Fitzrovia, London, 1887
“You’ve got bollocks the size of St. Paul’s dome to work this lane.”
Raphael Lewis leaned against the lamppost and struck a match. “Kiss my arse, Flynn.” He lit the posh kind of cigarette fancied by male prostitutes.
“Nah, not me, but one of the mollies wouldn’t mind.” Flynn Rhys stepped out of the shadows.
If there was a seamier side to working for Scotland Yard, this was it. Rafe blew out the match. “Bloody entrapment if you ask me.” The stink of sulfur hung in the air. He and Flynn had taken up a post yards from 35 Cleveland Street, the most exclusive molly-house in town. There had been an embarrassing spate of blackmail of late, all of it involving men posted to high-level government work.
Their assignment was to apprehend a few top-level peers or Whitehall officials. Randy toffs with a taste for younger men. Simple enough. Arrest the molly chasers, toss them in the lockup, put a scare in them. Word would soon get out.
He opened a small paper sack, popped a butterscotch in his mouth, and passed the sweets over. “Care for a taste, Mr. Rhys?”
Flynn chewed on a toffee. “Don’t tempt me to bugger you, Mr. Lewis.”
Rafe exhaled a trail of smoke into the night. The summer heat lingered in the tepid darkness. “Spiffing job, by the way. You cuffed that last bloke smooth as silk.”
A well-appointed carriage, a clarence, rounded the corner and slowed. “Shall we try for another?” Flynn gave a wink and moved off into the alley known to familiars as Shag Row.
The driver pulled beyond the streetlamp and stopped. Rafe stuffed the sweets in his pocket, pushed off the post, and sauntered over. Some frequenters preferred a boff in the close confines of their coach. Rafe approached the door, catching a glimpse of a wraith in motion as Flynn quietly rounded the rear of the vehicle.
The carriage window slid open. “Such manly grace, is this strange flower for rent?”
Rafe recognized his cue. “Welcome to my arms, thou best of men.” He squinted at the dark silhouette of a man wearing a bowler. The genteel nobs often used the homoerotic verse of the poets to identify one another.
A slow curve edged a generous mouth—all he could see of what appeared to be a handsome enough gent. The man’s whispered breath smelled of good tobacco and aged whiskey. “Such prodigious beauty is—”
Rafe tipped his chin to feign a smile while he racked his brain for a line of sonnet. “—the very heart of vice and sweet sins. But not for free.”
“Pay you two and eight, and not a farthing more.” The gentlemen leaned into the light from the coach lantern.
Rafe placed an elbow on the open window. “If I had a beauty like yours at home, friend, I’d let the wifey polish the knob.”
“Get in, Rafe.”
He squeezed into the seat beside the number two Yard man himself, Chief Detective Inspector Zeno Kennedy. The man had recently made quite a name for himself, breaking up a dangerous ring of Fenian dynamiters.
The senior detective grinned. “How goes the sweep?”
Rafe shrugged. “Caught a very big fish.”
“Prince Eddy’s friend. Had to cut him loose.”
Zeno sucked air between his teeth. “Melville will hear about that one. Where’s Flynn?”
“Evening, sir.” His partner in trickery appeared at the door.
“Pop inside, then.” Flynn climbed in and pulled down the folding seat. Zeno rapped on the roof and they lurched off.
Zeno shook his head. “So you two jollied up to Lord Somerset. Not bad for a couple of Night Jacks.”
“I prefer Agent Provocateur.” Rafe studied Zeno. He understood the enigmatic Yard man better than anyone else with a desk at 4 Whitehall Place, with the possible exception of William Melville, director of Special Branch.
A shaft of pale gaslight illuminated Zeno’s jawline, enough for Rafe to make out a twitch. Never one for small talk, Zeno got straight to it. “Quite a grisly scene in the House of Commons. Tried to hold the press off.” Kennedy handed over a folded news sheet. “Unsuccessfully.”
Rafe opened up the Manchester Guardian and squinted at the headline.
MURDERED MP FOUND IN COMMONS CHAMBER
He skimmed the article. “Our victim’s name is William Patterson Hudson. A caretaker found the poor bloke around teatime,” he summarized. “Seems the perpetrator placed the remains, neat as you please, on his regular bench in the House of Commons chamber.”
“In broad daylight?” Flynn snorted. “Bloody bold for a murderer.”
Rafe dipped his head as the carriage turned onto Millbank. Westminster Palace loomed straight ahead. “So what do we know about Hudson personally?”
Zeno grimaced. “Cursory at the moment. Made his fortune in banking and railway investments.” The carriage slowed and the senior-ranked detective released the latch. Exiting the coach, he led them through the imposing limestone facade of the Members’ Entrance of Parliament. “Hudson won his seat in government four years ago. There’s a residence in town and an estate in Canterbury.”
