headlong rush after grabbing the prize while Seth and the giant sailor had got to grips and given Samuel the chance to prove a hero. At a cost. All he could hope for was that Moxey would somehow be debilitated by the giant and either die or lose his memory. None such very likely. But in the meantime he might raise the money, with a little contribution from his beloved Muriel, and offer Seth enough to avoid his vengeance. Her reaction, however, after he had related a rather altered version of his daring deeds, was not hopeful. How much did you pay this man? Five pounds, Moumou. Please dont call me inappropriate endearments, she hissed once again. The maid might listen by the door. Samuel could not have cared less. It was dawning on him that he had risked his neck for next to nothing. And where did you meet him? In a tavern, he muttered to her formal tones. Muriel gazed at the brooch in her hand. It certainly appeared unscathed though she would give it a good clean. And you wish me to reimburse you, sir? It is a matter of life and death, Samuel replied loudly, growing heartily sick of the charade. And I might remind you, madam, that the life might be yours and the death mine. There was enough underlying truth in his tone that her face softened and she almost forgave him the intrusion that shrieked to a watching neighbour or any acquaintance of Ellens who might be a confidante, that Mistress Grierson had entertained a man with a loose cravat. Almost. But it is a sad fact that just when a man thinks a woman has run out of foolish moves, she can always find another. What about the rest? she asked. Whit? The rest of my stolen valuables? Whit ? This came out in a strangled indignant yelp and might surely have warned Muriel that a limit had been reached but by now she had the bit between her teeth and perhaps earlier misgivings about the company Samuel kept had resurfaced. Ye said ye didnae care about such! Samuel glared at her and she glared back, forgetting that the imaginary maid might be pressing her avid ear against the keyhole. Relatively , I did not care, she replied, proving the adage that to argue with women is to pass water in a howling gale. And what of the music box? It was busy, he retorted sullenly. Busy? Again they locked eyes and it is possible that given a passage of time, her lips may have quirked in humour at his wild hair and askew neckwear like a grumpy little boy at a birthday party; he may have, on seeing this, risked sweeping her into his arms, a breathless kiss, a tremor in the limbs, five pounds pressed in his hands along with softer rewards, a heroic action recognised, receiving due adulation. All this was possible, but every moment has a wealth of possibilities only one of which is manifested in the given world. Unfortunately, what came was not romantic recompense. Three loud bangs at the door. Samuel knew in his bones that the law was a-calling. He suddenly grabbed Muriel close anyway and gave her a resounding buss full on the lips. Keep them occupied, said he, and darted out into the garden through the French windows. Samuel suddenly felt heroic again; that kiss had done wonders. He measured the wall that led to freedom with a cool eye. There was a garden table nearby and he hauled it across so that the edge crunched to the wall, clambered aboard and parked his belly on the top then lowered his legs over the other side, preparing to drop. Two hands seized his ankles. Yell do yerself a mischief, Samuel, said James McLevy. Let me lower ye down like a king in state. When the inspector hauled Samuel round the front and the door was hammered once again, the wee maid Ellen opened up with a frown to see more traffic passing through. Like Waverley Station, she announced. Indeed you have it, Ellen, said McLevy breezily. I cannot argue the point but where would we be without the trains? Ellen noted the firm grasp McLevy had on Samuels arm just above the elbow. Yell know yer way, she said dourly. Oh, lead me on, the inspector replied. A guide, a buckler and example. This quote from Burns sailed over Ellens head but as she marched grimly up the hall followed by the two, a few random memories from the visit shed paid to her mother the night before came into her mind. He lived with his Auntie Jean because his own mother had taken her life, said Ellens ma, her eyes round with horror at the recollection. Cut the throat across with her sharp scissors, she being a dressmaker by trade. The reason never known but madness hinted. The boy had found her slumped in her recess bed and sat there for hours, surrounded by blood and death. Nae wonder he became whit he is, thought Ellen. She led them into the drawing room where her mistress stood stiffly beside an equally uncomfortable Conan Doyle, made a brief curtsey and got to hell out of there. Ellen was devoid of two character traits that make up a strong part of the Scots nature. Nosiness and malice. She was content to leave what was not her business to remain so on the principle of whit ye dont know doesnae dae ye damage , and as a consequence of that contentedness found herself free from envy and its malicious offshoots. But she still did not get out the door untrammelled. Jist before ye depart, Ellen Girvan, have ye seen this man before? The maid turned slowly. So the bugger knew her all the time, otherwise why remember her given name? In fact it had only come into McLevys mind when shed opened up the door; something in the cast of her features and the way she had glowered at him