Castle Rouge (Irene Adler Series #6)by Carole Nelson Douglas
A Novel of Suspense Featuring Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes
“Irene Adler is a swashbuckling heroine who smokes cigars, carries a pistol and disguises herself in men’s clothing... A colorful character.”New York Times Book Review
“Carole Nelson Douglas's vivid descriptions of people, places and events weaves a splendidly/i>… See more details below
A Novel of Suspense Featuring Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes
“Irene Adler is a swashbuckling heroine who smokes cigars, carries a pistol and disguises herself in men’s clothing... A colorful character.”New York Times Book Review
“Carole Nelson Douglas's vivid descriptions of people, places and events weaves a splendidly crafted tale of mystery and murder, horror, and humor.”Anne Perry
Irene Adler is the only woman ever to have outwitted Sherlock Holmes in A Scandal in Bohemia; she is as much at home with a spyglass and revolver than with haute couture and gala balls. Her adventures are the stuff of legend, for she has faced down sinister spies, thwarted plots against nations, and led an unlikely group, including the bachelor of Baker Street and his faithful cohort Watson, through the cellars and catacombs of 1889 Paris to capture Jack the Ripper. But disaster scattered those allies and the Ripper has escaped...
With the help of an unreliable prostitute named Pink, and theatrical manager Bram Stoker, who would later pen Dracula, Irene follows the clues that lead back to Bohemia, and on to new and bloodier atrocities. And when pursuers and prey reunite at a remote castle in Transylvania, the Ripper is cornered and fully unveiled at last...
“Castle Rouge is a breathtaking work of depth and quality. Never has Irene been so fascinating or determined... This is a sumptuous read.”—Romantic Times (4 stars, Top Pick)
"Her fine Sherlockian novels have turned Carole Nelson Douglas into a genuine mystery star. Pick one up and you'll see why."-Mystery Scene
Read an Excerpt
Evening in Paris
She suffered the penalty paid by all sensation-writers of
being compelled to hazard more and more theatric feats.
walt mcdougall, new york world illustrator, 1889
FROM A JOURNAL
I was born Elizabeth, but they call me Pink.
I have had to steel myself often in life.
First against my stepfather, Jack Ford, a drunken brute. Then against the men who said I had no right to exist as I was, who would patronize me.
Now against a woman who would appeal to my conscience.
I am an exposer and righter of wrongs. An undercover investigator. My mission is above conscience. My mission is my conscience.
She would divert me.
I do not like it, not even when she assembles Bertie, Prince of Wales; Baron de Rothschild; Bram Stoker; and Sarah Bernhardt into one room in Paris.
Beyond this convocation of capitol B's the only person of interest who is missing is Sherlock Holmes, the renowned English consulting detective. Even this cold-blooded Brit hesitateda few momentsin forsaking her and Paris for London and fresh insight into the most appalling murderer of the age, Jack the Ripper.
I should perhaps figure her into this scene: Irene Adler Norton, ex-diva, ex-American, ex-Pinkerton agent.
She is now also a woman deprived of the two personal props in her life: her husband, Godfrey Norton, and her friend and supporter, Nell Huxleigh, both English, both taken in mysterious ways by mysterious enemies.
I think of women in Greek tragedies: Hecuba in The Trojan Women, Medea mourning her faithless man and sacrificing her children, Electra murdering her mother. Women who like Samson shake the pillars they are bound to and make the known world tremble.
She is very dangerous right now, Irene Adler Norton, and I don't care to be here for the catastrophe.
She has blackmailed me, this woman, this implacable Fury. She has reached into me like the stage artist she was and captured my attention. She has sunk her tiny, precise teeth into my soul, found my aching vulnerabilities and bound me with silken fibers of steel.
She has offered me a story to end all stories. She has promised me Jack the Ripper.
I am proud of her and I do not trust her and I will serve my own purpose, not hers. Meanwhile, here I sit among some of the Great of our Age, and listen to them flounder in the face of one irrational killer.