Inside the palace, Zeno ushered them past guards at the rubble arch and up the stairs to a bench seat in the third tier of the chamber. Lab technicians, some with magnifying glasses, combed the aisles for evidence.
Rafe scanned rows of green leather benches. Nothing but empty seats. “Where’s the body?”
Zeno stepped to one side so both detectives could get a good look. As a matter of course, corpses were an integral part of the job, but this one set both Rafe and Flynn back on their heels.
On a seat midway down the aisle, a disembodied head had been placed neatly atop two feet soaked in blood. The sight was at once comical and disturbing, as if the head grew directly out of a pair of fashionable, narrow-toed shoes.
Rafe swept his jacket back, placing his hands on his hips. “Nicely ghoulish.”
Flynn nodded. “Any idea who might want him done for?”
Zeno shook his head. “A man of his wealth and power is bound to have enemies.” He settled onto a step just above Rafe and Flynn.
The lab man in charge held up an evidence case. “All right if we move the remains, Mr. Kennedy?”
Zeno raised a brow and turned to Rafe and Flynn. “Seen enough?”
Rafe settled onto his haunches. “Let’s have a look at the cuts.” The evidence collector lifted the bloodless head. Rafe removed a pencil stub from his inside pocket to pull back the gentleman’s hose. The wounds on both the ankles and the neck were clean, pressed together, as if they were done by a heavy blade or machinery. “Do we know if Hudson was a large man—tall in stature?” After receiving a shrug and a few blank looks, Rafe turned to the lab man. “Is there some way to estimate the victim’s height?”
The technician placed the head into a plain sackcloth evidence bag, then unfolded a metal pocket ruler. He measured one of the shoes. “Tall, sir. My guess would be something over six feet.”
Rafe nodded. “And the gauge of the railway tracks in Kent?”
Zeno stared at Rafe, a glint in his eye. “Does anyone here know railroad gauges?”
Another lab assistant poked his head up from the aisle below. “Different rail lines have different track gauges, no standard as yet, Mr. Kennedy.” The young man took off his cap and scratched his head. “Something between four feet nine inches and a bit over five feet, if I remember right.”
Rafe did not check the upward tug at the ends of his mouth. “So it would be possible to lay a tall man across a narrow-gauge track . . . train comes along . . .”
“Off with his head.” Flynn flourished a macabre grin of his own. “And feet.”
Even Zeno’s mouth twitched. “I’ve conscripted our lab director into field service. He’s in Kent interviewing the dead man’s family. I received a wire from Archie earlier this evening. It seems Hudson may have gone missing in the middle of the night.”
Rafe leaned against a bench. “Abducted from his bedchamber?”
The chief inspector scanned the surroundings and exhaled. “Appears so.” His gaze landed on Flynn. “Archie’s a good man, but he’s a scientist. He doesn’t have your instincts. I need you to meet Archie in Canterbury.” Zeno removed a packet from an inside breast pocket and passed it over to Flynn. “There’s some per diem in there as well as contact information.
“And take Alfred with you.” Zeno nodded to the lumbering bloodhound snuffling along the aisle of bench seats below them. “I’d say a walk down the rails between Hudson’s estate and Canterbury station should turn up the missing torso.”
“Saves a muck about the countryside.” Rafe winked at his partner. “At least you’re off Cleveland Street.”
Zeno angled toward Rafe. “You don’t enjoy trifling with the light-foot lads?”
“Poking about in a man’s bedroom affairs?” Rafe scoffed. “Not much glory enforcing the Criminal Law Amendment Act.”
Zeno offered a grunt of agreement. “Damned blackmailer’s charter is what it is.”
They left the House of Parliament stringing the hound behind them. Zeno dropped Flynn and the Yard dog off at the detective’s flat in Soho. “I expect twice-daily reports, Mr. Rhys.”
Rafe barely caught the tip of Flynn’s cap as the carriage lurched off. “Where to now?” he asked.
“Charing Cross station.” Zeno’s gaze hardened. “Flynn and I will work the case from here. You’re off to Edinburgh.”
Edinburgh? Good God. Rafe squirmed uncomfortably at the thought. “Working a case in my home territory? Who—?” Call it a flash of intuition or insight, whatever it might be, but he thought he might know the reason why, and it sent a chill down his spine. “Ambrose Greyville-Nugent.”
“You’re on your game tonight, Rafe.”
Ambrose was arguably an important inventor and without a doubt the richest industrialist in all of Scotland. The man had made his fortune in steam-powered farm and mining equipment. Days ago, Rafe had been stunned to read of the prominent mogul’s horrific accidental death. “My family became somewhat friendly with the Greyville-Nugents over the years.”
