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Authors: Webb, Catherine

Horatio lyle

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    Horatio Lyle  CATHERINE WEBB  Hachette Digitalwww.littlebrown.co.ukTable of ContentsTitle PageCopyright PageIntroduction CHAPTER 1 - ThiefCHAPTER 2 - ElwickCHAPTER 3 - BodyCHAPTER 4 - TateCHAPTER 5 - CarwellCHAPTER 6 - NightCHAPTER 7 - FruitCHAPTER 8 - SlumCHAPTER 9 - StoneCHAPTER 10 - WakingsCHAPTER 11 - EncounterCHAPTER 12 - BrayCHAPTER 13 - AwakeCHAPTER 14 - TseiqinCHAPTER 15 - JusticeCHAPTER 16 - BaileyCHAPTER 17 - EscapeCHAPTER 18 - MagnetCHAPTER 19 - BloodCHAPTER 20 - SiegeCHAPTER 21 - HandCHAPTER 22 - CathedralCHAPTER 23 - StormCHAPTER 24 - DomeCHAPTER 25 - FallCHAPTER 26 - City Catherine Webbwas just fourteen when she wrote her extraordinary debut,Mirror Dreams. With several novels already in print at nineteen, Catherine has quickly established herself as one of the most talented and exciting young writers in the UK.By Catherine WebbMirror DreamsMirror WakesWaywalkersTimekeepers    Horatio Lyle  CATHERINE WEBB  Hachette Digitalwww.littlebrown.co.uk Published by Hachette Digital 2008 Copyright © 2006 by Catherine Webb  The moral right of the author has been asserted.  All rights reserved.No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in aretrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, norbe otherwise circulated in any form of binding or coverother than that in which it is published and without asimilar condition including this condition beingimposed on the subsequent purchaser.  All characters and events in this publication, other than thoseclearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblanceto real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.  A CIP catalogue record for this bookis available from the British Library. eISBN : 978 0 7481 1112 1 This ebook produced by Jouve, FRANCE  Hachette DigitalAn imprint ofLittle, Brown Book Group100 Victoria EmbankmentLondon EC4Y 0DY  An Hachette Livre UK CompanyINTRODUCTIONMurder1864, London In the west, the sun is setting.It is orange and yellow fire, the sky sooty grey and brown smudge. The sky is full of chimneys and asthmatic birds. The fog is rising off the river, all the way from Greenwich to Chiswick, crawling up past Westminster and hiding the ravens sitting on the walls of the Tower, who blink beadily, waiting for something interesting and edible to happen in their lives. The fog is grey-green - grey from the water suspended in it, green from the things floating in the water.In the west, the sun has set.A man is running through dark and silent streets. He knows he’s going to die, but still feels that if he’s got to die, he might as well die running. In the world in which he moves, this is all a man can wish for, and tonight he has already seen his death mirrored in the death of another. The streets he runs through are silent and empty, their inhabitants either behind dark shutters hunched over their work by candlelight, or out, or asleep, or trying to sleep. He keeps running. A black bag bounces against his shoulder as he moves. He wonders how he ended up this way, and tries not to think of emerald eyes burning in his skull, the heavy weight of the body as it fell into his arms, or the blood now seeping through his fingers.The rigging on the ships creaks as they rock slowly back and forth in the docks. The water that slaps around their long wooden hulls is brownish and just a little too thick for comfort.And though he ’s running, he can’t hear anyone following him. For a second he wonders if he ’s made it, if he ’s escaped, and knows that it’s not that far to the Bethnal Green rookery from here, to the maze of shadows and cellars where anything and everything could disappear without a trace, knows that he could get there, knows that he won’t. He half-turns to see if he’s still being followed, bent almost double over the gaping knife wound across his belly, and stares straight into a pair of bright green eyes, burning emerald eyes, and a thin, slightly satisfied smile. He chokes on blood and steel and slips down into the shadows, clawing at the fine black sleeves of his attacker, of his killer, blackness that smells of dead leaves in a dying forest and burning wood and salty iron and black leaves falling on to a black floor like a black rain from a black sky and. . .and. . .anddon’t look at the eyes . . .He looks. The man holding the knife starts to grin, razor-sharp teeth, like those of a fish, bright green eyes, almost glowing, almost dancing with satisfaction and anticipation. The body slips to the ground. The bag falls off its shoulder and lands on the cobbles with a faint clank of heavy metal shifting inside.The theatre halls of Shadwell are draining out in crowds of girls and boys cackling and clinging on to each other’s arms. The fat man has reached the end of his song about the glory of Empire, Britain’s majesty and amorous flirtations in barnyards. This latter aspect is what appeals most to his yelling, swaying audience. Down at Haymarket, the fat woman is dying to the mild applause of the bourgeoisie, top hats on their laps for the men; opera glasses held daintily in white gloves, and huge dresses spread like a map of the known world for the women.A carriage rattles down a street, then stops. A door opens. A couple of horses stamp their hooves against the old cobbles, the sound muffled by centuries of rubbish and dirt, softening into a brown, thick sludge, through which the grey stones are rarely perceived. A voice says, very quietly, ‘Mr Dew?’ It sounds like black leather would, if it could speak. A man with bright green eyes stirs in the shadows and carefully wipes blood off the tip of a very long, slightly curved and highly ornate hunting knife.‘Yes, my lord?’‘He is dead?’‘Yes, my lord. He has joined his brother.’‘Very well. Give me the bag.’The clang of heavy metal moving inside the bag, as it is passed into a hand gloved in white silk and attached to a body clad in black velvet. The rattle of hands digging through metal. The faint glow of a lamp catches against gold. The rattling stops.‘It’s not here?’‘My lord?’‘I said, it ’s not here!’ And now, if the voice sounded like black leather, then that leather had just found itself driven through with nails, and wasn’t pleased.‘He. . .’ A little breath, steadying against fear of those burning green eyes, above a tight smile that makes sharks seem sympathetic, staring with the hardness of granite on a dark night. ‘He said he had it, my lord. . .’‘And you killed him before he’d given it to us, killed themboth?’‘I wanted to save. . .inconvenience?’‘If we cannot find it, you will pay. They will not tolerate further delay; her ladyship has already been sent here once asking questions!’‘Yes, my lord.’‘Hide the body!Find it!’The thieves are hiding in the shadows under the bridges, waiting for their prey, fingers drumming on their knives. The policemen are trudging through the streets, rattles duly sounding as they whirl them around and announce the hour, long blue coats slapping against their white-clad knees. The horses are bedding down in the mews of Mayfair. The street-walkers are plying their trade in the gutters of St Giles, all false white faces and falser red smiles.A dark carriage clatters away down a dark street, fading into the thick, choking green-grey fog that rises off the river and from the factories into an itchy soup in the air. It leaves behind nothing, except a dying gas lamp and a small red stain of blood, seeping gently through the cobbles and into the mud below.The gas man is putting his ladder against the side of another black pillar along Green Park, and wondering whether his career prospects really do his talent justice. The girl has sold her last little bag of nuts and is going home with her few pennies of profit for the night. The master of the cress market below Shoreditch is laying out his trestle tables for the night’s trade. The mechanics are wiping dirt from their faces as they walk away from the seething railway yards of King’s Cross, with dirty hands rubbed on dirtier hankies.And in the darkness of the carriage, a still man with a black leather voice carefully inspects his white gloves by the light of a bouncing lantern, observes a tiny speck of red blood on the tip of a finger, pulls the glove off a long, white, elegant hand, and sighs. He drops it on to the floor of the carriage for someone else to worry about. He sits back, and thinks very quietly to himself,Soon, we will rise.As the driver pushes the carriage on into the night, he puts a hand inside his coat and feels for something to eat. He finds nothing but an immaculately intact knobbly peel from a small fruit, and a single round stone. He curses internally. He tells himself that he shouldn’t have eaten the lychee, and throws both peel and stone away into the gutter. After murder, littering isn’t really a priority. At least, it isn’t tonight. Almost five miles away, something wentclickin a darkened house. A window opened a few inches, sliding up from the sill. A hand slithered inside, checked carefully on either side of the window, found nothing of interest except a pair of faded curtains, and pushed up the window a little more. The hand wormed further inside. It was followed by a scantily clad arm, a head, a pair of shoulders and, in due course, the remainder of its owner’s body. The shadow dropped on to the floor, and very slowly started to walk. Halfway across the room it hesitated. It squatted down and gently ran its hand across the floor, until it touched a tile which sank, ever so slightly, under its pressure. It moved forward stealthily on hands and knees, avoiding the tile, and the five others its gentle probes detected. When it reached the door, it stood again. It ran a slim blade carefully down the side of the door, felt nothing, and opened it.
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In the corridor beyond, a single candle burnt on a table. Nothing else here to give any sign of ownership. The curtains at the far end were drawn, one side slightly singed. The figure moved forward cautiously, and for a moment could be seen by the dim candlelight, before darting back into shadow.It was short, had no shoes, wore a shirt and trousers that might once have been white, but which now would shame even the most scruffy of scarecrows. It had a tangle of dark brown curls sticking out in every direction from its head, and a pair of intently squinting and blinking grey eyes. It was, in fact, a girl, still young enough to get away with pretending to be innocent, but old enough to be very, very guilty indeed.Halfway down the corridor, she hesitated, head slightly on one side. She looked up at the ceiling. She looked down at the floor. Then she went back the way she had come, past the door, to the end of the corridor and tried a different door in the opposite direction. It was locked. This didn’t cause as much consternation as an innocent observer might have expected. The girl pulled out a small bottle from the deep recesses of a padded jacket favoured by shepherds the world over. There was the sound of something liquid. A smell rose up in the corridor, and a gentle hissing. A little click from the door, which was pushed gently open. In the room beyond sat a huge table, sagging under the weight of apparatus: bottles, strange flasks, tubes, candles, prisms, wires, tools.The figure moved forward quickly, then stopped. Under the table a dog lay sleeping. It lay on its back, feet in the air, paws folded over, enormous nose twitching slightly, long brown and white ears sticking out either side of its head along the floor. It had the belly of a spoiled animal and the wagging tail, even in sleep, of a very happy one. It had the nose of a creature designed for hunting down prey at great distances, and the girl guessed that somewhere below the huge nose, there were teeth to match.She watched it for a long while, cautious. Then, very slowly, when it was clear that this animal would wake for nothing (except, perhaps, food and affection), she shuffled forward, half-turning to keep it in her sight, moving a toe at a time. She went past the table to a row of cupboards hanging above a desk, in a corner. She opened them, started digging through, but found only notes, reams and reams of paper covered in an almost unintelligible hand and even less intelligible drawings. She frowned in exasperation.Not having found what she was looking for, she headed to a side door in the room. This too was locked. She drew out her tools again, inserted the first one, and instantly something inside the lock flashed bright blue, a big fat spark leaping from the door to the ground. Somewhere above the door, something embedded in the ceiling wentthunk. Something slow and ponderous began to turn. There was a sound like a marble running downhill on uneven ground. The girl tugged at her tool wedged in the lock, and heard a snapping sound. Pulled away, the end had boiled down to nothing. Not hesitating, not even bothering to waste time on thought, the girl turned and ran towards the other door, bursting out into the corridor, running along it for the window at the far end. At the point where before she had turned back, she ran on, and under her the floor shrieked, making her head shake sickeningly. Somewhere there was a hissing sound and hot steam exploded in a white cloud from the room she had only just left. She reached the window; a dog started howling, barking; she dragged the curtains back, heaved the window open, looked up, looked down.There was the street twenty feet below, a gas lamp burning steadily outside, cobbles glistening in the rain. The girl leant out, saw a lead drainpipe, reached for it, grabbed hold and dragged herself out of the window until she dangled, feet scrambling against the wet metal. Clutching with hands and feet, she started to ease herself down. There was a long, screeching sound, like a banshee with indigestion.The section of pipe she clung to lurched, started to bend away from the wall. Where it joined the section below, an unseen tube of linked metal plates started to bend, so that as the pipe fell back, it leant away from the wall like an arm. There was a snap and a long coil of rope, wound into a tiny cubby-hole in the red brickwork itself, started to unwind. One end was tied to the pipe. It fell back slowly, the girl still clinging on desperately. It bent forty-five degrees away from the wall before the length of rope snapped tense. It stopped moving, and dangled there, the girl holding on to it with every fibre of strength in her thin, unprepared arms, as she wondered what the hell to do.Around the street, she could hear people stirring, distant dogs barking, carriages being pulled to a stop, breaking their rhythm towards the corner at the end of the road. The window she had dropped from lit up a dull orange. Silhouetted against it was a dark shadow that might just have resembled a man. There was a long silence. Finally the shadow said mildly, ‘Are you all right up there?’‘Yes, thank you, sir.’‘You sure? It looks like quite a long drop. . .’‘Really, sir, it ain’t nothin’ to be botherin’ about.’‘Oh.’ He looked slightly surprised, and frowned. ‘Itwasyou trying to break in, wasn’t it? Only if there ’s been some kind of misunderstanding. . .’She gulped. She could feel her hands slowly slipping on the smooth metal pipe. Falls seemed further when you were short, she reasoned. ‘Oh no, no, no, sir! Can’t think what you’ll be meanin’. But since you happen to be mentionin’ this pipe, sir. . .’A front door opened on the other side of the street. A woman exploded out like a runaway train. She was carrying a meat cleaver, had blonde hair which trailed down her back, and wore a determined expression of bloodthirsty vengeance. The girl on the post shrieked and tried to climb higher. The man in the window blanched. The woman in the street screamed, ‘Police, police!’, saw the man in the window and gasped, ‘Horatio?’Horatio Lyle, who knew that manners were an essential social glue and that society was a fascinating phenomenon that deserved study and thus, preservation, smiled uncomfortably. ‘Yes, Miss Chaste?’‘Horatio, are you all right?’ In that split second, her voice had dropped an octave and become as soft as springtime rain, which was clearly disconcerting to Horatio Lyle, who began to reconsider the benefits of society after all. The girl clinging on to the drainpipe tried not to boggle at her.‘What in heaven’s name is happening here?’‘Just a little. . .’On the dangling pipe, the girl, who had been watching all this with keen attention began, ‘’Bout this pipe. . .’‘Horatio, is this another experiment? Only I do know that the last one went so terribly. . .’‘No, no, I was just ascertaining whether this young lady was or was not. . .’‘Oh, the young lady!’ Miss Chaste’s voice rocketed an octave, and two hands flew to two cheeks, as if they might burst with appalled indignation. ‘She looks in such terrible danger, so distraught! Oh, good Horatio, you must. . .’‘Well, actually, she was in the process of. . .’To everyone ’s surprise, including possibly the girl herself, she exploded. ‘Please, miss,’ the girl started yelling, ‘please, I’m just an innocent child tor. . .torme. . .havin’ a really hard time seein’ as how I’ve been on the street tryin’ to make an honest livin’ in a harsh world. . .’‘I beg your pardon?!’ squeaked Lyle.The girl was unstoppable. ‘Please don’t let this horrid man hurt me, I never done nothin’ but he just don’t listen to me and he chased me an’ I said how I was lovely really and, please, miss. . .’In the gloom of the window, Lyle’s mouth dropped open. In the street the woman with the meat cleaver hesitated. She looked far too slim and pale to be holding such a large weapon, and indeed now that the excitement was cooling a little, its presence in her hand made her uncomfortable, and she tried to hide it behind her voluminous white nightrobe. Ladies of more decorum might have worn a shawl, and indeed she had considered one when exiting the house. But then, she ’d realized who the incident involved, and changed her mind. The shawl, she believed, wasn’t her most flattering colour.Turning a pair of severe almond eyes on Lyle, a useful inheritance from her father and a match for her freckles, she said in a voice like glaciers rolling over a particularly difficult hillside, ‘Horatio, is this true?’For a second, his indignation almost overwhelmed all power of speech. ‘Do you really believe that. . .’‘Please, miss,’ sobbed the girl, ‘please, miss, don’t let him hurt me. I’m so hungry and cold and scared and he’s such a brutish man, he hasn’t heard of Christian charity, miss, please. . .’‘Horatio!’ The woman flushed. ‘I demand that you come down here at once and assist me with this unfortunate waif!’‘Waif?’ exclaimed Lyle. ‘Miss Chaste. . .’‘Horatio, I shall summon the police!’Pigeons were startled out of their roosts at the indignant squeak in her voice. Lyle flinched, sighed and said humbly, ‘Yes, Miss Chaste.’Mercy Chaste knew her duty. As the local vicar’s daughter, she took an immense pride in her Christian heritage, and had an evangelistic streak in her which had led to a new and interesting reinterpretation of the verb ‘chastened’.A minute later the front door opened and Lyle appeared, dragging a large metal box as if it was very heavy, and after it a tube connected to a large pile of what looked like leather sacking. This he spread out under Miss Chaste ’s furious eye to a rough square beneath the pipe and kicked the box moodily. There was a hissing sound and the leather square expanded slowly into a small inflated mattress. The girl craned her neck to see the mattress and squeaked, ‘I’m not falling on to that!’Lyle’s eyes flashed. ‘It ’s that,’ he snapped, ‘or the pavement.’She thought about it, even as Miss Chaste barked, ‘Horatio!’ Lyle’s expression was unshakable.Sullenly the girl muttered, twisting to see her destination more clearly, ‘I think I’ll let go now.’‘Why not?’ he sighed.The girl closed her eyes and let go. She fell, and bounced up from the mattress several times. It was almost fun, she thought, and wondered if she could bounce some more. Then she saw the two adults’ faces peering down and hastily she crawled off the mattress and picked herself up, putting on her most endearing expression of innocence. Lyle scowled. Seeing this, the girl launched into emergency procedure. She threw herself at Miss Chaste, wrapping her arms around the woman’s waist and bursting into tears. ‘Please, miss, don’t let him hurt me. Miss, please, I’ll do anything. . .’‘Oh, for goodness’ sake.’ Lyle pulled a plug in the mattress, which slowly started to deflate. As the girl sobbed into Miss Chaste’s nightgown, Lyle stalked up to his half-open door, disappeared inside, reappearing a second later. With a whirring sound, the section of dangling pipe started to wind back against the wall, locking itself in place, as if it had never moved.‘Horatio.’ Miss Chaste’s voice had a tone of determined finality.He wished he could simper as well as the girl was doing. ‘Yes, Miss Chaste?’ he sighed.‘What do you have to say for yourself, Horatio?’He thought about it.‘Erm. . .’The girl chose this hesitation as a chance for prolonged sobbing.‘You realize I can’t possibly permit the child to go home in a state like this?’Something of the Lyle family spirit flared up in Horatio. Though he prided himself on being able to deal in a rational manner with any crisis from chemical fires to electrical overloads,somethings were beyond reasonable expectations, and he snapped. ‘This child damn wellbroke intomy hou—’‘Language, Horatio!’‘Please, miss, I never, I never, miss, I. . .’‘Horatio,’ snapped Miss Chaste, ‘I think you owe this young lady an apology.’Lyle realized the girl, between sobs, was slyly watching him through her fingers. She grinned slightly behind her hands. His scowl deepened. ‘Miss Chaste, I have reason to believe this young lady may be a thief.’‘No, miss, t ’isn’t true, miss, I swear! T’isn’t true!’ And then, fulfilling a plan which had been brewing from the moment she ’d labelled Miss Chaste a busy-body, and better still, arichbusy-body of total gullibility, Teresa Hatch, pickpocket and burglar by trade and notorious up and down Shadwell, fainted. And in that part of the city where the fate of continents is decided over a glass of port and a game of bridge, in a room with a ceiling appreciable only by giraffes and a width that would certainly appeal to a small blue whale, if it ever had occasion to see it, a room hung with pictures of fine old men with large moustaches, a man sits at the end of a long, polished table topped with black leather, and says, ‘Well?’‘We’ve just had confirmation of the break-in.’‘And?’‘And. . .we can’t say how it happened, sir.’Silence.‘What do you wish done, sir?’‘I wish to know where they have taken it, and what they are planning.’‘Would Her Majesty approve, sir?’‘Her Majesty,’ the man replies quietly, ‘need never know.’