"My dear Irene," says Bram Stoker, the first to arrive. "I am…speechless. Godfrey. Nell. Gone. I think of Irving. It would be as if God had died."
Bram Stoker. Manager of the finest actor in England (the world to hear him tell it), Henry Irving. An auld acquaintance of Irene Adler Norton. He is not so much of an old friend that she has not ruled him out as a new suspect in the recent Ripperlike murders of Pairs. In the London Ripper crimes of last autumn as well? Possibly. My special system of notes that only I can read records it all.
Nell had used to "take notes" for Irene when she solved cases the Pinkertons sent her way. Now I take notes. These are my property, for publication later, when I, Elizabeth Jane Cochrane, am released from my vow of silence and fully free to be the daredevil girl reporter who has made my reputation: Nellie Bly, who will go anywhere to expose any wrong. That suits her.
"Bram. Thank you for coming." Irene takes his big hands in hers. They gaze at each other, people in a common profession feeling loss as it happens in the real world, not on a stage.
He is still a suspect in her cast of characters, a theatrical man married to an icy beauty, devoted to a domineering actor who both employs and uses him. Sweet-tempered Bram Stoker, free after midnight in any capital of the world, loving women or loathing them? Jack the Ripper? After what we have learned, she and I, it could be.
"It slays me," he says now, "to think of dear, sweet Miss Huxleigh in villainous hands." He delivers the line with conviction.
Such a big, bluff, hearty soul. Even I who detest the Englishman's sense of superiority adore Bram. He is Irish, after all, and they are battering my own country into submission with their energy and optimism despite the most shattering prejudice. Big red-haired bear, genial, social, interested in such dark topics as bubble up in his short stories…Iron Maidens and vengeance and blood, always blood.
His huge hands tighten on Irene's delicate ones. His are bone and muscle, masculine force. Hers are steel in velvet, feminine survival.
If Bram Stoker is Jack the Ripper, he is lost.
Baron de Rothschild arrives next. An older man, refined, powerful, quiet in that power. He, too, takes her hands. I am struck by the image of courtiers coming to pay respects to a bereaved queen. She has won hearts as well as minds.
He kisses the back of each hand. "Any agent, any amount of money, they are yours to command."
"Thank you," she murmurs, and shows him to a chair.
It is a seat no better or worse than any other in the room. This is a war council of equals, and she is Madam Chairman.
Sarah Bernhardt wafts in on a perfumed zephyr of ostrich boa and red hair as frothy, all fabric-swathed whipcord figure with a leopard on a leash.
"Irene! My darling! My adorable Nell and Godfrey missing! I have traveled all over the world. If you need the aid of any person of power anywhere, just let me know."
The leopard paces back and forth between the two women's skirts, purring.
The Divine Sarah bows to the Baron, nods at Bram Stoker, and arranges herself on a sofa between them.
The leopard watches Irene Adler Norton with bright predatory eyes, its vertical pupils black stab wounds in the glory of jungle-green iris.
Next comes the first of all of them: portly, blustering Bertie.
I cannot stand the man, though he is Prince of Wales now and will become King of England…if his black-bombazine-clad pincushion of a Mama ever dies. She has made mourning into an industry for thirty years. Bertie, christened Edward Albert, is fat, self-indulgent, and British.
But then, aren't all the English fat and blustering? Well, except for Sherlock Holmes, who is not fat, and Godfrey Norton, who is apparently not only not fat, but also not self-indulgent, a rare quality in an Englishman and in any man for that matter. At least in my limited experience. Actually, more than one man has been my mentor, but they are exceptions.
So is she, Irene Adler Norton, and that is why she is so dangerous, even to me, who am used to being dangerous to others.
Inspector François le Villard comes last, hat in hand, waxed mustaches gleaming like very pointed India ink calligraphy. He accepts a solitary chair.
