Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Diamondsby Steve Hayes, David Whitehead
Two western fiction writers tell a brand-new Holmes story, with plenty of western influences
Thomas Howard of Missouri came out of nowhere, one foggy night, to rescue Countess Elaina Montague from rape and robbery. He was in England, he said, to find his brother, who had disappeared. To repay him, the beautiful countess offered to enlist her/b>
Two western fiction writers tell a brand-new Holmes story, with plenty of western influences
Thomas Howard of Missouri came out of nowhere, one foggy night, to rescue Countess Elaina Montague from rape and robbery. He was in England, he said, to find his brother, who had disappeared. To repay him, the beautiful countess offered to enlist her friend, Sherlock Holmes, to help in the search. At the time Holmes was investigating a rash of audacious jewel-thefts, and much to Watson's dismay spending altogether too much time at the music hall. But because the Great Detective felt that there was more to the mysterious Mr Howard than met the eye, he accepted the case. This in turn led to their involvement in a vicious blood feud, a spectacular—not to mention death-defying—daylight robbery, the possibility of a serious diplomatic incident, and finally, a thrilling climax below the brooding River Thames.
"This clever, smooth pastiche by two writers of Westerns is a real page-flipper and manages to incorporate a Western twang into Victorian London." — Library Journal
- Hale, Robert Limited
- Publication date:
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Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Diamonds
By Steve Hayes, David Whitehead
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2012 Steve Hayes and David Whitehead
All rights reserved.
Meeting in the Mist
London lay submerged in fog.
It drifted across swaybacked roofs and slanted chimneys, and brought with it a seeping, bone-deep chill as it all but smothered the feeble light thrown by the cast-iron streetlamps.
Huddled in the shadows thrown by one of the tall, white-stone buildings across from the dark, wooded acres of Green Park, Blackrat Lynch decided that he'd sooner be swilling grog down at the Poacher's Pocket, and toasting his frozen extremities around a blazing fire. But, appealing as that prospect was, it wouldn't put money in his pocket, and if there was one thing Blackrat was passionate about, it was money.
In the darkness behind him he heard the heavy, expectant breathing of his three companions – the shifty, pinch-faced little half-pint, Alfie Adams, the coffee-skinned mulatto, Olwenyo Wadlock, and quick-tempered Desmond O'Leary.
Like Blackrat, they had all been shaped by their times – born into poverty, the sons of drunkards and wastrels, reliant on the Overseer of the Poor to put food in their bellies and shirts on their backs. At first they'd been forced into larceny by a mixture of hunger and desperation, but it had been a more potent combination of simple greed and the lure of easy pickings that persuaded them to stay and hone their criminal skills in that murky underworld.
In the far distance Big Ben struck the hour. It was nine o'clock. Closer to hand, a stray dog started yapping. Alfie sniffed wetly and, as was his habit, sleeved his runny nose.
'I can't even feel me feet any more,' muttered O'Leary, clouds of vapour escaping from his mouth alongside the words. He tried to stamp some life back into them, until Blackrat hissed at him to keep the noise down.
"E's right, Blackrat,' whispered Alfie. 'We might as well give it up as a bad job. Ain't no one gonna come along 'ere tonight worth the robbin'.'
Blackrat made no immediate reply. They were right, of course, but he was loath to admit it. The pickings had grown slim in all their usual haunts, so he'd suggested they come up West, where they were more likely to encounter the well-off. Trouble was, the fog appeared to have kept everyone at home tonight.
'We'll give it five more minutes,' he decided stubbornly. 'If no one comes along by then, we'll call it a —'
He tensed suddenly, and, hearing the same thing that he'd heard, his companions followed suit. Mingled with the steady clip-clop of horses' hoofs coming hard and crisp against the mist-slick cobbles was the unmistakable sound of an approaching carriage.
'What did I tell you?' rasped Blackrat.
He pulled the stub of his hand-rolled cigarette from his lips and tossed it away. The orange tip quickly disappeared in the soot-speckled haze. Then he drew a short-bladed folding knife from his threadbare jacket, opened the blade and tightened his fingers expectantly around its black, screw-horn handle. Beside him, Alfie Adams sniffed again and produced a rusty cargo-hook. A tarnished knuckleduster glinted as Olwenyo Wadlock slid it on to his dark right fist, and Desmond O'Leary, always happy to fight when the odds were favourable, repeatedly slapped a billycock softly into the palm of his hand.