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CHAPTER 1ThiefThe sun rose on the city, and the city rose with the sun.And someone was shouting, ‘What do youmean, it wasn’t there?’‘I mean the object was not in the vicinity.’‘You have failed?’‘We will find it. Investigations are already underway.’‘Meanwhile, we’ll have lost precious time. They will be looking for it as well. By this time we could be in the streets, we could be drowning in the power and dragging this city out of the smoke and metal back into the clean, pure light rather than this blackabyss . . .andyou . . .’‘I appreciate that, my lady.’‘See that you do, my lord.’ And in the house of Lord and Lady Elwick, young Master Thomas woke in a large soft bed to the sound of heavy footsteps in the corridor outside. The door burst open and his governess rushed in and said from behind the bed curtains, before he’d even hauled himself up on his elbows, ‘Master says you’re to be downstairs immediately.’‘What?’ he asked, swinging himself out of bed a little bit too fast for his groggy head. ‘Why does Father want me now?’‘The whole house is mustering, Master Thomas. Everyone says it’s because of the bank. I’ve never seen the master so angry.’‘The bank? Which bank?’‘Thebank, Master Thomas! Your parents are going down there immediately to check the vault. You must be up quickly, they’ll want to say goodbye!’Thomas didn’t hesitate. No Elwickeverhesitated. He stood up and made for the giant mahogany wardrobe on the other side of his large room. ‘If they’re going,’ he said determinedly, ‘then I’m going too!’His governess rolled her eyes when he wasn’t looking, but didn’t ask what a fifteen-year-old boy thought he could do. He ’d just say what he always did. ‘If I don’t try, I’ll never know.’Which wasn’t an answer at all. The sunlight spread from east to west and crawled through high windows and low windows alike, trickled across floors and ceilings, and brushed the eyes of the sleeping.Tess Hatch woke, and was instantly alert.I know it’s early in the morning, and I’m pretty sure the house must be asleep, so . . .She tried to work out her moves, piece by piece. She was lying on her side, staring at a tall window through which faint sunlight crept, as if embarrassed to call itself morning.She was in a bed. This caused her sudden alarm, and she sat up, feeling the unusual softness. Abed. Not just any bed, but a big bed, with sheets and blankets and. . . feather pillowsand. . .She looked round the room. Miss Chaste must have been more of a fool than evenshehad suspected. She slipped, utterly silent, out of the bed.The room wasn’t particularly big, the only features in it, apart from the bed, being the large window, a stool in one corner, a shelf laden with books, and a small desk with a mirror above it whose centre had an unlikely and slightly alarming, perfectly rounded scorch mark. Tess was wearing what she always wore - the only clothes she owned: a pair of worn trousers that were starting to give way at the knees and a shirt several sizes too large. Looking around, she saw her padded jacket with holes at the elbows, lying on the stool, neatly folded. She scampered across the room, snatched the jacket up, and for a second saw her face in the mirror above the desk. She hesitated. Her dark brown hair stuck out around her face in every direction, and her dirty pale face, long and knowing, stared back with a surprised expression, unused to seeing itself.She crept to the door. It was unlocked, which was a surprise. She pushed it open and stepped out into the cold corridor beyond. Floorboards covered with a red carpet, a candle burnt down on a table, thin curtains open across the window at the end to let in more light. She padded in what she thought was perfect silence to the end of the corridor and pushed open a door that led to a flight of stairs. Slowly, she took them one at a time, testing each to avoid creaks. Halfway down, she became aware of a distant rumbling and speeded up, anxious to find the imagined loot and get out. She went past two landings and into the cold of the basement, where she crept along a corridor, listening for any sounds of life. She heard a fire burning behind a nearby plain white door to her right, hesitated, then pushed it open a little. There was a large stove, open to receive more wood, and a figure in shirt sleeves, black trousers and bare feet, bent over to toss on a log. Without looking up he said, ‘Good morning’ in a tone of polite disinterest.For a second she thought about running, but then. . .He was cookingbreakfast.Tess stepped carefully inside. The man straightened up, pushing the stove door shut, turned to her and grinned. She saw a pair of grey eyes and sandy hair, reddish in places. He looked terribly, terribly familiar, but she knew,knewthat this couldn’t be, well,him, because that wasn’t what was in her plan, that wasn’t how it worked, notherplans, especially not with the bigwig who had paid, not if she was. . .Tess heard the cracking of eggs and the hissing of oil. She took in a row of neatly tidied desks, a low wooden kitchen table, and a dog bowl marked ‘Tate’ in large letters.‘Sit down, lass, make yourself comfortable.’ His voice was unusual. If she ’d been back on the streets with her friends she would have said it belonged to a bigwig, except there was a familiar stop on the ‘d’s and the ‘t’s, something that was common in the slums of Shadwell and the rookeries of Soho.She sat down cautiously. ‘Are you Miss Chaste’s butler?’‘Me?’ He looked slightly alarmed. ‘Goodness, no.’This was possibly a good thing. She drew herself up to her full, and less-than-impressive height. ‘Do you know who I am?’He smiled brightly, and said in a conversational, light-hearted tone, flipping a slice of bacon, ‘Who are you?’‘I am. . .’ her mind raced and her voice changed slightly, rising a little in pitch and slurring the vowels, ‘Lady Teresa of France. I am a guest of your mistress. She ’s given you instructions as to how I should be looked after an’ all?’To her surprise, the man started grinning, as if in on some secret. He broke another egg into a frying pan. ‘Well, I hope you’re hungry.’She folded her hands in her lap and tried to look ladylike, saying primly, ‘Tol. . .toler. . .yes.’‘Tell me, Lady Teresa,’ he continued in the same jovial tone, pulling a couple of plates out of the cupboard, ‘do you always break into the houses of the people you’re going to visit?’Tess hesitated. Then, ‘How dare you say that!’He scraped the eggs off the bottom of the pan and tossed them onto her plate. To this he added a couple of slices of bread, two rashers of bacon, a glass of orange juice and a knob of butter, setting the whole lot in front of her on the low kitchen table. Pulling up a chair he sat down and stared thoughtfully across at her. Finally he said, ‘Your fainting was very good last night. Well, you fell. . .went the wrong way - gravity was clearly not the only force at work-but still, the sigh was very effective, the rolling of the eyes, the little theatrical gasp.Have you ever considered giving up a life of larceny for an age of acting?’She hesitated only a fraction of a second. ‘I was all overcome, see?’‘Miss Chaste was very insistent that you were brought into her house for good treatment and a decent meal. But it would have been wrong to let her be taken in by that trick.’‘If you—’ she began.He ignored her. ‘I was impressed, though. More than I’ve been in a long while by any thief.’ He held out his hand. ‘Horatio Lyle.’She was off the seat and had her back to the wall in a second, terror buzzing in her skull.He rolled his eyes. ‘Please don’t be like that. Have breakfast.’Very, very carefully, never taking her eyes off him, she sat.Lyle sighed. ‘I’ll keep this simple. I don’t like my home being broken into. But when you get a reputation for inventing things, people keep thinking, “Yes, I’ll have that”, and there ’s only so much you can do about it.’‘You seem to have done summat, sir.’‘Thank you.’‘Probably got too much time on your hands. In fact, if I can say. . .’‘Thank you,’ he repeated. Tess was aware of Lyle ’s eyes upon her, thoughtful. Finally he said, ‘This is going to sound unusual.’‘Is it unusual for things to sound unusual in your house, sir?’His eyes narrowed. ‘That ’s incredible. Abject terror to insolence in less than thirty seconds. I have a proposition for you.’She sprang back indignantly. ‘That’s horrid!’‘Believe it or not,’ he pointed out mildly, ‘I’m offering you a chance not to go to prison.’Her shoulders hunched slowly and suspiciously. ‘What kind of chance?’‘I was thinking about this after you fainted. That really was impressive, you do know that? I mean, the way you managed to fall at just the right angle to sustain minimum bruising. I wish I’d been less distracted. . .an almost perfect example of moments around a pivot. But then, I suppose, no one really considers the medical consequences of the centre of gravity in—’‘You havin’ that bacon?’‘What? Erm, no, I suppose not.’‘Okay. Keep goin’.’‘Erm. . .yes, what was I talking about?’‘How you was not sendin’ me to prison.’‘How I washypotheticallynot sending you to prison.’‘Oh. Like that.’‘You don’t know what hypothetically means, do you?’‘You havin’ that toast?’‘What? Yes, I am!’‘Oh.’ Tess pushed it back on to his plate with a guilty expression.‘The truth is,’ continued Lyle, looking slightly flummoxed, ‘I could use an assistant.’‘That’s nice.’‘Lass, I think you’re missing the point anddon’t even consider going for my egg, understand?’‘You sure? Only it ’ll get cold.’‘I need to keep my belongings safe. I’m also running a series of experiments that could require the assistance of someone with a very dexterous touch. The problem is,’ said Lyle, warming to his theme, ‘that in order to measure resistivity in proportion to surface area and density - not together, obviously, because,’ he laughed, ‘that would just be absurd - but the problemishow small you have to get the wires for comparison and the delicate nature of the equipment. . .’‘It really is gettin’ cold.’‘And since you proved last night that you are very good at dealing with delicate things -I can see you watching that egg- I thought I wouldn’t send you to prison and make you for the rest of your life an embittered professional thief with a reputation and long-term grudge against the laws of society. . .’‘That’s nice.’‘. . .I’d make you my assistant for the week.’The words settled over the table like a blanket. Tess sat, fork laden with bacon, and thought about it. ‘Uh. . .’‘Lass, I could have turned you over last night. I could still.’Tess broke into a strained, bright grin. She knew that, in situations like this, you didn’t think. You didn’t worry about what you were getting into, you didn’t agonize over possible repercussions, you just took the easiest way out that you were being offered. ‘You’ve made the right choice, sir. I’m the best in the business, I am.’‘Good.’‘An’ at the end of the week?’‘You can go. And I’ll give you back your very fine collection of lock picks.’Tess’s mouth dropped open. ‘Youpinchedmy picks?’‘I relocated them.’A glower settled over Tess’s face. ‘You don’t try big words like that with me; I know what that means - it means you went an’ you pinched them!’‘And you can have them back at the end of the week.’‘That ain’t fair!’‘It ain—itisn’tprison, lass.’‘Fine.’‘Good.Fine.’‘So,’ she said, brightening with the thought, ‘how much was you goin’ to pay, sir?’He spluttered. ‘Pay?’‘Well, seein’ as how my services aresoskilled. . .’‘I’m sorry, I think I must have misheard. I could have sworn I heard you askmefor money.’‘At least Iasked.’‘How moral.’‘I thought as how you might app. . .appre. . .might be all impressed an’ everythin’.’‘I think you should probably stick with thieving rather than spiritual appeals to mankind’s better nature. Although I do haveonequestion.’Tess’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, her fork halfway to her mouth. ‘Yes?’‘What is it about my house that made you want to break in in the first place?’She hesitated, then started to grin. ‘You’ll pay me if I tell you?’Lyle rolled his eyes. ‘I don’t know why I try. All right.’‘It were this gaffer what had a silly name.’‘What silly name?’‘Havelock.’A sad smile spread across Lyle ’s face, opening his mouth to speak. . .And above, there was a knock at the door.Naturally, Tess thought of large policemen and small prison cells. Then she chided herself for too much imagination, and told herself it was more likely to be the Palace than the police.