Zeno lifted a brow. “Is that so?”
“The Greyville-Nugent property borders ours in Queensferry, West Lothian. I was just a lad when Ambrose purchased the neighboring estate.”
“Didn’t you tell me you grew up in a castle?”
Rafe grinned. “No more than fifty rooms. A croft cottage by English standards.”
Absently, Kennedy scanned the passing street scene and nodded. Clearly distracted, his mind was on more pressing matters. “One can never be sure, this early in an investigation, but a pattern may be developing. Two captains of industry dead in less than a week. Rather peculiar.” A ray of light passed through the cabin, enough for Rafe to notice the sunrise over a block of terrace homes. Zeno’s mouth formed a thin, grim line. “Melville doesn’t believe in coincidence when it comes to murder.”
Never one to disagree with the head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch, Rafe swallowed. “Can’t say as I blame him.” A painful knot formed in the pit of his belly. He didn’t like where this assignment was headed. “I take it you surmise Greyville-Nugent’s most unfortunate death by threshing machine was not accidental?”
“Taken together, these two murders may indicate a macabre scheme at work. One with a touch of grotesque wit—some sort of mad poetic justice.” Zeno leaned forward. “Greyville-Nugent leaves behind an heiress, one who has made it publicly clear she intends to carry on her father’s legacy. At this juncture, we are prepared to offer her protection.”
“Francine Greyville-Nugent.” Rafe grimaced. “Just like Fanny to carry on—business as usual.”
“The young lady is unaware of our conjecture as yet. Until we have an inkling as to what is going on here, Melville and I thought it best to send up an agent. Do a bit of poking about, see if you can—”
“You realize I have a history with this girl—young lady?”
Zeno’s stare bored into him. “What kind of history?”
Rafe steeled himself. “Rather awkward, I’m afraid.”
Zeno’s gaze narrowed further. “How awkward?”
He glanced outside the carriage. The pale dawn illuminated a few shop-fronts as they traversed St. Giles Circus. Rafe shook his head. “Going to have to beg off on this one, Zeno.”
“I might have switched you with Flynn, but it’s too late. I haven’t another man to spare. You’re just going to have make the best of it.” One side of Zeno’s mouth twitched upward. “Catch up with relatives and friends. For now, all that is required of you is to guard Miss Greyville-Nugent with your life.”
Rafe slumped in his seat. Dear God, fraternize with old chums and relations. Friends who had long ago turned away and a family who nearly disowned him. In fact, he wasn’t exactly sure who he was on speaking terms with anymore. Rafe tallied up the number of relations who would be overjoyed to see him in Edinburgh and counted one. Aunt Vertiline.
Sensing his trepidation, Zeno shoved a packet into his hands. Absently, Rafe untied the string and flipped through a number of large banknotes. He opened a folded message written in code. “Contact names and safe houses.”
“Greyville-Nugent’s funeral is set for this afternoon. I understand rail travel to Edinburgh is down to seven and a half hours. If there are no delays en route, you should be able to attend the wake.”
“How delightful.” Rafe frowned.
Zeno’s jaw twitched. “Closed casket if I understand right. The police report indicated Greyville-Nugent was up in a barn loft pitching sheaves into the feeder—demonstration of some sort—took a misstep and fell headlong into the machine. Struck the cylinder running full speed. He was instantly—” Kennedy halted midsentence. “You all right?”
Even in the dusky bleak light of early morning, he supposed he appeared a bit green around the gills. “Knew the man since childhood is all.”
Zeno hesitated before plunging on. “He was instantly drawn into the teeth of the cylinder. His head and the upper portion of his body were reduced to a shapeless mass of crushed bone and flesh.”
Rafe recalled a large, gregarious sort of fellow with a heavy moustache and a ready smile. A decent enough man who had treated him as a son after the earl died. Ambrose had always been kind to him, until Rafe spurned his daughter. “So, you want me to keep an eye on the young heiress, as well as poke about the accident scene—”
The carriage slowed as they reached the train station and Rafe jumped out. Kennedy’s driver handed down a leather satchel. Zeno spoke from inside the carriage. “Had your man Harland pack a bag. Rather a surly chap.”
“Ah, you noticed.” Rafe gripped the satchel. “Keeps me in clean shirts and undergarments. I dare not ask for more.”
The number two Yard man leaned forward to close the door. “These crimes, if they are indeed homicides, are rather like executions, wouldn’t you say? Hate to think what kind of fiend might be out there, picking off wealthy industrialists.”
Rafe studied his supervisor. “Fanny could very well find herself in grave danger,” he said.
“The gravest.” Kennedy rapped on the cabin roof.