I wonder if Sherlock Holmes has assembled a similar company of high and low and in-between in London to serve his purposes as he returns to turn Whitechapel upside down in a search for a new motive that will unmask the Ripper at last.
But I think that Mr. Holmes is a mostly solitary creature, like the web-weaving spider, and works and waits alone. Certainly he was appalled by the idea that I wanted to return to London. He claimed I had a duty to accompany the bereft Madam Norton. I have no duty but to my higher purpose.
Still, I find it most agreeable to sit here in this Paris hotel room, among the Mostly Great and Merely Interesting, taking notes as is my wont, and as was requested specifically by our hostess.
It is the actress who makes the opening speech.
"My dear Irene, I speak for all of us, I believe, when I beg to know what we may do to assist you? This sudden disappearance of Miss Penelope, not to mention your dearly beloved spouse, is what you call in English heart-rendering, I think. You play a scene more tragic than any written for me on the stage. Ask anything of us you will. Your wish is our necessity."
A grand sentiment, but the Prince stirs uneasily, no matter how slightly. "Anything" is not a word the high and mighty toss around like a head of cabbage. Not in America and not here.
"I thank you for your good will," Irene says quietly.
I had not looked closely at her, being busy memorizing the appearance and address of the famous folk in the room. And, I did not like to stare Loss in the face, either.
She is bearing up remarkably well to scrutiny, this woman who had learned scant hours ago that her husband and her long-time companion had both vanished from the earth as if plucked up by eagles, the husband in forgotten reaches of eastern Europe, the companion vanished in the vast wilderness of the gigantic Exposition universelle at the heart of Parisian civility in the Champ de Mars under the Eiffel Tower.
She wears a steel-gray taffeta gown as resolute as autumn rain, though it is summer.
Nothing could dampen the drive of her spirit, but her demeanor is still and serious this afternoon. Her calculated calm, however, makes everyone else restive. In their edgy rustle I detect the odor of unwilling overcommitment. She makes them nervous and had intended to.
"My dear friends," she says finally in a low tone that trembles like the finest cello strings, "if I may call so many who are mighty in the world that."
They stutter, murmur, shout that she indeed may.
"You have already put your worldwide spy network at my service, Baron de Rothschild. I can ask no more. Your Royal Highness," she nods at the Prince, "has already offered that 'anything' I might wish for."
So Bertie was not forthcoming with any solid support. What a hypocritical prig! The talk is that he is always hard up for money. Mama keeps her knuckles on the purse strings.
"Sarah, you have your network of not so much spies as devoted admirers, and I may indeed need to call upon some of them in time.
"Inspector le Villard. I know the Paris police are doing all they can and more than many metropolitan forces ever would, including welcoming the activities of our advance American scouting party, Buffalo Bill Cody and Red Tomahawk."
She turns last to the husky Irishman. "And Bram, I have high hopes for you and your wandering soul. I am hoping you will serve as European scout for Pink and myself, for I fear this trial will lead us far from Paris."
The Baron and the Prince and the inspector look relieved. The actress smug. Bram Stoker looks both pleased and shocked.
I realized that Madam Irene has divided and conquered once again, as she had finessed me not hours ago. The two richest men in the room will be eager to offer whatever small requests she makes, having seen the specter of truly draining ambition. The actress will leave feeling useful, an emotion not common to the profession, and will consider that a contribution of great worth in itself.
The inspector will be grateful if, and when, Irene removes herself from his jurisdiction, and I am convinced that she soon will.
And Bram Stoker, luckless Bram Stoker, the poorest and least famous personality, has just been named Knight Errant, the only one present she intends to lean upon in any major way whatsoever.
I wonder if it is because, next to the inspector, he is the least important of the persons gathered together. Excepting me, of course, who is a nobody and happy to live in a land where nobodies can become somebodies. The thought makes me homesick for New York, but I suppose it will be a while before I snag a big enough story to telegraph home and follow fast on its heels for the resulting sensation and acclaim.