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As it turned out, she was absolutely right.The dog got to the door first. He sat there barking, and when Lyle and Tess came up the stairs from the kitchen, he gave them a look of utter contempt that suggested, if they hadn’t heard him then they were deaf, and if they had, then why hadn’t they run?‘Thank you, Tate,’ Lyle muttered, as he walked briskly to the door. The dog lay down very firmly in the corridor and stared at Tess with big, brown eyes in a long brown and white face, his ears sagging on to the floor. Tess stared back at him, keeping her distance. He didn’t blink. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever seen an expression of such intelligent despair at the stupidity of humankind.Lyle opened the door a crack. Two men stood outside. They wore long black cloaks, tall black top hats, and the expressions of people with a very specific task who hadn’t evenconsideredthe possibility of not fulfilling their aims.‘Mister Lyle?’‘Yes?’ There was a suspicious edge to Lyle’s voice that immediately put Tess on guard, and made Tate sit up.‘You must come with us, Mister Lyle.’‘Why?’‘The Palace wants to see you.’Lyle looked surprised, then pained, then downright upset. ‘I’m a little busy. I’ve got an experiment all set up downstairs, and if I don’t do it soon the tubes will be completely useless. . .’‘Sir,’ repeated the man in a tone of disbelief, ‘thePalacewants you.’He hesitated. ‘Uh, well. . .’‘Sir.’ The word took on a pained quality, suggesting that here was a man who, though about to break Lyle ’s legs, was at least polite enough to recommend a good doctor afterwards.Lyle smiled tightly, seeing this, and said, ‘Ah.’ He raised his shoulders in defeat, put on a feeble attempt at an innocent expression and said, ‘May I bring a friend?’ Later, Tess, wearing a dress, sat in a carriage driven by two men wearing royal rings, next to a man whose house she had tried to break into. She tried to work out what she was doing. Next to her Lyle muttered, ‘Please don’t fidget.’‘I’m nerv. . .nervy? That’s a word, right?’‘No, and you’re making me nervous.’‘You ain’t never been to the Palace before?’‘Haveyou?’He had a point. She shifted uncomfortably. ‘Uh. . .why am I coming?’‘Because I’m not trusting you alone in my house.’‘Can I have my lock picks back?’‘In a week.’‘Why am I in a dress?’‘Because I’m not letting you go to the Palace looking like an East End thief.’She thought about this. ‘But Iam.’His look cut her off, and she sat back in sullen silence. The carriage had blinds across the windows and she couldn’t see where they were, but the sound of the street was strange, with cobbles instead of dirt. She could hear voices calling out in unfamiliar accents and the hubbub of a distant market.Finally she said, ‘Sir?’‘Yes?’‘Who is Miss Chaste?’Lyle shifted uneasily. ‘A very. . .proper lady.’‘Sir?’‘Yes?’‘Does she. . .you know. . .and you . . . ?’‘Teresa, are you always this quick to dispose of respect and discretion?’She thought about it. ‘Nah. Usually get there faster. But you had me scared for a second, sir.’He looked slightly glassy-eyed as he intoned, ‘She and I are not engaged in any mutual bond.’‘Oh. Thank you, sir.’He shot her a sly glance and said, ‘You don’t know what any of that meant, do you?’‘No, sir. But I thought how it might be best not to ask.’‘Does the phrase “repressed vestal virgin” mean anything to you?’She thought about it. ‘Nah.’He let out a little sigh. ‘Thank goodness.’‘You goin’ to explain, sir?’‘Absolutely not.’The carriage rattled through the streets of Mayfair, round the green-brown edge of Green Park where lovers walked in the cold autumnal air and the trees were coated with the soot of the city, towards a black iron gate tucked away in an endless yellow-brick wall, guarded by a pair of black iron dragons, and so across the smooth, worn cobbles of an inner courtyard towards the stables of Buckingham Palace.They got out of the carriage and walked in silence through a tradesman’s door and up a plain stone staircase. Corridors grew wider, staircases became carpeted, pictures appeared on the walls. Beyond a mahogany door, they suddenly found themselves in the very heart of the Palace itself, following a butler who looked as if he ’d been mummified.Tess stared, her eyes flickering from vase to clock to painting to silver candlestick to the butler’s gold buttons and back round again. Lyle too looked about him. He reflected on the apparent height of the royal family, that it needed such lofty rooms for its daily living, and whether they’d let him try some of his inventions on their doors and windows. Next to him, Tess had fallen into a suspiciously deep silence. He said mildly, not looking at her, ‘They probably change the patrol paths of the guards every month.’‘Why do you say that, sir?’He glanced down at her. She was trying to smile innocently, and in that neat blue dress - nothing too fine but nothing that would shame a lady - with her unruly hair curled away from her washed face, shealmostgot away with it.‘And if you’re considering the rooftop approach, you’d require a stronger grappling hook and tougher gloves than you possess. I hope.’‘Actually, sir, I was considering going to the back door with a basket of oranges and asking for the nicest cook in the place.’He tried to hide his smile. ‘That might work too.’The door ahead opened, and Lyle was announced by a man in a large white wig who had the expression of one who’d been shown a nit underneath a magnifying glass. There didn’t seem to be anyone there to announce them to. But if it made the man happy, Lyle wasn’t going to question his purpose in life.The room beyond was poorly lit and hung with huge red curtains and further portraits, all wearing a Colonel-of-the-Empire-I-kill-barbarians-for-breakfast expression. Lyle squinted down its length as the door shut behind him, saw a grandfather clock clicking away in a corner and, in the absence of any other object of interest, went towards it, fumbling in his pocket for something.Behind him Tess said thoughtfully, ‘Problem is, nothing much can be carried in a hurry, see?’ Lyle didn’t answer, and Tess walked up to his side to peer at the clock as well, trying to see whatever it was that fascinated him. He pulled out of his pocket a small object that looked like a cross between a compass, a pair of protractors and a fob watch, but like no watch she had ever seen. The needles, as far as she could tell, read ‘3.23 N 70’. Lyle squinted at it, then at the clock and sighed. ‘It ’s slow.’He didn’t hear the sound behind him, wasn’t even aware that someone was standing there. Then when he thought about it, perhaps the man had been there, but so neatly folded away in a chair that he simply hadn’t noticed.‘Good morning, Constable,’ said a quiet, precise voice. ‘Might I offer you coffee?’They turned. Tess attempted a bob that might have been an illusion of a curtsey. Lyle tried a polite nod, not sure what else he was expected to do. The man nodded in acknowledgement, a tight smile across a tight, bony face. He was short, neat and grey-haired, wearing a black three-piece suit, with the chain of a silver fob watch threaded through his waistcoat. His eyes were so sunken into his pale face that Lyle wondered if there was room in his head for anything else. As the man’s gaze swept the two of them, Tess drew nearer Lyle, then realized what she was doing and straightened up to stare defiantly back.The man looked at them for a long moment, seemed to reach a conclusion and gestured at the long table that ran the length of the room. ‘Will you both sit down?’Lyle led the way to a place near the head of the table, and Tess scuttled round to sit by his side, furthest from the man. Sitting opposite Lyle, the man placed a file on the table and rang a small bell. The door opened, and a butler glided in holding a silver tray laden with coffee, rolls and jam, on a silver plate. Tess eyed this latter thoughtfully. Lyle, eyes not moving from the man, kicked her under the table. She said loudly, ‘Ow!’The man turned an icy stare on her. ‘I beg your pardon?’‘Uh, nothing, sir. Cramp.’‘Oh dear. I do wish you a speedy recovery.’ He sounded as if he was announcing an execution.Lyle cleared his throat. ‘Forgive my bluntness, but why are we here, my lord?’The man raised his eyebrows slightly, and a smile like canvas that didn’t want to be stretched tugged painfully at his white lips. ‘What gives you the impression that I’m a peer of the realm, Constable Lyle?’‘Not a Constable, sir. Special Constable on a good day, which today isn’t.’‘What do you believe to be the difference between a Constable and a Special Constable, Mister Lyle?’There it was, thought Tess. Even this person - whoever he was - saidMisterLyle.‘The hours and the pay, Lord Lincoln,’ Lyle replied, utterly deadpan. Tess wiped her own face clean. If Lyle wasn’t smiling there had to be a reason. She tried not to fidget.Lord Lincoln nodded in acknowledgement. ‘You have me correctly, sir. May I enquire how?’Lyle hesitated. Somehow ‘inspired guesswork’ didn’t sound as if it would appeal to Lincoln’s calculating mind. ‘A process of elimination? Your clothes are of the finest cut, there are inkstains on your right hand, a ring bearing the royal seal on your left hand, and your shoes, albeit well made, are worn down hard at the heel, though not the toe. Uh. . .you’re carrying a pair of reading glasses in your right-hand pocket and there are a series of slight abrasions on your jacket, suggesting that you frequently wear medals. Erm. . .anything else?. . .you are clearly highly decorated and honoured, yet involved in daily administration. You’rehereand so are we, therefore you are Lord Lincoln, personal aide to Her Majesty.’ He smiled, looking nervous. ‘Is that right, my lord?’ Tess realized she was gaping, and quickly closed her mouth.‘Perhaps. Although it equally may have been an inspired piece of guesswork.’Lyle ’s smile grew thin. ‘We’ll never know, my lord.’Silence. Then, ‘You are a man with a reputation, Mister Lyle. I have a proposition for you. In the Queen’s name. How would you feel about serving your country?’Lyle’s expression became a little frantic. ‘Well, actually, and please don’t take offence, I’ve got this rack of test tubes waiting back home which will be ruined in a matter of minutes. . .’Lord Lincoln cut him off with a look. ‘Then, Constable Lyle, I will be blunt. There has been a robbery, and an object very personal to Her Majesty has been taken. The circumstances are, to say the least, mysterious. The item which is our chief cause of concern was taken along with numerous other valuables from a theoretically impenetrable vault and is—’‘Not the crown jewels?’ asked Tess eagerly. ‘Not again?’‘No, madam. Not the crown jewels.’‘Not India?’‘What?’Lyle tried to hide his grin. Tess said primly, ‘I was askin’ if someone pinched India, sir.’‘Indeed no, India is very firmly locked in Her Majesty’s heart.’She looked up at Lyle. ‘Is that possible?’‘It ’s not healthy,’ he conceded.‘Constable,’ said Lincoln, sounding exasperated, ‘the artefact—’‘Is it the Fuyun Plate, sir?’ asked Lyle sharply.Tess held her breath. In a voice that reminded her of the men in a darkened alley with garrotting wires explaining that you hadn’t seen nothing, Lincoln said, ‘Whatever gives you that impression?’‘The file under your elbow, sir.’‘I see. How much more do you know?’‘Pass me the file and I’ll tell you.’Lincoln’s voice could have made salt water freeze. ‘The Fuyun Plate is of immense cultural and historical value to Her Majesty. It was given to Her Majesty as a gesture of goodwill by the Chinese government, being a native artefact of Tibet. Legend around it abounds. Its loss is a cultural tragedy. I require that it is found again, and the thieves brought to my attention.’‘Don’t you mean Her Majesty requires that it is found again, and the thieves brought to the law’s attention?’‘Quite.’Tess shifted uneasily. The two men were staring, trying to read each other. She wondered why Lyle didn’t just say yes, and then they could get out of there. But he didn’t even blink. Softly, Lord Lincoln said, ‘There is the matter of a salary.’‘Money is of no interest to me. In fact, if it ’s all the same, I’ve got a lot of chemicals any minute now burning through a table of which I’m immensely fond, so if you don’t mind. . .’ Lyle made to stand up.‘And membership of the Royal Institution.’Lyle didn’t move. He looked as if someone had just hit him. At length he said, ‘Lifetimemembership?’‘Naturally.’Silence. Then, ‘Really?’Lincoln sighed. ‘Very much so.’Lyle reached out for the file. Lincoln put it carefully into his hand and Lyle flicked through it without stopping to read, then said, ‘A pleasure to serve, sir. Might I ask - this impenetrable vault - where is it?’Lincoln’s smile could have scared rattlesnakes. ‘Where you might expect, Constable. In the Bank of England.’‘Ah.’Taking the case was probably, Lyle would later admit, his first mistake.