Blackrat, so named because of the discoloured buck teeth that showed grey against his heavy black beard, peered around the corner and grinned. The coach was a black brougham with red wheels, its yellow sidelights flanking the muffled driver on the high seat. Unless Blackrat missed his guess, their pickings were going to be rich here.
He gestured to his companions. Knowing from past experience what was expected of them, they immediately split up and vanished in a swirl of sulphurous fog.
The coach came closer along the centre of the street, pushing the yellow-red mist ahead of it. Closer it came ... closer ... until —
Alfie darted out in front of the vehicle, reached up and grabbed the bridle of one of the horses, yelling: 'Whoa there! Whoa! Whoa!'
At the same moment Wadlock and O'Leary attacked the carriage from either side. O'Leary put one size eleven hobnail on the wheel hub, launched himself up on to the seat, grabbed the startled driver by his muffler and jerked hard. The driver was pulled off the carriage and landed on the cobbles, dazed. O'Leary applied the brake, then jumped down beside him. Dragging the driver to his feet, he slammed him on the side of his head with the billycock. The driver dropped without a murmur.
Wadlock, meanwhile, had jerked open the carriage door and started rummaging inside. The coach rocked furiously as a brief but inevitably one-sided struggle took place. At last the big mulatto withdrew his arm and Blackrat saw with approval that he had snared the only passenger – a woman.
A handsome one, at that.
As Wadlock pulled her out of the coach Blackrat ran his tongue across his scaly teeth. Beneath her red velvet cloak she appeared to be tall, elegant and opulently dressed. A tiara – diamonds set in silver and gold – nestled in the thick raven curls of her hair. At her throat was a matching necklace; and more diamonds sparkled from her earlobes and fingers.
The woman herself was perhaps thirty, with eyes the colour of very deep topaz above high, fine cheekbones. She had a short-bridged nose, full, scarlet lips and a firm, well-defined jaw. Her skin was pale and flawless, but anger now reddened her cheeks.
'Well, look what we got 'ere!' exclaimed Alfie.
The woman yanked her arm free of Wadlock's grip and was about to slap him when she heard Blackrat's slow, approaching tread on the cobbles. She whirled and narrowed her eyes at his short, thick silhouette.
'How dare you stop my coach!' she said.
Her American accent caused Blackrat to raise one shaggy eyebrow. Yanks – they rolled in money, they did. Still, there was no hint of panic in her voice, just fury.
'Beggin' yer pardon, Your 'Ighness,' he mocked. He stopped before her and executed an exaggerated bow. 'I really do 'ate to spoil your evenin'.' He sized her up, instinctively despising her for being so obviously wealthy. 'Been to the theatre, 'ave you, darlin'? Or some posh little soirée?'
O'Leary now joined the others, trapping the woman in a menacing half-circle. He had a face that was all angles and scars, the face of a merciless bareknuckle fighter, with soulless, pale-blue eyes and a scraggly, untrimmed moustache beneath his broken nose.
But still the woman showed more anger than fear.
'How dare you!' she repeated. 'Do you know who I am?'
'Well,' said Blackrat, studying her more carefully. 'You ain't ugly enough to be Queen Victoria.'
'I'm Elaina Montague,' the woman said, adding imperiously: 'Countess Elaina Montague. And unless you want the cat o' nine tails across your backs, you'll leave me be!'
'Oh, I don't think so, Your 'Ighness.'
Blackrat reached out quickly with his knife-hand and the blade sliced through the woven clasp of the countess's cloak. Wadlock grabbed the cloak and ripped it from her shoulders.
Blackrat grinned. He'd been right: tall, elegant and curvaceous. She wore an apple-green evening gown, the scooped neck revealing a promising swell of bosom, rising and falling rapidly now as she fought to control her rage. The fitted bodice tapered to a small waist, the skirt below it flaring from hips to ankles.
But his attention kept returning to the necklace, earrings and tiara. And that wasn't all the jewellery she wore. Her long fingers sparkled with rings; diamonds from South Africa, amethysts from Latin America.
Blackrat's mouth watered.
'I'll thank you for them trinkets, Your 'Ighness,' he said, moving closer.