Then Irene seizes the moment and turns the joint call of condolence into something quite different. It is enough to make me sit up and take notes even faster.
"You realize, my friends," she says, eyeing each person in turn, "that we have gathered together in this room the world's most eminent collection of experts on the murderer known as Jack the Ripper."
Protesting waves of demurs in English and French wash against her stone-gray figure to no avail. They had come here to say what they could do for her. Now she is telling them what they can do for the world.
"It is true," she goes on. "What we knew of Jack the Ripper before these recent murders in Paris is now virtually useless. Even Sherlock Holmes has scurried back to London to reinvestigate the events there from the new perspective these Paris atrocities demand."
I doubt that the man I have met "scurries," but I know the description pleases Irene, who had perhaps hoped for his more direct assistance.
"I do not think," she adds, turning her attention to Inspector le Villard, "that our esteemed colleagues are aware of James Kelly's history and actions here in Paris."
"James Kelly!" The Prince of Wales grows immediately interested. "A very English name. I know at least one. Who is this particular man?"
"He may well be the Ripper, Your Highness," Le Villard admits with a bob to the Prince. "I regret to say that he was in the custody of the Paris police after being found and confronted by Sherlock Holmes"
"And by," Irene interjects, "Miss Pink, myself, and, of course, our dear Nell."
A pause holds while all present acknowledge Nell's alarming absence with respectful silence.
"Indeed," Inspector le Villard says, nervously tweaking his waxed mustaches into sharper points. "I am told that the presence of all you ladies had a very disturbing effect upon him."
(Not to mention upon Sherlock Holmes, I jot down in my notes.)
"We were gowned," Irene explains to the room at large, "as ladies of ill repute."
"How I wish I had been there to see that!" the Prince exclaims.
"I as well," says Sarah.
"And I." Bram Stoker.
The Baron de Rothschild expresses no such desire, which makes him the only true gentleman in the group in my estimation.
"The point is," Irene says, "James Kelly had a history of both despising and consorting with fallen women. His behavior when confronted by Sherlock Holmes in the guise of a French priest, and by we three dressed as women of the street, was odd. He alternated between cowering in fear from our very presence…and leaping up to put a knife blade to hapless Nell's throat."
"Ah!" Sarah clutches for her own scrawny neck with an actress's instant empathy. "Poor Nell! Of all the ones least bold, the one most…mild."
Theatrics do not impress an ex-diva like Irene Adler. "Nell was bold enough to unsheath her hatpin and stab what might be Jack the Ripper in the wrist."
"Might be?" the Baron asks.
Irene turns to the inspector, politely waiting for his opinion.
He preens his mustaches again. "This James Kelly indeed has a sinister history. An upholsterer by trade, he came into some money from a man he had never known to be his father. Instead of enjoying his good fortune, he denounced his long-suffering mother as a whore and moved to London. There he had killed his own wife several years ago, very near the debased district called Whitechapel, by screwing a clasp knife into her ear during an angry fit. He accused her of being a whore merely for marrying him. Convicted of murder, he obtained release from a madhouse a few years later. I cannot imagine that English madhouses release such fellows, but there it is. He certainly was at large in Whitechapel during the Ripper crimes and, what is most damning, just after the unthinkable slaughter of Marie Jeanne Kelly, he walked eighty miles to Dover and then sailed to Dieppe. From Belgium he came to France, thence making his way to Paris."
"Where," Irene notes, "he managed to forge a link between himself and a member of the British royal family."
"Oh, I say now!" Bertie assumes full royal pout, pulling his embroidered waistcoat down over a substantial belly. "I have heard enough of these foul rumors trying to connect the Royal family to this Ripper fellow. That is the sort of outrageous gossip the sensational papers revel in. I can assure you that no member of my family would consort with the sort of persons to be found in Whitechapel."