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CHAPTER 2ElwickThe file, Lyle grudgingly muttered as the carriage bounced its way through the grey, cobbled streets, was impressive. He flicked through the pages of notes on the Fuyun Plate, its history, its makers, how it had ended up in the hands of Her Majesty, in the Bank of England, and said finally, ‘Good grief.’‘What?’ asked Tess, resisting the temptation to chew her fingers nervously, a habit she ’d developed at an early age and never quite kicked. The carriage rattled through the high, narrow streets of the City towards the towering edifice of the Bank of England, stopping and starting among hordes of carts, and cabs carrying the rich and the richer to and from their wealth, while on the river ships rang their bells to summon the sailors, and the factories warmed up for the day, spewing out steam and black soot into the sky.‘Listen to this: “The Plate was believed by the natives of Tibet to have been forged in the making of the world by and for the ‘Tseiqin’, an ancient and powerful race, some call demons, some angels. On drinking holy water sanctified by the gods and mortal magic, the Tseiqin were said to acquire the powers of gods, and to this day are believed to roam the jungles and forests of the world, in search of their lost magic. The Plate has been valued at two hundred pounds.”’‘Two. . .’ she squeaked. ‘I’ve never even seen a sovereign!’‘Teresa,’ he said mildly, ‘with respect, you’re in an irregular occupation. You’ve got to try to understand the context. You break into the most secure bank in the world, into a vault said to be impenetrable by mortal man, merely to steal a stone plate valued at the kind of sum that would sustain no more than a single, small industrial family with no servant in moderate comfort for a year.’‘Perhaps I knew ’bout the whole cultural malarkey.’He gave her a look. She raised her eyebrows and said indignantly, ‘Well, it’spossible.’‘You want to make odds?’ He flicked through the file again. ‘Ah. This is more like it. Also stolen - three gold goblets from the Hindu Temple of Camdoon, valued collectively at one thousand pounds; a silver ornamental plate presented by the last King of France to the Duke of Buckingham, valued at seven hundred and fifty pounds; a series of ornate gold swans gifted to Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Peking by the Manchu Emperor, valued at one thousand three hundred and fifty pounds.Thesewould appeal.’Her mouth was hanging open. ‘That’s. . .that’s like. . .like. . .’‘Three thousand one hundred pounds.’‘That ’s. . .that ’s. . .’‘Enough money possibly to justify a break-in. The Fuyun Plate is an anomaly - an item of apparently no value.’‘Well, that ’s good, though, ain’t it?’‘Then why did Lord Lincoln askusto find it?’ Lyle looked worriedly out of the window at the dirty streets.Tess said in the silence, ‘Actually, sir, he askedyou. That’s probably a bad thing, right?’‘Thank you for reminding me.’‘Any time, sir. Are we goin’ to the Bank, now?’‘Yes. But first we ’ll pick up Tate.’ As Tess and Lyle rattled through the streets of London towards the Bank, the Honourable Thomas Edward Elwick stepped out of the family carriage into the grey, filtered daylight of the City. Dressed in a dark morning suit precisely tailored, complete with deep green waistcoat and black leather shoes, he felt ready to take whatever the world could throw at him. He had combed his thin, straight blond hair back from his face, stared into the mirror and wondered how much longer before he ’d have to start worrying about shaving, and hoped it was soon. They’d all said how well he was growing, what a fine young man he was, how proud the family would be. They said it a lot.Behind him his father got out of the carriage and stared up at the Bank with a grim expression. It towered over the street, all dirty white stone, decked with statues of strange ladies holding spears with slightly odd expressions on their faces, as if wondering exactly what they were doing and why. It was a huge raised slab of stone that dominated the road. The body of the bank, far too large to be meant for ordinary humans, was a mix of stone pillars, iron cages and giant black iron doors. It looked as though it could accommodate an angry mammoth, and in the maze of corridors and halls inside, it might well and no one would ever know.‘You see this, boy?’ demanded Lord Elwick sharply.‘Yes, Father?’‘It’s supposed to be the most secure vault on the planet, a symbol of Britain’s greatness. You know why we’ve been robbed?’‘No, Father?’‘Because the people of this day and age don’t give a damn about their fellow Christians!’‘Yes, Father.’And only a few hundred yards away, the tide turned by Blackfriars Bridge, and as it did it dragged something up from the depths of the slop-black Thames. It bumped against a bridge support and stayed, too heavy to be dragged further round, too buoyant to sink.It would take a bored, slightly depressive sempstress several minutes of staring out across the waters to identify the corpse for what it was. By then, of course, it would be far too late. Lyle had said that Tate needed his daily walk. Tate looked no more excited to clamber dutifully into the carriage than he would have been to stay at home. He sat on one of the seats with his nose between his front paws and looked, to Tess’s mind, far too disinterested to be real.Arriving at the Bank of England, they climbed the stone steps up to the concourse and walked through two giant green-black iron gates to a hall buzzing with confusion. Policemen in their peaked helmets, blue uniforms and capes were looking uncomfortable and hoping no one would ask them for opinions, investigators in long overcoats were trying to radiate authority and the Bank’s clerks were in various stages of panic-induced breakdown.One man was a picture of calm. He stood in front of a group of clerks, brandishing a pair of callipers, a ruler and a little notebook. To one cowering woman he said, ‘Are you aware that you have the skull of an adulteress?’Lyle saw him and scowled. Before Tess could protest he grabbed her arm and dragged her behind a large white marble statue of some Greek warrior. Tess peered out between its legs across the room. The man, a precise gentleman, had an unhealthily sweaty white face, topped with greasy thinning black hair running to a pink bald spot. When he spoke, every syllable was pronounced sharply through his nose, as if he felt the listener was too slow to understand his words in any other way.‘Who is it?’ she hissed.‘Inspector Vellum,’ Lyle answered bleakly. ‘Satan’s answer to scientific advance.’‘What ’s he doin’?’‘Measuring people’s skulls.’‘Why?’‘Because he believes in phrenology.’‘What’s that?’He looked at her crookedly. ‘For a thief, you don’t know much about the police, do you?’‘And that ’s surprisin’?’He sighed. ‘Phrenology is where the size and shape of your skull determines whether you dunnit or not.’‘Oh.’Her reaction didn’t seem nearly as outraged as Lyle felt it should be. He said, in a slightly strained voice, ‘Teresa, the size of your skull isnotproof of murderous tendencies.’ He thought about this statement, and then added, almost to himself, ‘Especially not if it’s been sat on.’An indignant voice said, ‘Will you move on, please?’The speaker was a flustered man with a huge gold fob watch suspended from his waistcoat, a scarlet face, a beetroot nose and thin grey hair. He looked like someone with an itch in the small of his back that he couldn’t scratch, and had a constant pained twitching in his eyes. Waving a sheet of paper at them, he exclaimed, ‘Unless you have business here, please move on!’Lyle and Tess exchanged looks. Tate, as if sensing that here was someone who developed allergies, snuffled busily at his feet. The man paled. ‘It’s a dog!’‘Well, actually, if you kinda look at him out of the corner of your eye. . .’ began Tess.‘Teresa,’ said Lyle in a low, warning voice. He turned to the clerk and put on his best smile, which wasn’t very good. Horatio Lyle was not a very sociable person, and lacked practice. ‘Sir, I am Special Constable Horatio Lyle and this lady is. . .’‘Her Ladyship Teresa of. . .’ began Tess brightly.‘She ’s my assistant. And the canine in question is my loyal bloodhound. . .’ he hesitated, ‘. . .“Smells McNasty”, famed throughout the known world for his ability to track a thief through flood, storm and fire, responsible for the capture of Daniel “Devil” Derbish, notorious murderer of the axe school of psychopathy.’The clerk just stared. Tate rolled on to his back, legs in the air, tongue lolling slightly in expectation. Not knowing what she did, Tess bent down and scratched his stomach. Lyle’s smile stretched just a little bit further, wrinkling his eyes from the strain. ‘We ’re on special commission from the Palace. Might we inspect the vault, please?’They were led down a flight of stairs into a corridor which grew ever narrower as it wound through the building. Within a few turns Tess had lost all sense of direction and her attempts to count steps from place to place, doors and turns, had failed. The first door to the vault was a square iron thing, black and solidly constructed, which the clerk unlocked with a fat iron key. Lyle glanced at Tess, who shrugged and said, ‘Might be able to do something with it.’Beyond this door there were no lights except for a few orange lanterns burning in a cold, dead air, at intermittent points along the corridor. A door led off halfway down, to a small room divided in two by a large iron cage. On one side crates were piled up wall-to-wall, and on the other a single stall and rickety wooden table sat, a guard standing just behind it looking like a man trying to impress. They passed to a large, circular room, against which a half dozen large, circular doors were butted, five of them locked tight. The sixth, directly at the end of the corridor, stood slightly open, and above it a wooden placard declared that this was ‘V18E’. Outside it a constable stood, looking uneasy. Lyle put his head on one side and looked very long and hard at the door. On the front was a large central wheel, with two keyholes on either side of it. Inside, three heavy round bolts ran across the door, hinged together on the same iron arms, which, when the wheel turned, locked them into grooves in the wall.Lyle said briskly, ‘Who has the keys?’‘There are only three copies. . .’‘Who has them?’‘I have one, the manager has another and the duty manager on shift has the third for the primary lock. . .’‘Can you account for your movements last night?’The clerk flushed indignantly. ‘Absolutely.’‘And the manager?’‘Definitely.’‘What about the secondary lock? I assume you need both keys to open the door.’‘Well,quite.’‘Who has both keys?’‘The duty manager on shift - the guard, if you like, although personally I feel it is such an imprecise definition of the many complexities of—’‘Who was the guard last night?’‘Bray.’‘I’d like to talk to him.’‘Constable Lyle,’ he said indignantly, ‘if you are in doubt as to the loyalty of my—’‘I’m not doubting it, sir, I’m just a little. . .curious. How was the crime discovered?’The clerk, feathers ruffled, muttered, ‘V18E is shared by the Elwick family, representatives of Her Majesty’s Government, and the Molyneux family, both of upright repute and. . .’‘Yes, but how was the crime discovered?’‘Lord Molyneux arrived this morning to retrieve an item of personal value from the vault. On examining the door, we discovered that it was unlocked and that several items of immense value were missing.’‘Including the Fuyun Plate.’‘Uh. . .’Lyle raised his eyebrows. ‘The Fuyun Plate? Stone bowl, cultural significance?’‘Quite possibly, the item was never of principal concern in this matter.’‘Really? Why not?’‘Sheerfinancialconsiderations, Constable Lyle,’ the clerk said, managing to imply that such matters were probably above the understanding of the uninitiated. ‘The Plate is not valued to nearly such an extent as many items which were. . .’‘You never received any special instructions regarding it?’‘Never.’‘Who put it in the vault? Is it Elwick or Molyneux property?’‘I believe the object was placed on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government by Lord Elwick.’
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‘I would like to speak to Lord Elwick.’‘I’m not sure if. . .’At the clerk’s feet, Tate sneezed violently. Tess hid her smile. Lyle’s expression could have frozen a small volcano. Seeing it, the clerk tried to hide in his own shoulders. ‘I’ll see if his lordship is available.’He scurried away.Lyle and Tess stood looking thoughtfully at the door. Finally Lyle said, ‘Teresa, I’m perplexed.’‘Oh dear, Mister Lyle. Sit down and see if it goes away.’‘Teresa. . .’ He shook his head slightly. ‘No. Maybe not.’‘What?’‘Have you ever read a book called. . .’She scowled, cutting him off before he could finish. ‘Abook?’Silence. Lyle had frozen, a man whose world has just been shaken. ‘Teresa?’ he murmured dully after a long, long while. ‘Can you even. . .?’‘What?’Silence. He half-turned away. ‘It doesn’t matter.’She opened her mouth to answer rudely, but Tate, having grown bored with this conversation, had pushed his way through the small, half-open space between door and wall and padded into the darkness of the vault. A sudden barking erupted from inside it and Lyle rolled his eyes. ‘Nag, nag, nag,’ he muttered. He pulled the heavy door back a little further and stepped into the gloom, unhitching a lantern from the wall. The dull orange light fell in a little pool around his feet, and the shadows peeled back to reveal, gleaming very faintly, gold.Tess’s eyes widened, her mouth dropped. ‘There ’s. . .’‘Yes.’‘I mean, no one could possibly. . .’‘They could.’‘But it ain’tfair! We could just. . .’‘No.’‘But it ’s so shiny.’‘Yes.’‘But no one would ever guess.’‘Teresa,’ he said reproachfully, ‘we are here on a matter of law.’She pulled herself together. ‘Yes, Mister Lyle.’They picked their way along shelves lined with countless treasures, the majority of them doubtless stolen in the first place and locked away for posterity. The light bent and split inside jewels, shimmered off bronze, flashed off gold, slithered off silver, to all of which Lyle seemed oblivious. At the end of the shelves stood delicately painted giant vases from China or heavily adorned ones from India, and along the far wall stood huge statues of people with too many arms to be comfortably thought on or too few clothes to be practically viable in the English climate. Lyle and Tess wove their way back and forth through these shelves until Lyle muttered, ‘It’s a little vulgar, really.’ Tess said nothing, and stared.They found Tate barking indignantly at what looked to Tess like a large stone box. He gave them a look that said, ‘What took so long?’ Lyle raised the lamplight a little higher to let it fall on the old yellow stonework, and Tess saw symbols carved all around it, strange eyes and birds and people who looked as if they didn’t know which way they were going. On the top the box curved to form a crude face and a pair of crossed arms, the blue, red, gold and brown paint chipped and peeled by ages. She whispered, feeling that it would be wrong to talk loudly in front of something this strange, ‘What is it?’‘A sarcophagus,’ replied Lyle.She nodded sagely. ‘Oh.’He looked sideways at her and added, ‘From Egypt.’‘Ah.’‘It’s a box where people a very long time ago put other dead people.’Her face split into an expression of delighted disgust. ‘That ’s horrid!’He brightened at seeing something nearing enthusiasm. ‘What they did was remove all the internal organs and put them in canopic jars for preservation, including the brain which was removed through the. . .’Her face wrinkled up, but her eyes glowed. ‘Why did they do that?’Delight lit up Lyle ’s eyes, as an opportunity to enlighten the ignorant on a favourite topic presented itself. ‘Well, they believed in the afterlife, and thought that if you weren’t properly prepared you couldn’t get into paradise. At the gates of heaven, Anubis would weigh your heart against a feather and. . .’ He stopped, his expression frozen. He put his head on one side and stared at the sarcophagus. He said quietly, ‘Oh.’She hopped in irritation as Lyle’s voice trailed off. ‘What is it,what is it?’‘Uh. . .would you hold this?’ He handed her the lantern. She took it uncertainly and tried to hold it up to her full, unimpressive height as Lyle squatted down by the side of the sarcophagus and rummaged in his pockets. From the depths of his large grey coat he pulled out a roll of blue cloth, opening it carefully on the floor in front of him. Strange tools, the use of which Tess could-n’t even begin to guess at, rested in little sewn compartments inside the cloth. Lyle twiddled his fingers expectantly in the air and, like a falcon diving for its prey, picked out a long, thin blade. Turning it so it was parallel with the slit between the top of the sarcophagus and the main body, he ran it very carefully through the gap. The tip of the blade came out stained with a very thin, bright red dust. Lyle rubbed it between his fingers and started to grin.Tess squeaked, trying to hide her excitement, ‘Mister Lyle, what is it?’‘Wood rot.’ He straightened up, prodding the sarcophagus with his toe. ‘This bit’s stone.’ Then, to Tess’s astonishment and dismay, he slammed the palm of his hand down on the top of the sarcophagus. It boomed emptily. ‘This is light, hollow wood.’He tried to get his fingers under the lid and pull it up. Something inside gently clicked. Tess brightened. ‘It ’s locked on the inside, ain’t it?’‘Yes.’‘Well. . .’ She chewed her lip. ‘There ain’t no hinges, so it ’s probably got two locks on either side what click in place when the lid comes down - the release would be on the inside. . .uh. . .have you got acid?’He stared at her. ‘You. . .wantmeto giveyouacid?’‘What? You ain’t never burnt your way through a difficult lock?’‘Erm. . .’ He patted his pockets with a dazed expression, as if only just beginning to remember who he kept company with, and only just beginning to wonder why. Things clinked inside them. Then he unbuttoned his coat and patted two inside pockets. He sighed. ‘Nothing that I could easily administer.’‘You got another knife?’He blinked, as if seeing her for the first time. ‘You want me to trustyouwith a sharp object?’‘Yes.’ She made it sound as though he was asking a stupid question.Lyle hesitated. Then he raised his hands in defeat. ‘All right,’ he sighed. ‘I’m probably aiding and abetting as it is.’ He handed her his blade and, after searching through his pockets, pulled out another, wrapped in greasy leather and slightly chipped. Wordlessly Tess walked round to the other side of the sarcophagus and ran her blade between lid and body. Lyle did the same on his side and, glancing at each other for confirmation, they slowly started sliding their blades along the sides until, almost together and directly opposite, they hit something solid inside the lid which prevented their passing. Tess grinned. Lyle rummaged in his bag until he found a slim hook.Tess said, ‘Why do you carry that kinda thing, Mister Lyle?’‘Oh, you never know when you might need a bent bit of metal or a piece of string or a pair of scissors or a spring or a spare bottle of ammonia nitrate,’ he replied easily.‘Mister Lyle?’‘Yes?’‘Do you go out ever?’‘It’s been known.’‘With Miss Chaste?’ she asked, grinning slyly.‘Miss Chaste is a vicar’s daughter,’ he said with a scowl. ‘What more can I say?’‘I could think of. . .’‘No! If you must know, I have a fondness for the fireplace and early nights.’ Glowering across the top of the sarcophagus, Lyle slid the hook between the lid and body, and carefully bent it side to side, until something clicked. The lid jerked slightly and he hastily turned the knife, pushing the lid up half an inch, when it would go no further. Wordlessly he passed the hook over to Tess, who slid it under the lid and wiggled it until, on her side of the sarcophagus, a like mechanism gave a similar click. The lid jerked slightly and Lyle slid his fingers under, pulling it up lightly and holding it open. The two of them looked down into the dark rectangle of the sarcophagus. Tess said thoughtfully, ‘Shouldn’t there be somethin’ there?’Lyle looked surprisingly cheerful, carefully putting down the wooden lid and brushing his hands clean, a severe expression mingling with an excited look in the eyes. ‘There should be a mummy.’‘A. . .’‘Dead person in bandages.’‘Oh.’ She looked utterly disinterested.Lyle sighed, disappointed that she wasn’t sharing his enthusiasm, and said almost reproachfully, ‘I think I know how it was done.’‘Oh. So does that mean we can stop workin’ now and have lunch? I mean, not that I ain’t curious an’ all, but. . .lunch. . .’ Tess’s eyes bulged in what, on any other species from injured puppy to pining kitten, would have been a desperate cry for emotional support, and on her gave her young face a slightly gerbil-like quality.Lyle glowered and rolled up his bundle of tools, slipping them back into a pocket. He strode towards the door with the confidence of someone who knows what he expects to find and isn’t prepared to tolerate anything else. Tess followed dutifully. Tate yawned. At the door, Lyle paused to examine the hinged bolts that ran across it and towards the wall. The hinge ran, by a complicated series of bolts and turns, into an arm that extended into the iron door itself, and moved up and down in a carefully cut groove. Lyle peered inside, but with just the low lamplight, could see nothing but darkness, smelling of oil. He sighed again and dug in his pocket, pulling out a small globe of tinted glass that fitted easily in the palm of his hand. He said, businesslike, ‘Pass the lantern, please.’Tess handed him the lantern and watched in fascination as he held the globe carefully over the flame until the bottom started to blacken, and carefully slid a tiny glass shutter off the top of the globe, so that the top was open to the air. Almost immediately, it blossomed into burning white light, too bright to look at directly, and only slightly filtered by the tinted glass. Tess jumped away hastily. ‘What the holy hell is that!’‘Language.’‘Sorry, sir. Whatisit?’‘Magnesium.’‘Oh, you should’ve said it weremagnesium, sir, that makes everything clearer. I mean, it were all we ever talked ’bout down at Shoreditch, sir, how they ain’t makin’ magnesium the way they used’a do, how it ain’t never blowin’ up and fizzin’ and goin’ all scary and bright without warnin’ like we always said it should. If you’d said it weremagnesium, sir, I would never have lost five years of my life just then, sir.’He shot her a sideways look, and said nothing.Holding the globe carefully between thumb and forefinger, he peered into the groove once more, the white light falling on internal gears and bolts that lined the inside of the door in small armies. He said brightly, ‘Ah. There it is. Teresa?’ She took the lantern back and, with some trepidation, the burning globe, holding it at arm’s length while inside it the metal blazed white, occasionally sparking in the process and leaving a bright after-burn ingrained on her eyeballs. With a strained expression Lyle slid his knife into the small groove under the protruding metal arm and twiddled it. There was a click. Something inside the door wentthunkin a loud, decisive manner. Lyle drew back his hand quickly as the arm slowly descended, sending the bolts shooting across the door. Tess jumped. Lyle grinned, and, reaching into the groove, turned the knife the opposite way. The arm lifted and the hinges retracted to the open position again. Looking smug, he wrapped the knife up. ‘I think I’m getting interested in this. The old brain has started to work once more. If we’re lucky, it’ll be over in time for Brahms at St Martin’s.’In Tess’s hand, the little sphere of burning light flickered and died. Lyle sighed and plucked it from her nerveless fingers, wrinkled his nose at the little wisp of smoke coming off it, wrapped it in a handkerchief and dropped it back into his pocket.‘Sir?’‘Yes?’‘What the. . .uh. . .I mean, what ’s happenin’?’‘I know how the thief got in. Actually, I know how the thief gotouthaving got in, which is by far the trickier question. I’m just a little concerned that he came so well prepared. Come on, Teresa, let’s go and pester the aristocracy.’She brightened at this prospect. ‘I’ve never pestered a bigwig, sir.’‘It’s a wonderful pastime.’They walked side by side up along the corridor, past the guard ’s room to the iron door just beyond. Tess said, ‘How’d he get past this?’‘One of two methods. No - one of tworationalmethods.’‘Yes?’‘Either he picked the lock, or the door was already unlocked.’She frowned. ‘The last one seems easiest.’‘Youareeconomical, aren’t you?’‘It’s my best quality, sir.’ She paused, then said, ‘So. . .how’d he do it?’‘I’m afraid of telling you.’‘Why?’‘Because you’re already far too good at what you do without me giving you ideas.’Tess beamed proudly, and nudged him, trying to look sly. ‘Go on, sir. You want me to help you with security, right?’They walked on through long dim corridors, until Lyle suddenly reached out and grabbed Tess by the arm. ‘Shush.’ At his feet Tate started growling.
