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Horace Holly had nowhere to hide. He thumbed his lapels and bowed for the thousands of adoring spectators gathered outside Westminster Abbey. How many of the youngsters even knew who he was? Their fathers and grandfathers might recall, but years had passed since he'd last braved public scrutiny on such a scale. The queen's New Year's Honours ceremony was something he'd read about but never imagined he would be invited toto receive a Knighthood, no less, for "many extraordinary discoveries in exotic lands and gallant dedication to the teaching of young scientists and future explorers."
Holly chuckled. How squat and unsightly he must appear next to the younger sportsmen, the upstanding war veterans and the distinguished men of science preceding him through the great entrance. He'd never been much to look athis enormous sideburns, grey concessions to middle age, probably didn't help mattersbut that hadn't stopped him from enjoying a full, some would say amazing, life. How impressed his fellow honorees must be by all this pomp and majesty. But they had not visited the great Temple of Kor, nor had they seen firsthand the fanatical reverence of the Amahagger for their queen, the great and terrible Ayesha. They had not trekked with Quatermain into the shadows of darkest Africa, discovered tribes never before seen by white men, nor tasted that petrifying fear of being hunted for supper in a hidden jungle.
He waved at a pink-cheeked little girl hoisted high on her father's shoulders. The butterflies roused in his stomach. Fancy thatdespite all he had survived, he was a little nervous, after all. Young Josh, his assistant, had been right. He would buy the lad a beer when he saw him next.
Silence gripped the crowd. For the first time he heard the howl of the wind and, during a lull, the creak and buzz of the airships struggling to maintain their circular flight paths high above the two gothic towers. People stopped waving. Holly glanced behind him. A post chaise halted and a smartly-dressed woman got out. Her face was hidden by the wide-brimmed black-and-white satin touring hat that exaggerated her bow to the crowd. She wore brown leather boots and marched with a schoolmarm attitude. The lady was small but powerful, with a lovely figure. Not altogether popular, though. Four constables escorted her as spectators whom he'd seen clapping and shouting "Huzzah!" now shook angry fists, grimaced and generally harangued this tiny woman. Others blew her kisses and cheered her on. Who was she? What had she done?
Holly was about to protesta few obscenities were being tossed out from the crowdwhen a moustached gentleman, red-faced and in a hurry, said to him, "You'd best get a move on, old boy. That's Harriet Law. She's the pox on any public event."
Ah, so this was she. The infamous private detective who had managed to upstage the police in every investigation she had been hired to solve. Not most, mind, but every single one. Even cases the most seasoned Scotland Yard detectives claimed were unsolvable. Insufficient evidence. Zero leads. Apprehending Jack the Ripper had merely been the first in a series of breathtaking breakthroughs over the past decade. Some believed she was complicit in the crimes themselves, but her alibis always stood up. Others claimed to have spotted her in several places at once, but she laughed that off as celebrity mania. Was she really what she claimed to bea genius at seeing and deducting things others couldn't?