"But Paris is not Whitechapel," Irene says, "and the connection is not a rumor, as unsuspected as it might be to Your Highness. The inspector mentioned that Kelly was an upholsterer. He was apparently a good enough one to find finishing work with a reputable firm here in Paris, one that was creating a unique and exquisite piece of furniture for Your Highness, that was in fact, the structure upon which the two murdered residents of the maison de rendezvous were discovered."
The Prince is almost moved enough to bound up from his sofa seat. Almost, but not quite. It is too soon after lunch, which no doubt had been twelve courses.
"No! The scoundrel! You are saying he had a hand in my, er, custom-appointed couch? This is revolting."
"Your Highness must have known the events that occurred upon the object in question during your absence."
"I was told that the piece was ruined and, of course, I would never reclaim anything that had played a part in a scene so opposite to the refined and joyous purpose for which it was intended."
Here I nearly snort my disbelief and contempt. This siége d'amour was a spoiled nobleman's toy for cavorting with two bought women at once. To consider this a "refined" use was more than an upright and plainspoken American could stand.
Fortunately, Irene has lived in Europe long enough to avoid plainspeaking when irony will do.
Instead of launching the lecture I would have at this prince of lechery, she merely remarks, "Your Highness has put your finger on the most interesting feature of some of these latter-day Paris slayings: the choice of a refined scene of the crime, and of refined victims. Yes, one could simply say that James Kelly strayed onto the scene in the course of installing the furniture. Certainly, judging from the encounter we three women had with him later, he was unable to restrain himself from violence when in the presence of women of a certain type."
"Whores," Sarah announces in her most ringing, stagy tones, and in English. "Oh, don't frown at me, Bertie. You know you adore the female in every incarnation, from maid to mistress."
"So I was within moments of encountering this monster?" Bertie notes with a shiver.
"So was Bram," Irene adds.
The heavy-set Irishman, who'd been content to cede his usual role as raconteur to Irene during this macabre discussion, finds himself the sudden center of attention. His cheeks pink above his bushy red beard. For all his hearty manner, he is a sensitive soul.
"I had accompanied Irving to the maison on previous visits to Paris," he says quickly. "Now that I am in Paris alone, I went only to pay my respects to the, er, madame."
He always refers to Irving as a demigod, presumably recognizable to all by his last name alone. Perhaps that is the role of a manager.
This all-consuming position includes accompanying the Great Man to Paris scenes as scandalous as the cancan clubs and various maisons de rendezvous. When Englishmen visit Paris, there is only one thing they want to do, apparently. Except for Sherlock Holmes, which raises other, equally interesting speculations in my reportorial mind. Also raising speculation are the more macabre outings of Irving and Stoker along with hundreds of daily gawkers: the public display case of unidentified corpses at the infamous Paris Morgue.
I realize how cleverly Irene has turned a condolence call into an interrogation, for two of the four men in this room had been present at the scene of the first two Paris murders and a third, the Baron de Rothschild, spirited both the Prince and later Irene and Nell from that same maison.
I can see by the drooping of the inspector's very disciplined mustaches that he had not known of the Prince's presence in the house of sin and death, nor the fact that the…device upon which two women died had been commissioned especially for His Royal Highness. Being French and worldly, the inspector would not condemn the perverse intention, only the murderous turn its use had taken.
"Kelly possessed a certain religious mania," Irene muses for the benefit of her friends and suspects.
I began to wonder if even the inspector and I are excepted from the suspect category, for of course I, too, had been present that night and had found the butchered bodies. Probably we are not. I am beginning to see that, like Sherlock Holmes, Irene is relentless in the pursuit of truth, though her approach is far less direct than his.
I also begin to see that she arranges scenes like a playwright. First she assembles the dramatis personae, then she lets them speak among each other and thus speak the truth to her, all unknowing.
It's a theatrical approach that requires much patience and rehearsal before any denouement can be expected.
"Nothing in Jack the Ripper's London murders indicated a religious mania," the Prince says finally, after long mulling over Irene's comment.