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From the end of the corridor, they heard a voice, the same precise voice that Tess had been introduced to earlier. Lyle paled. ‘Damn,’ he muttered, eyebrows drawing together. The voice grew louder. Then the owner appeared round a corner, saw Lyle and stopped dead. Lyle’s face had contorted into something resembling a dentist’s smile, all teeth and pain.‘Special Constable Lyle,’ said the man at the end of the corridor in a low, clipped voice. Tate ’s eyes narrowed, and his nose wrinkled in an expression of doggy dislike.‘Inspector Vellum.’ Lyle’s voice could have announced a funeral.‘I wasn’t aware that you were involved in this investigation.’‘Well, you know, I don’t like to make a fuss. . .’‘Do I know that?’‘I hope so.’‘I fear you will find me ignorant. I see you still have that pet of yours.’ Tate growled. Lyle very gently nudged him towards Tess with an ankle. Tess squatted down and scratched behind Tate’s huge ears.‘And who is this individual you’re with?’‘Uh, Teresa, this is. . .’Tess bounced forward hastily, held out her hand, and declared, ‘I am Lady Teresa of Prussia. In fact, of RussiaandSpain.’ She saw his eyebrows go up and wondered if she’d pushed a little bit too far. ‘Only by marriage.’‘Indeed.’‘Yes. Indeed.’‘And what, pray, does your ladyship feel she can bring to this undertaking?’She hesitated. ‘Uh. . .’Lyle’s hands fell very firmly on her shoulders and through gritted teeth he said, ‘Inspector Vellum, I trust your literary exploits are successful?’‘Indeed, yes. I will reserve you a copy of my latest undertaking. Four shillings only, I believe.’‘What journal is it published in?’‘No journal,ConstableLyle. Published by the house of Hooker and Son.’‘Mr Hooker is your publisher?’‘That is correct.’‘Isn’t he your wife’s brother?’Tess could see a slow darkness spreading behind Vellum’s bland expression, hear an edge entering his nasal voice. ‘Constable Lyle, I was always fascinated by the frontal lobe development of your skull, symbolic, I believe, of your whole engaging persona.’Lyle felt his forehead. ‘I can’t feel any kind of frontal development. ’‘Quite.’He glared. ‘Inspector Vellum,’ he said, in a voice etched with steel, ‘perhaps you would like to oversee my commission. It comes from a certain Lord Lincoln, at the Palace. Perhaps, having seen my commission, you could be so kind as to find the security officer called Bray who was supposed to be on duty last night, as well as all documents appertaining to a certain sarcophagus in the vault.’Vellum started to turn beetroot. ‘I think,’ he growled, ‘you may find thatIam the senior officer here and I say that. . .’‘Inspector Vellum, I know how the crime was committed.’‘Then I trust you can inform us.’‘Yes.’‘Then pray do.’Lyle put on a pensive expression. ‘No, thank you. I’d like to see Bray.’CHAPTER 3BodyBray was nowhere to be found. A messenger sent to his residence discovered that it didn’t exist. Confident people began to grow sheepish. Vellum became increasingly noisy, snapping at his constables like a sergeant major determined to keep order. Lyle just grew quieter and quieter, until Tess began to worry.‘Mister Lyle?’‘Um?’‘You still know how it was done?’‘Yes. Teresa, do you think you could have picked that lock down there, between the vault and the exit?’She screwed up her face. ‘Is this some kinda test?’‘All I need is an honest answer.’‘Uh. . . well . . .’‘That’s a no, isn’t it?’‘No! I didn’t say that!’‘I couldn’t pick that lock,’ Lyle muttered, more to himself than to her, half-turning away and looking thoughtfully at the busy hall. ‘Which means there’s only one alternative.’‘Genius?’‘The door was already unlocked.’‘See! Eco. . .econ. . .’‘Economical.’‘. . .is good!’ She shifted nervously. ‘Uh. . .and the open door.’‘Must have been unlocked by whoever was on duty.’She grinned. ‘Bray, right?’‘Right.’ Bray wasn’t found. From Shadwell to Shoreditch the bobbies searched, knocking on doors and scrambling through markets, from Bethnal Green to Bloomsbury, in the darkest rookeries and under the bridges of the wide open marshlands that flanked the Lee Valley they searched.And Bray still wasn’t found. ‘So. . .if we know how it was done. . .’‘Yes?’‘Who done it?’‘I’m hoping Bray will know that.’‘Oh . . .’‘What?’ hissed Lyle finally.‘Nothing!’‘You’rethinking. It ’s very distracting.’‘I’m not thinking!’ Silence. ‘But. . .’‘What?’‘. . .why they dunnit?’Lyle seemed taken aback. ‘Well. . .money.’‘And the Plate thing?’‘Cultural curiosity?’Tess looked reproachful. Lyle put on a determined face and said, ‘Right.That’s it. We are going to. . .’‘Yes?’‘We are goingto . . .’‘Yes?’‘Ask someone for assistance.’ ‘Excuse me?’The man Lyle addressed was called Mr Sland, and despite an unfortunate taste in sideburns, whiskers and monocles, he wasn’t a particularly harmful individual, and couldn’t really cope with all the excitement taking place that day at his usually sedentary job in the Bank. ‘Mmm. . .yes?’‘Special Constable Lyle,’ said Lyle in a rush, hoping that the ‘special’ would compensate for the ‘constable’ part of his address, and give him an authority which his general demeanour utterly failed to project. ‘I’d like to see your records.’‘My records?’‘Of valuable items placed in and removed from the vault within the last week.’‘That is. . .mmm. . .special information.’Lyle faltered. ‘Erm, well. . .’‘MisterLyle!’ hissed Tess.Lyle hesitated, then reached a decision and blurted, ‘I see.Obstruction, is it? Do you know that your skull is precisely the same shape and size as Napoleon’s? I know that the Bailey doesn’t take kindly to Napos, as they’re known. Wouldn’t you agree, Te. . .Special Officer. . .Teresa?’‘Oh yes,’ she chimed, nodding enthusiastically.Mr Sland paled beneath his sideburns. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ They were given a small office of their own. The heavily studded doors and high, small windows made it feel cold and grey, and Tess itched to get out of it. The ledgers were put down on a large, polished table and Lyle flicked through the heavy pages with a frown drawing his eyebrows into one.‘So?’‘Yes, Teresa?’‘What are we lookin’ for?’‘Whoever deposited the sarcophagus must have been in on the scheme, because they would have known there was a thief handily hiding inside it. Since the vault is jointly used by the Elwick and Molyneux families, only one or the other of them could have issued the correct authority for an item to be deposited.’ He looked up at a sudden thought. ‘Perhaps they hate each other passionately and one hired a thief to get in and steal the other’s goods to annoy him. . .’ He hesitated. ‘No. No, that doesn’t work.’‘At least you tried, Mister Lyle.’He glared. ‘Just keep looking for that sarcophagus.’‘Erm. . .’‘What?’‘This book. . .it ’s English, right?’He stared down at the ledger, then slowly back up at her, realizing. ‘Yes.’‘Oh. All right, then.’ She studied the pages diligently. As she did so, she turned them from right to left. Lyle hesitated, and then said in a soft voice, ‘Teresa?’She looked up quickly, already starting to flush. ‘Yes?’‘Tate is probably lonely. Why don’t you see if he needs attention? ’‘Is that an order, sir?’‘Uh. . .yes. Yes, it definitely is.’ He took a deep breath. ‘That ’s right. It’s an order. Well done.’She bounded away, and didn’t look back. Time passes. In the streets of London, the early-morning cress-sellers and hawkers have sold the mass of their wares and are retreating to the inns to spend the day’s profits in relative luxury. Out at Deptford, the sailors are watching for the tide to change, in Westminster the two sides of the House are trying to outdo each other’s witticisms, down in the opium dens of St Giles smoky oblivion is crawling under the doors, and at Blackfriars something is about to be discovered. On the rackety wooden piers that hang precariously over the water’s edge by the crowded Blackfriars Bridge, Rosanna Doyle, sempstress, a basically well-meaning soul who hasn’t done anything to deserve the shock she is about to get, looks down at the muddy waters of the Thames where they lap against the thick pillars of the bridge, choked with traffic rattling across the old stones over the old river, and sees something floating in it, bulbous with trapped air beneath muddy cloth. At first she thinks it is a sack that has fallen off a barge shipping freight up from the deeper docks to the shallow western wharves. Only after she sees the contorted dead fingers tangled in the body’s own drifting hair does she start to scream. ‘Here it is.’‘Where?’‘The sarcophagus was deposited by “Mr C.R. Wells, special aide to Lord Elwick”, yesterday afternoon. He came with a letter of reference, signed by Lord Elwick, written on paper engraved with Elwick’s monogram, and wearing, as ultimate proof, a ring bearing the Elwick family crest. He was then taken down to the vault by Mr Bray. The sarcophagus contained the thief and was locked in, then the plate was stolen and the vault door unlocked from the inside, and the thief escaped with the insider of the Bank, Bray.’‘That’s not very interestin’,’ said Tess, sounding disappointed.‘Tess, it’s a bank robbery. Making it interesting probably wasn’t a priority. But why the plate? Why steal the Fuyun Plate, and then why should Lord Lincoln want it back so urgently? It’s just a bit of stone.’‘Cultural sig. . .signif. . .significa. . .’ Tess gave up. ‘Perhaps the thief weren’t seein’ straight after all that time hidin’ in the sar. . .sarcoph. . .the wooden box.’‘Mr C.R. Wells,’ muttered Lyle, more to himself than her. ‘Perhaps we ought to talk to Lord Elwick. Yes, I think-’And the door opened.‘You!’The voice had an imperious tone suggesting a lot of good breeding designed to obliterate any actual politeness that might have been inherent. Tess and Lyle turned. Tate lay down, paws over his nose.Lord Elwick swept into the room, Inspector Vellum looking smug at his side, and in the rear, Thomas Edward Elwick, trying to seem as if he knew what he was doing, though his glare fell far short of his father’s. Tess and Lyle stared at them with mute incomprehension, which darkened Elwick’s expression even further: he was used to being recognized and, more important still, acknowledged. It didn’t matter where he was: Lord Elwick would expect to be important in the smallest, most rural island community, and you’d better know it.‘Are you Horatio Lyle?’ he barked.‘Erm. . .yes.’‘The Inspector informs me you are here on authority from the Palace.’Lyle shot a look at Vellum, who put on the determined expression of every jobsworth just doing his duty as he thought fit, and relishing it. ‘That ’s basically true.’‘I resent Lord Lincoln thinking he can intrude into my affairs! Assure him that the Platewillbe recovered and that the situation is fully under control. You and your. . .’ he seemed to see Tate and Tess for the first time, ‘. . . companionsmay leave.’Lyle took a deep breath as Elwick’s ringing tones died away. ‘No, sir.’Elwick started to turn red. Behind him, Thomas cowered, thinking,Not the right thing to say . . .‘Did youspeak, sir?’ The words bounced around the room like bullets.