And now Elaina did know fear, because a new, throatier quality had entered his voice, making her realize there were worse things than being robbed.
Sure enough, he confirmed it with his next statement.
'Then you an' me is gonna get to know each other a bit better in the back of your carriage, m'lady.'
His companions sniggered, Alfie sniffling and wiping his nose on his sleeve as he did so.
She looked at their leering faces and knew she was a bonus for them – a perk of the job. It wasn't enough that they had beaten and perhaps even killed Prescott, her coachman, or that they were going to steal her beloved jewels. They were also going to ...
Knowing she could not allow such a thing to happen, she lashed out with her fist, heedless of the consequences. Her rings raked Blackrat's face. Blood ran from the deep scratches, reddening his unkempt beard. He staggered back, cursing her.
Immediately his men crowded her against the coach, grabbing and pinning her. She heard them swearing under their breath; felt their lust; smelled the rank odour of their unwashed bodies close to hers, and felt sick.
Blackrat put one hand to his ragged cheek, brought it away and inspected it in the meagre light. His palm glistened red. He looked at the countess and shook his head, as if to say she shouldn't have done that, and that things would go even harder for her now because of it.
Very deliberately he tucked his knife away and backhanded her.
She slammed back against the coach. Her cheek went numb. Enraged, she attacked him with flailing fists. For a moment Blackrat was surprised by her pluck and retreated. But then his mates joined in and, despite her desperate struggles, they soon pinned her against the coach.
'Get 'er inside,' hissed Blackrat, his voice now hoarse with lust.
The others had just started to obey when a voice behind them said quietly: 'Hold it, gents!'
Blackrat spun around to see who had spoken. On the pavement a short distance away stood a tall, lean man in a wide-brimmed, flat-topped Stetson hat. He wore an unbuttoned brown sack coat and matching pants, a black waistcoat over a cotton shirt, with a narrow blue necktie. His expression was neither grim nor angry, yet there was something inexpressibly menacing about him.
Blackrat immediately reached for his knife, subconsciously bulking himself up to present a more intimidating front.
'An' who the bleedin' hell are you?' he demanded.
The newcomer faced him square on. 'Someone you don't want to mix it up with,' came the softly spoken reply.
A cool grin made Blackrat's beard stir slowly. 'You got two choices, mate,' he said. 'You can keep walkin' and pretend you never saw nuffink, or you can poke your nose into our business an' get your arse kicked inside out.'
Though the odds were against him the stranger seemed untroubled by the threat. He didn't smile, but something in his eyes hinted that he was more amused than frightened by Blackrat and his henchmen.
'Well,' Blackrat demanded belligerently. 'What's it to be?'
The stranger considered for a moment. A man worth looking at twice, he had a tanned, intelligent, well-sculpted face and deep-set, light-blue eyes. His nose was thin and straight, his mouth narrow with tight white lips. Below, a faint, reddish-blond goatee beard couldn't quite hide his cleft chin.
Eventually he said: 'I advise you to let the lady go.'
Blackrat grinned at his companions: 'Well, bugger me sideways. I do believe we've caught ourselves two birds with one stone tonight.' And then to the stranger: 'Time to teach you to mind your own business, mate.'
He and his henchmen turned their backs on the countess and advanced menacingly toward the newcomer, but he showed no fear as they closed in, only a kind of reckless, joyful anticipation.
'I'm sorry you have to see this, ma'am,' he said, politely tipping his hat to the countess. 'But they don't leave me any choice.'
Even as he finished speaking he quickly crossed his arms so that each hand reached under the opposite armpit. They reappeared a split second later, each filled with an ivory-handled Colt .45. As he aimed the guns at the robbers, he thumbed the hammers back so that they were ready to fire.
At the sound, Blackrat and his pals froze.
"Ere, 'ere, let's not be 'asty, guv!' Blackrat said hurriedly. 'I mean, we didn't know this 'ere lady was a friend of yours or we never would've bothered 'er. Right, lads?'
'Never, mate,' Alfie sniffed.
The stranger regarded them mockingly. 'I gave you fair warnin'.'
'That's right,' agreed Blackrat, bobbing his head eagerly. 'An' we was wrong to ignore it. But we won't never make the same mistake again, mate. We'll go straight from now on, God's truth we will.'