The inspector answers for her. "Allow me, Your Highness. I have studied the case most avidly. In all such murders of fallen women a religious mania is suspected. As the purported billet-doux from the Ripper said, 'I am down on whores.' Usually such reactions are moral. I believe that it is the frustration of the natural instincts that creates such madmen. In Paris, in France, we have made houses of prostitution legal for decades and inspect the women to ensure good health. It has eliminated much unnecessary disease and is the only reasonable approach to the situation. England and London are not so enlightened. Men who have contracted foul diseases from whores become murderously infuriated. It is no wonder that these Ripper slayings, and others that frequently occur in this Whitechapel district, are more common to England than to France."
"Until now," Irene notes.
The inspector flashes her an impatient look. "What? Two women at a reputable house?"
I shudder to think what Nell would have to say about the very French notion of a "reputable" whorehouse were she here to ride scout on the discussion.
The inspector natters on. "The third woman was either an unlucky laundress or one of the lone unfortunates, femmes isloée, who plies the streets on her own."
"You have not addressed," Irene says, "the strange subterranean aspect of these Paris killings. That is another aspect purely Parisian: cellars, sewers, catacombs. Even the morgue and the wax museum were used to display the bodies in some bizarre manner."
The inspector shrugs, a classic French response to the mystery of life.
"The Musée Grévin," he says grandly, "is far more than a wax museum, especially during I'Exposition universelle and the inauguration of La Tour Eiffel. It is a landmark of Paris. Might not even a madman wish to pay tribute to the attractions of the City of Light in planning his crimes?"
"The Ripper managed to keep to obscure and hidden ways in London," Irene points out.
"London!" The inspector barely restrains himself from spitting. "Whitechapel. Paris has no such sinkhole as this. It is no mystery that the Paris murders involve a finer sort of victim."
"Then the Ripper has moved to Paris and grown nice."
Bram Stoker speaks up at long last. "The bloody rites I heard of in the cavern beneath the fairgrounds don't sound very refined. Were I to write such a scene, I'd be accused of sensation-mongering. I agree with what the man in the street said during the Ripper attacks last autumn. No Englishman would do it."
"Nor any Frenchman!" the inspector shouts, his mustaches twitching like cockroach feelers.
Amazing how no nationality on earth would spawn a Ripper so long as any man of that race is present.
"The Jews," the Baron says quietly, "are often accused, and falsely, of atrocities toward Christians. Oddly enough, the facts prove the atrocities are inevitably committed against them. Us," he adds.
"That is the trouble!" When the Prince of Wales finally speaks again, he does so passionately. "There are all sorts of political scapegoats abounding that one faction or the other would like to accuse of the Ripper's crimes, including members of England's royal family! I have been repeatedly criticized for consorting with Jews and merchants and jockeys and, er, women."
"And does Your Highness deny any of it?" Irene asks, a trifle archly.
The Prince, like any pampered aristocrat, responds to the coy like a cat to a whisker tickle. That is one thing I grant Sherlock Holmes. He is not pampered and he is not an aristocrat.
"Well, no," Bertie says, demonstrating the disarming honesty that makes him tolerated if not beloved. "Drat the fellow! He has caused endless trouble, and I wish they would lock him away."
" 'They' is always us, Your Highness," Irene says. "And that is why 'we' must do something about Jack the Ripper. I take it I have your permission to try."
The inspector snorts delicately, being French.
Irene needs no one's permission, but she wishes some of the people in this room to see that she has a royal mandate.
"I would be delighted," the Prince says, smiling a bow in her direction. Bertie has always enjoyed deferring to women, except his mother. Irene has never underestimated official approval.
She smiles back. Like a privateer of old, she has won the royal letter of mark.
She is free to hoist the Jolly Roger and to board and commandeer any ships she chooses.
Lord help us, she already has the U.S.S. Nellie Bly in her fleet and I shudder to think what freebooters she will add to her armada.
Copyright © 2002 by Carole Nelson Douglas
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