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‘Yes, sir. I’m not going. I wish to know the significance of the Plate. Why is it that Lincoln thinks only of the Plate? And why is it the first, as well as least valuable, object you mention on coming in here?’Elwick hesitated, starting to feel confusion seep in. ‘I do not need to answer your questions!’‘You don’t, sir, but please do, because I’ve got a rack of test tubes that are probably spoilt by now, but the sooner I solve this the sooner I can clear up and prevent the nitrates from. . .’‘Are you deaf, man? I gave you permission to leave! Tell Lincoln that the situation is being dealt with.’‘Is it? Who’s C.R. Wells?’‘What? I’ve never heard anything more absurd in—’‘You don’t know Mr Wells?’‘Absolutely not!’There was a faint shift in the room, a change in the air. Tess realized she was staring at Lyle, who took a deep breath and leant back on the table, rubbing the bridge of his nose. No one spoke, not even Vellum.‘Sir,’ said Lyle finally, in a weary voice, ‘Mr C.R. Wells was the individual who deposited a sarcophagus in your family vault, using a letter with your signature on it as proof of his origins. That sarcophagus contained the thief who stole the Plate, opened the vault door from inside by triggering the bolt mechanism within the door, and then disappeared with your property.’‘A pleasant idea,’ said Vellum smoothly, stepping forward, ‘but quite implausible. How would he get past the other vault doors? They are locked onbothsides.’‘Have you found Bray yet? The missing guard?’Silence. Elwick’s eyes were burning. ‘Mister Lyle, did you say?’‘That ’s right.’‘Son of Harry Lyle and a lady of. . .’ his smile was tight, ‘dubious parentage?’‘Dubious? Clearly not dubious enough to stop them fulfilling their necessary biological function.’‘A police constable, are you?’‘Yes, sir.’And then, to Tess’s horror, Lord Elwick laughed. It was a cruel laugh that denoted some joke only he could see. ‘Apoliceman?’ he sneered. Tess looked, appalled, from Elwick’s twisted face to Lyle’s utterly impassive one, then on to the boy standing behind him. His eyes were fixed on Lord Elwick’s face, and his mouth hung slightly open, as if unable to comprehend what he was seeing and hearing, utterly unaware of his own physicality in the horror of the moment. Elwick blurted between malicious peals of merriment, ‘I see now that the Bible was correct - the mightyarefallen.’ He took off his top hat in a sweep. Spinning on his heel he called, not even looking back as he did so, ‘Good day,MisterLyle.’Young Thomas Elwick turned to follow his father, and saw the girl looking at him with her head on one side. He hesitated. He heard his father’s laughter. He glanced back at Lyle. The man was standing with his hands in the pockets of his long coat, chewing one side of his lip. Thomas stopped. His father kept walking, bellowing at anyone who’d listen, Vellum sweeping along in his shadow, ‘I demand to speak with a Superintendent. . .’And Thomas turned, and faced Tess and Lyle. ‘Excuse me?’CHAPTER 4TateLyle was never sure whether he chose Tate, or Tate chose him. He hadn’t meant to have a pet, reasoning that an animal was a hazard in any occupation where chemicals were involved. He didn’t hunt, and regarded most members of Tate ’s species as an accessory to shotguns, tweed and inbreeding of the most genetically ill-advised kind. When he had opened the door, therefore, one cold winter’s night, and found a puppy with a huge nose and a bored expression slumbering on his doorstep, his instinctive reaction had been to find it some warm fireplace where people who believed in hunting and string quartets and dog food could look after it.The first dog expert he’d questioned had informed him flatly that he couldn’t begin to guess what Tate ’s parentage had been, but didn’t think it could have been healthy. And as soon as Tate had woken up and looked at him, Lyle had had the overwhelming feeling of being regarded by an intelligence that could solve eleven-figure natural logarithms in its head and still have room for a biscuit afterwards. So he’d taken Tate in. There didn’t seem any real choice.Now Tate sat to complete inattention by Lyle on the steps of the Bank while, below the huge white walls blackened with dirt, the carriages rattled by, and Lyle said, ‘Your name is Thomas?’‘Yes, sir.’‘Tell me about your family, Thomas.’‘We. . .own things, sir.’‘What kind of things?’‘Houses, parks, horses, dogs and counties mostly, sir.’‘What about the Fuyun Plate?’‘I’m unfamiliar with the object, sir.’‘It’s in the Elwick household’s possession in the name of the royal family. It was put into the vault under the Elwick name, and then stolen.’‘Yes, sir?’‘How about a sarcophagus? Does your family own a sarcophagus? ’‘No, sir.’‘You seem very sure of that.’‘My mother refuses to have truck with anything that might once have been organic, sir.’‘No sarcophagus?’‘Absolutely not.’‘That’s interesting. And you’ve never heard of C.R. Wells?’‘No, sir. But I’ve heard of Harry Lyle, sir, I mean of Mr Lyle, and I read all the papers and I think that. . .’‘Tell me about your family, Thomas. I want to knoweverything.’As they talked, Tate looked at other things. The smells that dominated this part of town were grease from the axles of the carriages, manure and sweat from the horses, and the river. Only a few years ago, Lyle wouldn’t have been able to take Tate anywhere near the river because of the overwhelming stench that rose from the stagnant, scummy waters, but now, somewhere behind the waste and oil and dirt and slime, there was just a hint of salt. Tate could smell the coal burning in Liverpool Street just to the north; and at Blackfriars to the south the leather drying in the tanners’ shops, the steam in the weavers’ factory, the tar on the rigging of the ships, and through it all, something else. Tate sat up, and instantly Lyle ’s eyes flickered to him. Tate sniffed the air, trying to place that strange, alien smell. Then he started to bark. He stood up and trotted away. Lyle stood up too, cutting Thomas off in mid-flow about his sister’s arranged marriage to the second Count of Ihnaticz and how good the trumpet players were in that part of the world, and muttered, ‘Hello.’The three of them watched as Tate trotted over to a segment of wall below the towering edifice of the Bank, stood next to it and irrefutably claimed a small part of London as Kingdom Tate. Thomas’s face involuntarily twisted into an expression of disgust. Tess looked bored. Lyle just stared. ‘That isinteresting.’‘Ain’t you never seen it before?’ asked Tess in an incredulous voice.‘Yes, but you wouldn’t expect to see it here.’ He started to walk along the pavement towards the wall, while the traffic rattled by and overhead the grey sky threatened rain. Thomas realized that Tess was looking at him with exasperation, and he straightened up and tried to force a polite smile on to his face, as he had been taught to do with all ladies, no matter what their social origin.As the first drops of drizzle started to fall, Lyle walked straight past Tate and knelt down carefully on the edge of the pavement. He dug into a pocket and pulled out a long pair of tweezers and a rough paper bag. Reaching down, he completely ignored the stares of passers-by, and picked up the stone lying alone and discarded. It was wrinkled, old and dirtied, with scraps of some kind of fruit, all strands of damp brownness, still clinging to it. He turned it over and over thoughtfully. ‘Hello.’‘Mister Lyle, are you feelin’ well?’ asked Tess, starting to feel exposed as people stared.‘Teresa, doesn’t it occur to you that in this part of town it’s extremely uncommon to discover a fruit of this variety?’She thought about the question, put on a sage expression and nodded fervently. ‘Yes.’There was a long silence. ‘Teresa. . .’ began Lyle.‘Yes, Mister Lyle?’‘Teresa, remind me why I employ you.’‘I gotcharm, Mister Lyle.’Silence. ‘Good grief,’ muttered Lyle finally. ‘I’m examining fruit remnants in central London with a thief and - no offence, lad - a bigwig, having just been to the Bank of England and the Palace in short succession, if not that order, on the one day of the week when I really felt ready to tackle copper anodes and a nitrate solution.’ He thought about this. ‘How did that happen?’The arrival of an answer was forestalled by the arrival of a policeman, running up from Blackfriars Bridge. In a white-marbled mansion on the edge of town, surrounded by red-leaved trees in green-grassed grounds, a man with white gloves over long hands and a voice like black leather says, ‘The situation is being dealt with.’‘Where, then, is the Fuyun Plate?’ The speaker is a woman, and when she breathes, the air shimmers with delight at its motion in her vicinity.‘We have nearly located the associate - Bray. Mr Dew has been very effective.’‘I am informed that Lord Lincoln,’ a name spat in the same voice that might describe a particularly long, slimy, orange-grey slug, ‘has engaged the services of a detective to locate the Fuyun Plate.’‘Ahumandetective?’ The voice like black leather has an inherent sneer, ugly and cruel.‘Horatio Lyle.’Silence. Then, ‘It doesn’t matter.’‘Son of Harry Lyle. The son is very like the father, they say, but more so. He breathes the iron, it’s in hisblood, his heart. He was born out of hot coals and dirty smoke. Do you believe Mr Dew can be so effective against such an. . . abomination?’‘My lady, the matterisin hand.’‘My lord, please see that it is.’Thomas Edward Elwick was confused. He had been confused enough when informed that the strange man with the stranger girl as his assistant was the son of Harry Lyle, the man who had welded more strange and wondrous tricks out of a bit of iron than anyone on the planet. He’d become more confused when he ’d found himself trying to explain to Lyle why his family was trusted with artefacts by Her Majesty and how it was more about prestige thanmoney, really. Now he was most confused of all by the sudden and unexpected arrival of a breathless constable who was shouting, ‘Where’s the Inspector? There ’s a body down at the bridge! In mysterious circumstances!’Lyle had been inexplicably annoyed by the statement ‘in mysterious circumstances’. He’d spent a good five minutes trying in vain to explain to the unfortunate constable how precision was important, especially if you got such words as ‘kill’ and ‘mill’ confused in a society of capital punishment and sent the wrong people to the wrong places, but had given up when it became apparent that no one cared.Now Thomas was finding himself being carried along by a crowd, whose inexorable passage was taking him down the tight winding streets of Blackfriars, towards the river through a maze of slippery docks, warehouses and factories belching soot across every rooftop. He wondered whether it hadn’t been a mistake after all to try and help.But if I don’t follow now,he thought,I’ll never know what happens.He saw faces black with grit staring at his fine clothes as the crowd of policemen, and general onlookers eager for a spectacle, swept on down towards the bridge. He could hear the rattling of trains, hear steam being let off in huge billows, spewing down from the local yards in a thick, hot, damp fog that burnt his eyes. With the figure of Lyle for guidance, he kept going along the uneven, muddy, salty ways.
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And suddenly the crowd slowed and thickened, until he was crushed between Teresa, who ignored him, and a constable trying in vain to push his way through. He could see how many dirty looks the coppers were getting from the locals, especially the costermongers, traditional enemies of the police, and wondered why. Thomas had always been taught to respect the police force as a tool against revolution, a wall of steel against any insurrection that might come from the lower orders. He looked at Lyle, and wondered if he thought the same way.Lyle, meanwhile, had elbowed his way to the front of the crowd and was climbing over the parapet of the bridge on to a flight of creaky stairs that led down to the mud, greenish in places, of the river at low tide. The flight was missing some steps, and Thomas held his breath as he watched Lyle cautiously move each foot, sometimes pausing for thought, and then carefully avoiding a tread that looked particularly unsound.At the bottom of the stairs was a shape almost impossible to see with the mud that caked and camouflaged it. Around it was a small crowd of filthy boys in rags, shoeless, and several policemen with their trousers pulled up around their hairy knees for fear of having to pay for a new uniform. Lyle stepped into the mud, which rose up around his ankles. He seemed oblivious, picking his way over to the body.‘Who found the body?’‘Miss saw it,’ said a raggedy boy, pointing up at a young, handsome woman standing by the top of the bridge and looking pale.‘Did you touch it?’‘No.’Lyle glanced at them suspiciously, but a constable said, ‘We heard a commotion so we came running. They couldn’t have got to it till low tide, sir.’‘So it hasn’t been moved?’‘No.’‘How long ago was it found?’‘Half an hour, maybe?’‘How long till the tide comes back in?’‘Maybe an hour or two, sir.’‘Right. Help me turn it over.’The constables looked at each other uneasily. Lyle saw their expressions and tutted. ‘Come on, don’t fuss.’They took an arm each and dragged the body unevenly round. Thomas saw mud settled on a shape in the man’s throat that shouldn’t have been there, and felt bile rising. Next to him, Tess looked on with a disinterested expression. Thomas heard Lyle say distantly, ‘A very clean cut. Entry from the left, right on the artery, dragged straight across to the other side. A lot of force behind this. Good, sharp blade. And a second stab wound to the lower abdomen.’ He saw Lyle scrape green-brown, probably toxic mud away from the man’s wet clothes without any sign of a second thought, and again felt nauseous. He turned his face away. At his side he heard Tess say excitedly, ‘Look! Do you think he’s goin’ to poke it? That ’shorrid!’Down in the mud, Lyle bent further forward over the body, oblivious of the brown squelch which crawled at his knees. ‘This abdominal wound would probably have bled heavily, but not enough to kill.’ He looked thoughtfully up at the nearest constable. ‘Did it rain last night?’‘Don’t think so, sir.’‘Right. I want. . .’ He froze. ‘Constable?’‘Yes, sir?’Lyle bent down and carefully picked up the corner of the man’s muddy sleeve, dragging it and the limp arm within it from the mud with a slurping noise. A white hand sagged heavily in the sleeve. It had only four fingers. ‘C.R. Wells,’ sighed Lyle. ‘Egotist.’‘Sir?’‘Carwell. This man’s name is Gordon Carwell. He’s a thief. You’ll find an indecent tattoo dedicated to “Inga” on his back. He lost the middle finger of his left hand during a fight in Limehouse last year. He ’s notorious for small-time burglaries in the more expensive suburbs - Hammersmith, Chiswick, Putney and Hampstead mostly. A master of the “humble workman” ruse, along with his brother, Jack Carwell. He knocks on the door saying he’s come to repair a shelf, and doesn’t leave until his pockets are full. His brother plays look-out, or distracts people while he does them and their property over. They always work together.’ He straightened up and looked down sadly at the body. ‘Get it to the mortuary - and make sure only Nurse Marie is allowed to touch it, all right?’‘Yes, sir.’‘And. . .’ Lyle hesitated, then shook his head. ‘No.’‘Sir?’‘You might want to think about searching the rest of the river.’‘Why’s that, sir?’‘As I said, Gordon Carwell never worked alone.’A little later, Lyle climbed back up from the river looking weary, and at the top stood slowly dripping damp mud from the bottom of his trousers on to his filthy shoes. For the first time he seemed to become aware of this. He gave a deep sigh, then put a hand on Tess’s shoulder and on Thomas’s and said, ‘Come on.’‘Where we goin’ now?’‘The Bank broken into and Carwell dead in the river? Too much of a coincidence.’‘So wherearewe goin’, Mister Lyle?’‘To find a blood trail.’The crowd opened around Lyle, Tess, Thomas and Tate without a care, the living not as interesting as the dead, and closed again behind them, absorbing them without a thought. Tate wove through a forest of shoes and feet, aware that his ears were in peril, his nose twitching nervously, overwhelmed by the smell of the river, the fish in the wharves, salt and tar and soot and coal and, oddly, just a touch of ginger biscuit.It took a good five minutes to find a cab, Lyle protesting all the way that there’s never one when you want one, and things weren’t like that when he was a lad. The inside of the cab smelt of old leather, battered wooden seats and too much time in stables, until, finally, the tired cab horse raised its head, turned, and they rattled away from the almost heedless crowd.Almost heedless, because it takes just one exception to disprove a rule.Someone watched them go.CHAPTER 5CarwellIt took them forty minutes to find what Lyle was looking for, in a quiet side-street near the church of St Anne. In the middle of the road, too narrow for the press of traffic that swarmed around St Paul’s, and overshadowed with bakeries and tailors competing for space to serve the local merchants’ hall, Tate suddenly stopped and began to bark. Lyle picked his way through the horse manure that liberally littered the centre of the street, and smiled when he saw what was causing Tate so much dismay. ‘Here it is.’Thomas scurried over, eager to see. He looked at the cobbles and saw only a darker brown stain that reminded him of spilt cough mixture. ‘What is it?’‘Blood,’ said Lyle with some satisfaction.Tess sniffed suspiciously. ‘Could’ve come from the meat goin’ to market up at Smithfield, Mister Lyle.’‘Good thought, if unwelcome,’ he sighed. ‘I can prove it, though.’ He squatted carefully next to the stain in the street, while passers-by gave him looks of deep mistrust. Thomas started to feel uncomfortable, hoping that no one in this mixture of hawkers, and merchants going to the halls, would recognize him or, worse, report him to his father.The thought of his father brought a brief pang of guilt, followed by a sharper pang as he realized this was the first thought he’d had of his father since he ’d followed Lyle. For a second he wondered if he would ever see his father again, or if he was going to be kidnapped, dragged down to the docks and sold into slavery or murdered for his wealth or replaced by an evil twin who would steal his fortune while he was condemned to a life of servitude and. . .‘Thomas, you might be interested in this.’Lyle had produced from his pocket a small handful of tubes. He chose one that looked no different from the others, except for a small red dot on the top of the glass, shook it vigorously, thumbed the cork off the top and carefully tipped a few drops on to the brown stain. Immediately, the cobbles beneath it started to hiss. A thick, smelly white smoke rose up from the ground and all three backed off quickly as it drifted up, sizzling on the stone. Lyle coughed. ‘Yes, well, I think that settles the issue, don’t you?’Thomas waved smoke out of his eyes and managed to croak, ‘What is it?’‘A little compound that came to me one day while I was trying to repair the privy. Only what’sspecial,’ said Lyle, instantly warming to his subject, ‘is that it only works on human blood, because when you leave blood to settle, or even better whirl it round and round at very high speeds on a piece of string, you can get a separation effect which isolates certain unique components and. . .’‘So it’s human blood,’ coughed Tess.‘Erm, yes.’‘Well done. What are we goin’ to do now?’‘Follow it, of course.’Lyle flapped his hand at the smoke until it finally cleared, and looked down at the cobbles. A small, neat hole had been burnt in the stone where the drops had fallen. He coughed and looked away innocently. ‘I think there ’s another stain over there,’ he said, taking the fascinated Tess and the appalled Thomas by the arm and leading them further on.There was indeed another stain, in fact the trail ran intermittently on and off in larger and smaller droplets and pools all the way up the road, disrupted here or there by the erosion of feet or the intervention of traffic, or that traffic’s digested meals. Lyle stood above the largest, most conspicuous line of blood and muttered, almost to himself, ‘All right. I’m stabbed about here,’ indicating with two fingers on his abdomen, ‘I’m bleeding heavily, I’m trying to move, so the blood is falling behind. . .’ For a second his lips moved soundlessly, then he grinned and pointed down the street. ‘He ran in that direction. Towards the river. Which, I suppose, makes sense.’‘So?’‘So we follow the blood trail and find out where it began.’They followed it through winding streets, occasionally losing it, to where the traffic became thicker and thicker around the great cask of St Paul’s cathedral, one half of which was covered in scaffolding that ran right up to the dome as emergency repairs were carried out on the dirty white stone and tarnished green roof. Here the stain was obliterated beneath the press of carts in the street, the drivers yelling at each other to move out of the way, horses neighing and wheels clattering. But by that point, they could guess where it was heading, and Tess ran on ahead, darting and dodging enthusiastically between carts to shout back occasionally, ‘I’ve found another stain! It ’s goin’ the same way!’Close behind her, Thomas made a great effort to study each particular stain that Tess found, bending over and looking as thoughtful as he could, without actually disgracing himself by running. Lyle and Tate followed slowly after, Lyle with his hands buried in his pockets, Tate with his paws buried at least in a pair of hypothetical pockets.The blood led directly to the Bank of England, and suddenly stopped. So did the group. Tess pouted. ‘Is thisit?’Lyle studied the smeary pavement, and said, ‘I think I can see a larger stain here. Very faint. And. . .’ He hesitated, suddenly aware that there were other things in the world apart from him and the thoughts in his head.Tess said impatiently, when Lyle didn’t move, ‘And? You were sayin’ somethin’ an’ then you all sorta stopped.’‘Iwasgoing to say that this much blood in one place is more than I would have expected from the injuries Carwell received.’‘What does that mean?’‘I don’t entirely know.’They waited. Finally Thomas said tentatively, not wanting to sound like a fool, ‘Didn’t you find the fruit thing here, sir?’Tess stared at Thomas as if he was mad, and for a second Lyle did too. Then Lyle started to laugh, a sudden, quiet sound that grew to a delighted roar. They both stared at Lyle. Even Tate looked a little surprised. Lyle clapped his hands together. ‘Of course! They waited here and stabbed him the second he brought the goods! It was cold last night - they probably got hungry and bored! Why not eat something?’‘Sir?’‘Come on!’ He turned and started marching back the way they’d come.‘Where are we goin’now?’‘To find the other end of the bloodstain!’Tess groaned. But Thomas, all thoughts of his father gone, felt more excited than he had in a long time. And down by the river, in the thick, green-brown mud that bends and rises around each footprint, smothering ankle and knee in essence of squelch, the passage of the sun across the sky burns away a shadow that has fallen beside a docked boat.And the cry goes up: ‘Sarge! There’s another body over here!’ They found the far end of the stain in a quiet, dark street just above Blackfriars Bridge. They also discovered a larger pool of blood which, Lyle declared gleefully, was ‘Probably straight from the jugular.’Then, to Thomas’s horror and Tess’s exasperation, he said, ‘Right, children, I want a volunteer to go and ask people what they heard last night, sometime between midnight and three a.m.’