brought to mind a similar face from childhood. Looking across the cobbled square at him one day when he had just kicked hell out of a thug who had persecuted him for a deal of his young life. So he had taken a flyer and was gratified to see the hit; a reputation for omniscience does a policeman no harm. Aye, Ive seen him, Ellen said, staring more at the inspector than Samuel. A wee time ago at the door. Never before that? Ellen could almost swear she had observed the man loitering in the street when she left on her weekly visit to her mother but she only operated on conviction. She had also noted a twinkle in Muriels eye of late and a loose vivacity in her movements. But whit ye dont know Not to my decent knowledge, she responded carefully. McLevy thought to push it but there was a flinty cast to Ellens face that dissuaded him from the effort. Are ye going to make us any hot beverage? he asked instead. It wisnae in my mind. Ellen looked at her mistress who gazed downwards and the maid took that for a negative. She left. Samuel had not said a word. Conan Doyle for once had nothing to deduct. McLevy had sent him on to batter at the door and sneaked off round the side with productive results but Arthur had the feeling he had been used as a decoy of sorts. A disgruntled Constable Mulholland, who was beginning to regard Conan Doyle with jaundiced eye, had been dispatched to the station with a pack of summoned helpers to transport the Moxey gang. But Seth had lost no time in pointing a dislocated finger towards a certain direction; there being no honour amongst thieves and he being foul indignant at someone stealing his hard-earned lift. The constable was not best pleased at being left out of the action but McLevy persuaded him that he was essential for safe transport of the gang. Besides Doyle might be useful because of his local knowledge. It amused McLevy to see the giant so discomfited by personal relationships. Thats why McLevy, in the main, tried very hard not to have them. Deduction has its drawbacks. Mistress Grierson, can you enlighten us as to your dealings with this fellow? A simple enough question, but a nest of vipers. Silver Samuel, according to Seth, had supplied the knowledge for the lift and danced the Reels o Bogie with the lusty widow. Muriel swallowed hard but before she might formulate a response Samuel burst into speech. Easy enough, he declared. Moxey made vaunt tae me where he had thieved a brooch. Samuel waved his free hand in Doyles direction. When that big hooligan started a rammy, I took my chance, thieved it in turn and came here to sell it back. Is this true? asked the inspector. Muriel closed her eyes and nodded. Where is the brooch now? She brought her hand slowly from a pocket in her dress and displayed the cause of all these shenanigans. Did you pay for such? We were interrupted, said Samuel quickly. McLevy carried on looking at Muriel and was rewarded by a shake of the head. Then why leave it? he asked Samuel with a mean glint in his eye. The inspector didnt need much in the way of deduction to smell a rat up a drainpipe somewhere. As I tellt ye, Samuel offered defiantly. We were interrupted. I ran for my life. And this is the first and only time you have seen this man, Mistress Grierson? You have never met him previous? To this query of the inspectors Muriel, after gazing into the eyes of a person who had hazarded his very existence to preserve her name, shook her head much after the manner of St Peter in the garden. Conan Doyle, who had been still as a statue during all this, prayed inwardly that McLevy would not repeat what the young man earnestly hoped were the calumnies that Moxey had disgorged. And you, Silver Sam, this is your first visit here? Aye. And I wish Id never set foot. The inspector let out a sudden bark of laughter. So be it. But ye surprise me, Samuel. Youre more in the mode of turning some daft womans head wi your charms then living free and easy. This is not your style. Samuel flushed and bit his lip. Muriels face drained of colour. McLevy fished in his pocket and produced the crumpled music box. We found the Moxey gangs stash but no trace of your other belongings, he remarked genially to Muriel, save this wounded soldier. He twisted the key and the melody began to play brokenly, notes missing like Moxeys teeth, the melancholy tune rendered even more heartbreaking by the failure to sustain its rightful pitch. The inspector put it on a nearby table and stepped back to delve in his pocket for the restrainers that he planned to fit around Samuels wrists. The other three figures, in a strange repeat of the hell-hags in the tavern, shifted slightly while the music traced a crippled path around them, then Conan Doyle stood back and it was only Muriel and Silver Samuel who remained in the dance. Her eyes were shining with a feeling within and his were full of pain. Late-discovered love. What a bugger it can be. My Marys asleep by thy murmuring stream Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream. 25 Weep no more, lady, weep no more, thy sorrow is in vain; For violets plucked, the sweetest showers Will neer make grow again. ANONYMOUS, The Friar of Orders Gray Sophia Adler sat across the room from the two men and wondered why a memory from long ago had flashed a picture into her mind. Her Uncle Bartholomew, smelling of strong tobacco, lifted her up into his arms and thrust her face into the magnolia blossom of a young tree. It was the middle of April, not long before her eighth birthda