The tall American let him babble on for a few moments, then said: 'You fellers have put me in an awkward spot. See, I don't want to have to shoot you, 'cause it'll mean breaking my word to someone, but at the same time I can't let you get away with assaultin' this lady ...' He paused, as if trying to find a solution.
'P-Please, mister,' Blackrat begged, sounding dangerously close to tears. 'Don't shoot us. We won't never do nothin' like this again. 'Onest.'
Still the stranger offered no mercy. There was a cold hardness in his eyes that made it clear he had killed before, and more than once.
But rescue came from an unexpected source.
'It's all right,' said Elaina. 'I'm sure they ... they've learned their lesson. You can let them go.'
The stranger showed no sign of hearing her.
'Please,' Elaina added. 'I don't want anyone killed on my behalf.'
At that the stranger seemed to relax and some of the grimness left his eyes.
'In that case,' he told the footpads, 'it looks like tonight's your lucky night, boys. So git.'
'Bleedin' good idea, that,' said Blackrat.
"Fact, it was just what we was about to do,' agreed Alfie.
Wadlock and O'Leary both nodded.
The stranger watched them scurry off into the fog. Only when their hurried footsteps had faded altogether did the guns in his hands vanish back into the folds of his coat.
He crossed to the countess and retrieved her cloak. 'Here, let me, ma'am ...' He shook it out and then reached around her to drape it gently across her strong shoulders. The action was gentlemanly and chivalrous, but also very close to an embrace.
The countess looked into his face and saw a man of perhaps her own age. She started to thank him. Before she could do so, he turned and was gone, swallowed up in the fog.
For a moment Elaina was disappointed. Then she realized that he had only gone around the coach to check on her driver.
She followed him, heels clicking loudly in the fog-muffled street, and found him kneeling beside the coachman, who was now sitting up, gingerly feeling his head.
'You all right, mister?'
Prescott forced himself over on to his hands and knees and reached for his fallen hat. 'Yes, sir ... I'll ... I'll be fine in a jiffy, sir.'
Elaina knelt beside them, said: 'Thank you, Mr, uh ...'
'Howard, ma'am,' the stranger said. 'Thomas Howard. From Missoura.'
Elaina extended her right hand. 'I've never been so glad to see a fellow American,' she replied. 'I'm Countess Elaina Montague – and I'm beholden.'
To her disappointment he merely shook her hand instead of pressing it to his narrow lips. But it was the very wildness in him, that sense of raw and untamed sensuality that excited and intrigued her in equal measure.
'If you hadn't come along when you did —' she began.
'Best not to dwell on ifs, ma'am. Important thing is, I did come along.'
'Yes, and thank God you did or ...' She stopped as she realized she was embarrassing him with her gratitude.
Turning, he helped the coachman regain his feet. Prescott looked pale and shaken and there was a nasty swelling on his temple, but, notwithstanding he announced that he would live. 'I'm sorry, m'lady,' he said sincerely. 'It happened so quickly, they took me by surprise.'
'No harm done, Prescott,' Elaina said. She moved to her carriage before turning to the stranger. 'Can we drop you anywhere, Mr Howard?'
'That's OK, ma'am. I got things to do.'
Again she felt disappointed. 'You'd be doing me a favour if you'd accompany me home,' she said shamelessly. 'I'm a little shaky after what's happened.'
He gave her a curious look, for she certainly hadn't struck him as the shaky type. 'In that case, ma'am, it'd be my pleasure.'
He helped her into the coach and then got in after her. Prescott closed the door and climbed back on to the driver's seat. A moment later they heard him cluck and the horses leaned into the harness. With a gentle jolt they started moving forward again through the murky night.
'Have you been in London long, Mr Howard?'
He was peering out at the foggy streets. His profile, caught whenever a passing streetlamp touched it, showed that he was clearly preoccupied. 'No, ma'am. Just a few days.'
'And what brings you to England – business or pleasure?'
When he continued to stare out of the window, she said: 'I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry.'
Excerpted from Sherlock Holmes and the Queen of Diamonds by Steve Hayes, David Whitehead. Copyright © 2012 Steve Hayes and David Whitehead. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Steve Hayes is a prolific writer of westerns and a screenwriter. He lives in Huntington Beach, California. David Whitehead is a western writer.
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