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‘What do you mean,askpeople?’ sighed Tess.‘As in knock on their doors and be pushy.’‘Must we?’‘Yes.’‘They’ll laugh at me.’‘They might laugh atyou,’ said Lyle sagely, ‘but I’m sure they won’t laugh at Thomas.’Thomas realized they were staring at him. And they were grinning. Left with Tess in the gloomy street that stank of mouldering laundry, stale water and tar, Lyle stared at the dark brown stain on the ground that indicated Carwell’s last living point in space and time, and felt something rise up in him bordering on anger. He was surprised at himself - usually these things were just scientific anomalies to be studied, and others could be angry. But as people jostled past him, some even walking on the bloodstain darkening the pavement without realizing what they did, he felt a certain anger at the world, not just at the murderer. He wanted to stand up and say, ‘Don’t you realize a man has slit another man’s throat in cold blood? Don’t you realize what this says about people in general?’ He didn’t. He stared at the ground and thought furiously.‘What you thinkin’, Mister Lyle?’He didn’t answer. He thought,Carwell and Bray. Bray and Carwell. And Jack Carwell too, the younger brother who always followed Gordon Carwell into whatever venture, whatever peril. Was he a part of it too? The bloodstain by the Bank was large, the direction of the blood not quite right for a disabling wound, something like that would kill instantly, but Carwell ran . . . where Gordon Carwell goes, Jack always follows . . .They agree it between them - Bray as the inside man with the keys, on a take of the percentage, Carwell as the thief. Bray wouldn’t have access to the vault itself, but Carwell gets round that, gets into the vault.‘Mister Lyle?’‘Yes, Teresa?’‘What you thinkin’?’‘I’m thinking. . .’How did he manage to get the letter of approval from the Elwick house? The right seal, the right stamp?‘A letter from the Elwick family would be hard to forge. You’d have to have an original to work from, the right paper, the right seal, the right signature.’‘You think the bigwig knows?’‘The bigwig?’‘Thomas,’ she said with a shrug. ‘The bigwig.’He frowned, and shrugged half-heartedly. Something was itching at the back of his neck, something stirring deep inside that made him want to find a dark doorway to hide in. He scanned the street distractedly, and thought,Carwell must have been acting on orders.‘Mister Lyle?’‘Would you break into the Bank of England without a specific target?’‘Not bl. . .not likely, Mister Lyle.’‘And inside you wouldn’t steal a stone plate?’‘Hell. . .uh. . .no. Not if someone weren’t payin’ me.’‘That ’sit. Carwell had to be paid, someone had topayhim to steal the plate, otherwise why would he do it? Someone had to be out there to take the plate, someone who can pay a lot, risk a lot for a plate.’‘Like Lord Lincoln?’‘Like Lo. . .Teresa, that is not a helpful comment.’‘Sorry, Mister Lyle. But. . .if Mister Lincoln wants it, then you said it’s gonna be important, ain’t it?’‘If they want the Plate badly enough to break into the Bank,’ murmured Lyle distractedly, ‘perhaps they wait outside?’She shrugged.‘Besides, no one eats exotic fruit in this part of town - few people eat it at all. Luxury, decadence, money, eating while you wait for Carwell to come out with the Plate, at night when no one else is watching.’‘Coo-ee, Mister Lyle?’‘Teresa?’‘Yes, Mister Lyle?’‘If someone paid you a sovereign to steal something, and asked you to hand it straight over, would you?’‘Depends how big that person’s knife were, Mister Lyle.’‘If you thought you could get two sovereigns instead of one, would you go to the drop-off with the item?’She thought about it. Finally she said, ‘I might’ve given it to someone. To hide, an’ all. So that they couldn’t hurt me. ’Cos I wouldn’t have it.’The silence dragged.‘They killed Carwell. But Carwell might not have been carrying the Plate.’‘Maybe not.’‘They let him run after they’d stabbed him and then theykilledhim, like. . .’‘Mister Lyle?’‘Something must have gone wrong, that’s the only reason Bray would have gone so quickly underground. Carwell was clever, he knew that Bray going under would have drawn unnecessary suspicion to him, so something must have gone wrong. Carwell got stabbed by the people who paid him to steal the Plate and Bray’s probably still got the Plate and. . .’‘Mister Lyle!’He jumped, looked round and realized people were watching him. He coughed uncomfortably, and turned away to study the nearest wall, trying not to whistle nonchalantly. There was no proof, he knew that. There was instinct, and it wasright.And just behind that instinct, he had another, more uncomfortable feeling: of being watched. He turned and scanned the street, but those who had stared at first were now drifting by again, uninterested in anything except their daily lives. Still the itchy feeling persisted, like something he couldn’t scratch at the back of his neck. He looked down at the pavement and saw, in the gutter, a small flash of orange. He hesitated, then slowly squatted and picked it up carefully by the corner. It was orange peel, dirty and hard. It lay a few feet away from the pool of blood, and was discoloured by something more than just natural processes. He put it carefully into the paper bag, next to the fruit stone.Someone, he decided, had a taste for fruit.‘Mister Lyle?’‘Teresa.’‘You seen him yet?’‘The man in the crooked top hat hiding in the doorway?’‘Oh. You seen him.’‘Teresa, I have a little job for you.’ Thomas was elated, for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the second he’d walked into the bakery and said, ‘Excuse me, ma’am?’ the lady behind the counter had assumed he was the Heir Apparent, and started gushing over him in a cockney dialect so unintelligible it had been all he could do to keep nodding and smiling. This nodding and smiling had so delighted the employees of the bakery that they had begun clapping and rejoicing, saying that at last fortune had come to them with an aristocratic jacket and an aristocratic accent, and so buoyant had they been at receiving, for the very first time, a ‘client of breeding in our ’umble store’ they had insisted on showing him their full selection.And he had bought a hot cross bun.Ahot cross bun. Never in his whole life had he been allowed to buy such a treat, never had heboughtsomething with his own hands, and now it was between his fingers and he could just eat it, in the street, taking large, undignified mouthfuls andFather would never know! This triumph had swelled him with confidence and, as a result, he had knocked on a whole five doors with half the bun still in his hand and demanded in a voice booming with authority, ‘Ma’am, I am here to enquire about a murder.’ ‘Enquireabout a murder.’ It was a phrase he’d never thought he could say. The words felt mature and weighty, big fat words that you could toss on to a barge and watch chug upstream with stately grandeur. It was the ‘enquire ’ and it was the ‘about’ and it was the ‘murder’. In fact, it was probably the ‘a’ too. He had been so full of satisfaction at the sudden rush of responsibility that when he got to the sixth door and the woman who answered it said, ‘Really? Was that what the carriage was about?’ he hardly noticed.This led to the second cause of his elation. He scampered back to where Lyle was leaning against a wall, staring up at the thin elusive break of sky in the dark street with a thoughtful expression, and immediately began his report in as adult a voice as he could. His chest heaved, his shoulders bulged, his voice resounded with authority as he barked, ‘Sir, I have information, sir.’Lyle looked at him out of the corner of his eye. ‘Good,’ he said in a tone that, even to Thomas’s ears, sounded slightly too bright to be true. ‘What is it?’He recited it carefully. ‘Mrs Farse, who lives by the butcher’s, said she heard the sound of a carriage late last night. She could-n’t sleep because of a toothache and claims she roused herself to find a drink. Well, sir, she says she remembers the carriage, sir, because it was so late, and because you rarely get many objects that sound like that down here, at least, she thinks you don’t, and she remembered hearing the horses, sir, and running feet. Personally I think that if she really did have a toothache then. . .’‘Did she look out?’‘Yes, sir, but it was very dark.’‘Well, what did she see?’‘She saw a carriage, sir.’‘Really.’ Lyle ’s face was unreadable.‘Yes, sir!’ Thomas blurted, aware that he was starting to lose some of his authority. ‘She saw a four-seater, sir, with two horses, standing there, but the driver wasn’t sitting on it and the horses weren’t moving.’‘What colour was it?’‘It all looked black to her.’‘Including the horses?’‘Yes, sir.’‘Did she see any people?’‘No, sir, but she says the window was down on one side of the carriage and there must have been someone inside because there was a white-gloved hand resting on the window!’‘It might have been someone ’s disembodied hand,’ suggested Lyle mildly. He saw Thomas’s hurt expression and added, ‘This is very useful. Do carry on.’‘Well, after a minute she saw the driver return, dressed up formally, sir, in livery.’‘Black?’ suggested Lyle.‘Yes, sir. And he was carrying a bag. She said she saw the driver look through it, then whoever was in the carriage also looked through it. And she says she sawgold, sir.’Lyle brightened. ‘Just gold?’‘Yes, sir.’‘No stone bowls radiating cultural significance, by any chance?’‘No, sir. She was very specific. Just gold, through and through. The man inside the carriage seemed to get angry. She thought she heard shouting.’Lyle was by this point grinning ear to ear. He slapped Thomas on the shoulder. ‘Excellent!’‘Then the carriage drove off, sir.’ It seemed, to Thomas, like a bit of an anti-climax.Lyle, however, looked ecstatic. ‘This is excellent news, lad! Well done.’‘Thank you, sir.’‘You ever think of being a detective?’And Thomas thought of another world, foggy and vague round the edges, that he knew existed, but had never seen; and after all those hunts and all those dances and all those evenings sipping tea to the gentle patter of rain and polite conversation, he remembered sitting up in bed when everything else was asleep, and swearing thathewould make a difference. ‘All the time, sir,’ he whispered.Lyle wasn’t listening. He detached himself from the wall, smiling broadly, wrapped a fatherly arm round Thomas’s shoulder and said, ‘Come on. Let’s go and find ourselves a carriage.’‘Shouldn’t we wait for Miss Teresa, sir?’Lyle’s smile turned slightly evil. ‘Miss Teresa is doing a very special job at the moment.’ Tess was bored. She had been looking forward to traipsing round with Thomas, in order to ridicule him a little when he couldn’t understand what the locals were saying, and possibly to pick his pocket while he wasn’t looking. The boy, she was convinced, would be a mark for any decent thief, despite his burgeoning height and strength. However, as she had moved to follow Thomas, Lyle had put a restraining hand on her shoulder. Her talents, she knew, lay in different areas.And now she was lurking in a doorway, watching everyone, and feeling bored. She had done this since she was old enough to tell the difference between bulging pockets and sagging pockets, and the pockets in this place were, generally speaking, bulging. And she wasn’t allowed to touch them. So she had watched Lyle. For a while he ’d just stood there, staring at the blood. Then he ’d leant against a wall and stared at the sky, not moving, Tate lying dutifully across his feet, where he seemed to be most comfortable, also not moving. Then Thomas had come back, and by both his and Lyle’s expressions, the news had been good from the people around the bridge. Then the two of them had started walking.Tess had moved out of the shadows when they were thirty yards ahead of her and, keeping a shoulder to the wall, drifted along behind them, now very much alert. She had followed them up towards Cheapside with its bustling shops and shouting hawkers, joining the flow of people, ducking top hats and walking canes and leather boots and tweed elbows, keeping in sight as a guide Lyle’s sandy-red hair, brighter than the black top hats that moved through the streets, and when not searching for that, watching the people. Sailors, smelling of salt and tar and fish and sweat and grease, businessmen with white silk handkerchiefs and ivory-capped canes that they swung with a deadly ease, women with trays slung from their shoulders bearing steaming packets of nuts or fruit or vegetables or biscuits or tins of mushy peas or soup or flowers, or girls selling handfuls of ribbon, or burly men setting up their coffee cauldrons under the nearest bedraggled and blackened tree, or the priest scurrying to the service at St Paul’s or at the Guild Church with the gold dragon sitting on top of it, facing perpetually north despite the wind, or the man with the music box and the money, or the Dutch singers, or the bobbies in their blue top hats and capes, who she strained to avoid out of habit, or. . .
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For a second she saw someone who was immediately swallowed up by the crowd, and she felt a momentary flash of recognition, not sure where she ’d seen him before but trusting her instinct that shehadseen him before. There again, a man all in black, coat collar turned up high about his face, a red scarf wound tightly across his mouth, neck and chin, brown leather gloves on his hands, a tall top hat looking somehow incongruous on his head, dark hair sticking out under it. Gone again. She kept following Lyle but now she was looking for the man with the dark hair beneath that hat, sitting at a rakish angle that didn’t really fit, supported mostly by his ears. As Lyle turned again into Gutter Lane, taking the most complicated route he knew, all the way up to St Alban’s Church and the red-grey stretch of the City Wall half-incorporated into the local building where it ran past the gold-rimmed marble-walled Goldsmiths’ Hall,hefollowed, that man in the lopsided top hat, eyes fixed on Lyle. And as Lyle ducked and weaved, making it harder with each inexplicable turn, so the man turned, and Tess soon was following him only, not Lyle, because he was following Lyle.Still she couldn’t see his face. Once she saw him raise something wrapped in a dark red silk handkerchief to his mouth, and in his footsteps she noticed a small spattering of ginger crumbs, but he never turned his face towards her. At last they were at the giant edifice of the Bank, and Lyle and Thomas were walking towards the tall, thick black-iron doors opposite the Merchant Exchange. Tess took a deep breath and ran forward. She barged straight into the man who had followed them all the way there, bounced off him, muttered a quick ‘Sorry, guv’, and ran on past, catching up with Lyle and Thomas just as Lyle put his hand on the door.Lyle turned expectantly as she ran to him, gasping for breath. ‘I seen him!’‘And?’ asked Lyle mildly.She heaved in lungfuls of air before she managed to blurt, ‘He’s a chink!’‘A. . .’ began Thomas uneasily.‘And I went for his pockets!’ blurted Tess.‘And?’ suggested Lyle, his voice kept tactfully away from disapproval.‘He’s got a gun!’‘A. . .’ Thomas tried stammering again.The door burst open. ‘Thomas Edward Elwick, what do you think you are doing?’Lord Elwick erupted on to the scene. And he wasangry.CHAPTER 6NightEvening settled on the streets of London. In a carriage clattering back towards his dull mansion with its dull books on dull counties full of dull people, Thomas had already shut his ears to the rantings of his furious father, and was watching the blind drawn down over the window. He didn’t know whether it was there to prevent the world contaminating him, or to stop him and his family contaminating the world. He thought of the last thing he had seen or heard before his father had practically lifted him off the street and thrown him into a carriage. Lyle had put a hand on his arm and said, ‘How could a thief get hold of your family seal and father’s signature, Master Elwick?’The question buzzed in his mind. The servants would never have given out the seal, used for all formal documents, nor any of the family papers bearing Lord Elwick’s signature. He could guess what Lyle was worried about; he didn’t need to be told: the documents used to get the sarcophagus into the vault had to be signed by his father. Thomas looked at Lord Elwick, and felt his own anger settle into a seething resentment. He knew in his heart that his father was a fool; nonetheless, he realized that he might be a loyal fool, and that he was, for whatever reason, genuinely angry and upset at the loss of the Fuyun Plate. Thomas knew Lord Elwick would not have contrived to give someone, anyone, the means to get into the vault.How could a thief get hold of your family seal and father’s signature, Master Elwick?They rattled on, through growing darkness. When the sun set, Tess noticed, it didn’t reach the horizon, but shimmered out in a dirty brown pool before its light could touch the ceiling.‘Water vapour,’ Lyle said, coming up behind her where she stood in the window of his house, watching the red evening. He thought about this. ‘And general dirt. You know, there are some people who suspect it could have a detrimental long-term effect on the climate.’‘What?’‘Dirt.’‘Will it?’He looked sheepish. ‘It’s not really my field.’She grinned. ‘You don’t know, do you?’‘Well, no.’ He added, before her grin could grow any wider, ‘Come on. There’s more work before supper.’ Night settled, thick and dark and suffocating. As the temperature dropped, the fog rose, drifting up into the emptier sky and rolling across the town in a choking green-grey wave that slithered into every pair of lungs and tickled them with dirty blackness. In the street, a policeman swung his rattle, and the theatre halls started to drain out for the evening.In the Elwick mansion - a new, ugly white stain on a large swathe of green land encased by high red walls - the family sat down to supper, and Lady Elwick began the conversation. ‘My dear, I am concerned for Thomas’s Latin.’‘It is not the only blemish which should concern us, Lady Elwick!’ On the other side of town, in a house too small for Tate, too large for Lyle and perfect for dark goings-on, someone struck a match in a dark, cold cellar, and someone else blurted, ‘For Christ ’s sake, not in here! Wait until I’ve opened the vents!’The match went out. There was a scuffling sound. ‘Ow! That’s my foot!’‘Well, what are you doing standingthere?’Something clicked. Cold air started to flow, taking away an oppressive smell. ‘Nowcan I strike a match?’‘No. Take this. It ’s safer.’‘What is it?’‘A magnet and a bit of wire.’‘That ain’t helpful, Mister Lyle.’‘Just turn the handle, Teresa.’A sound like a cricket. Light slowly blossomed in the room, illuminating Tess’s astonished face. She stared at the single bulb stapled to a small piece of wood, on which was attached, simply, a short coil of tightly wrapped wire and a magnet, which spun inside the wire as she turned the handle. The faster she turned the magnet, the brighter the bulb glowed. She whispered, ‘Jesus Christ.’On the other side of the room, Lyle was fumbling with a pair of levers. ‘You believe in God, Teresa?’‘I’m gonna say sorry just in case.’‘Watch.’He pulled a lever. There was another click. Somewhere beyond the wooden door in a corner of the room, something started thundering. Across the room bulbs lit up, flooding it with white light, illuminating desks lined with bits of bent glass and metal and strange liquids of every colour and thickness, and tubes and tools and bits of wire and gears locked together in a monstrous mountain that somehow, through the chaos of metal teeth, seemed to be connected by rods to more gears that disappeared into walls or cupboards or metal contraptions waiting for a use. She stared, speechless. Lyle, grinning proudly, unlocked and pushed open the small wooden door at the end of the room and the sound of distant thunder grew a whole lot louder. ‘Look.’She crept to the door, no longer turning the handle on the magnet in her hand, and peered through. The room beyond was covered with tubes and gears and felt hot and dry and smeltterrible. Central to it all a huge coil of wire, sparking and hissing, spun around a single metal core attached to wires that ran into every wall, nook and cranny, huge heavy wires hanging across the ceiling while pistons pumped up and down below, driven from the pipes that seemed to rise out of the floor itself.‘How thehell . . .’ she began.Lyle looked like a child with a toy. ‘Natural gas,’ he chuckled. ‘Burnt natural gas drives the pistons which push the wire which spins round the magnet, cutting the magnetic field, which creates -’ his grin was huge - ‘electricity. Magnetism makes electricity, electricity makes magnetism - you can’t have one without the other. Faraday is the new God, and he explains his universe in lines of force around a wire.’‘Where do you get the. . .the. . .’‘Natural gas to burn?’‘Yes.’In a distant, reverent voice, he said, ‘The sewers.’She stared at him in horror. He shrugged. ‘Wonderful natural source, right under us. I’m thinking of calling it something like “Lyle ’s gas”, but then that means my name will be forever associated with sewage, and I’d much rather it was associated with. . .oh, I don’t know. . .coffee or a new and better kind of light source or sugar or something like that.’ He chuckled to himself. ‘Perhaps I’ll call it “Vellum’s gas”. But no. That would give him too much credit. I’ll think of something. ’ Out in the dark street as the fog and the night wash over the world, a man with a lopsided top hat and a mysterious bulge in his coat pocket that might just be a gun casually breaks the end off a neatly wrapped ginger biscuit, and chews thoughtfully, watching the house across the road and wondering about its inhabitants. A woman goes by, nodding at him in the dark, and says, ‘God bless you, good sir.’‘Ma’am.’He watches her go into the house opposite Lyle’s, but not before she casts a longing glance at the gloomy windows. He thinks that he really must try and break the bad biscuit habit. He has to stay in shape. Especially now.A carriage rattles by. It slows as it nears Lyle ’s house, and the watcher ponders on how grand the carriage seems to be, how really it is too well oiled to be in this part of town, and how dark the livery of the driver is, before it picks up speed again and drives quickly by.He doesn’t move, doesn’t blink.After a while, he looks down at the pavement, and wonders whether it should be humming under his shoes or not. ‘So how long have you had a. . .a. . .’‘Electricity-magnet generator?’ prompted Lyle, carefully dipping a slim piece of wire into a glass pot of blue liquid.‘. . .in your basement?’‘My father started building it when I was a child,’ he replied. Satisfied with his work, he started digging in his pocket. He found a paper bag and tipped its contents out on the table. ‘My first memories are going to the Royal Institution to listen to Faraday’s lectures on the principles of electric and magnetic interaction. My father built the original coil, but had to power its rotation through the magnetic field given out by the magnet via an old-fashioned coal engine, adapted from a railway locomotive. The gas was my idea. The second I heard that Bazalgette was going to build a new sewer system I went straight to him for the plans. A good man, Bazalgette.’‘Your father. . .’‘He died several years ago. Harry Lyle. He believed in metal and machines, thought that if you just knew how, you could make a machine do anything - even think. People said he was a heretic. The letters he got were unbelievable - he was told he was betraying Britain by giving over all of life to iron and steel.’ He sighed, frowning. ‘It’s a little sad, really.’ Then shook himself, snapping back to attention. ‘Right!’From the paper bag he took the fruit stone and the orange peel, examining both under a magnifying glass and tutting to himself. Finally he sighed, and dropped them into two separate, foul-smelling jars of clear liquid, which he hastily capped and locked away on a shelf.Tess watched, suspecting that she was starting to get interested, but trying to keep a bored expression. ‘What you doin’?’‘Just trying to narrow down the search area,’ Lyle replied gaily. ‘How do you feel about fish?’She blanched. ‘Fish? You do things to fish here too? Like you have all these things what you power with fish, like how you do things with gas an’ all? How do I feel ’boutfish?’‘Supper.’And somewhere, behind the steel and iron and smoke and dirt and fog and dust and dark, something just a little bit magical was about to happen, and something evil was about to extend a tentacle towards the light.
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‘I really do feel that fear of a Chartist revival at this stage is absurd, although if Disraeli continues with. . .Charles!’Thomas rarely saw his father so animated, and more rarely still did he hear him address anyone by their first name. Everyone in the drawing room rose to their feet, including Thomas, who had been attempting to cultivate a taste for port, and failing. The man who entered was tall, elegant, with fine features carved on a white, bony face above a bony, handsome body clad in black silk. As he came in, he pulled off a long white glove, and Thomas noticed keenly the tiny pinprick of blood on one of the fingers. For some reason he felt his stomach turn.‘My lord,’ said the man with the white gloves, and his voice was like black leather, and his eyes were emerald green and. . .‘Lord Moncorvo,’ said Thomas’s father, recovering himself, ‘welcome.’Lord Moncorvo glided towards where Thomas stood and draped himself into an armchair. Though the man had given him just a glance Thomas felt his green eyes boring into him.‘You had some discomfiture today, my lord.’‘A robbery, no less!’ Elwick’s face hardened as he looked at Thomas. ‘My son can probably enlighten you. Today he went gallivanting by himself without a word to me. Children today have. . .’‘Gallivanting?’ Moncorvo stared straight at Thomas, who couldn’t look away from those green eyes.Elwick seemed to take no offence at being interrupted. ‘With the son of Harry Lyle, no less.’Moncorvo’s eyes filled Thomas’s world. ‘Is that so?’Something turned in Thomas’s stomach, something old and dry like leaves rustling across the forest floor. He could feel the coldness of the iron door into the Bank, he could see the green eyes filling his own, burning down on him as if they read his mind, and he heard a distant voice, almost in a dream, saying, ‘And how much does Constable Horatio Lyle know, boy?’And he’s speaking, he ’sspeaking, and his father just sits there, his mouth slightly open, eyes fixed on some vacant point, spittle slowly accumulating in one corner of his lips, like a madman in an asylum staring at something else, and there’s just green eyes and. . .and a feeling like. . .or rather a sound like. . .or a smell like. . .black leather leaves rustling over an emerald forest floor and. . .‘What did he ask you to do, boy?’‘Sir, he wants to know how someone could get my family seal and my father’s signature in order to put the sarcophagus into the vault.’‘Does he indeed?’‘Yes, sir.’‘Does he know what the Fuyun Plate is?’‘I don’t know, sir.’. . .and he felt like sinking, drowning, falling and. . .‘Boy, perhaps it is time we discussed Horatio Lyle in more detail.’ He ’s sitting with his father, reading about the fall of the Roman Empire, and his father is saying, ‘. . .this absurd reform nonsense then I fear the Party will decay into a Gladstonian state!’‘Yes, Father.’‘Thomas? Are you paying attention?’‘Yes, Father.’ And there’s something he needs to remember. ‘Father?’‘Yes, boy?’‘Did. . .did Moncorvo. . .’‘A damn good fellow. What of him?’‘Where is he?’‘Where is he? What do you mean, boy, where is he? How is this relevant?’‘I. . .where is he?’‘Do you mean is he voting for Disraeli?’‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’. . .and there were eyes and. . .nothing else. . .except, perhaps, just on the edge of smelling, the faintest scent of decaying leaves falling in an autumnal forest, that blows out with the wind. The night settles on the city, and somewhere a man with a black leather voice and a white glove pricked with old blood that is not his own says, ‘The boy is a fool, my lady, and so is his father.’‘That does not concern me, my lord. What of the Plate?’‘Lyle does not have it. Even if he does, he cannot use it.’‘If blood is spilt in it before it is repaired. . .’‘It will make no difference! Mr Dew has almost found Bray,Brayhas the Plate and he will give it to us, and we will repair it, and we will be restored. We will bring back the power, my lady. Lyle cannot stop us.’‘Can he hinder us? I know Lord Lincoln is watching, and we cannot afford mistakes now.’‘Lincoln is a fool too! They are all fools, they are justhuman!’ The echoes die away.‘My lord?’‘Forgive me, my lady. I. . .have lived in iron too long.’‘It is understandable. I think, if Lyle gets too close, we should have him killed. Just to be sure.’A shrug. ‘I see no reason why not.’‘Very good, my lord.’ And the night settles, and the city sleeps, a deep, cold, dozy sleep as the furnaces idle in their halls of steel and the day’s dirt slowly rains out of the black sky on to the black roofs. And the carriages fall silent and the horses start to snore in their stables and the dirty clothes flap in the dirty wind and the fires slowly start to burn out. And somewhere, a boy dreams of emerald eyes and running through a forest of dead black leaves, falling from a dead black sky, and wakes in a cold sweat, not knowing why.CHAPTER 7FruitTess woke with the sun. It was her habit: in winter she could sleep sixteen whole hours just waiting for daylight, in summer she could get by with barely six hours’ sleep. For a second she had difficulty remembering where she was, but when recollection slowly settled like feathers on her mind, she was surprised to realize that she felt almost pleased at the thought. Her stomach was full, her feet were warm and the room was all hers.Having got up, she drifted around the house, trying door handles, a lot of which were locked, before wandering down to the kitchen. No one there. She peered into a few cupboards looking for anything that wasn’t in mysteriously unlabelled jars, before finally pulling open a large wardrobe door. The wardrobe itself was empty, but her eyes fell on its back wall, which seemed to protrude at a very slight angle. She ran her hands thoughtfully over it, wondering. Something clicked. She pulled gently at the wardrobe door and behind her a voice said, ‘Erm, you ought to know about the mantrap inside.’She very slowly let go of the detachable door. ‘You ought to disguise it with coats, Mister Lyle,’ she said, backing away.‘No, no, no! That ’s not the point at all! If I disguised it with coats, people wouldn’t start looking inside it for a hidden compartment. ’She frowned up at him. ‘But, an’ this might seem slow, but ain’t the point of a hidden compartment to be. . . hidden?’‘And if anyone opens that up, they’ll not be able to look for another compartment for a very long time, will they?’She scowled. ‘You’re horrid, Mister Lyle.’He looked almost embarrassed. ‘Yes,’ he muttered. Then he brightened. ‘More positively, I think I’ve found something.’ ‘Miss Laskell?’‘Yes, Master Thomas?’ Miss Laskell, Thomas’s governess, waited patiently.‘If. . .have you ever seen my father write a letter?’‘Of course I have, Master Thomas!’‘I mean. . .on the paper with the family crest, with the family seal?’‘Yes. When he wrote references for Violet he wrote it on the family paper.’‘And signed it?’‘How strange of you to ask, Master Thomas!’‘It ’s important.’A sigh. ‘Yes, of course he signed it, Master Thomas.’‘Where does he keep the paper?’‘Now why would you be. . .’‘It ’s important. Please?’Another sigh. ‘Locked in his desk. Only he has the key to it. And only he ever uses the family seal for special documents, things from the Palace, you know.’‘None of the servants could get to it?’Her voice darkened. ‘I don’t know what you’ve been thinking, young Master Thomas, butnoone except your father gets into that desk.’‘Oh. I see.’‘Is that all, Master Thomas? If so, I’ll just—’‘No. Wait! I. . .I need your help.’ Lyle put his elbows on the desk in the dark basement and said, ‘It’s boiled.’‘What?’‘The orange was boiled before it was sold, to make it look bigger and juicer.’‘Oh.’ She saw his expression. ‘Oh.’He looked back down at the two pieces of fruit on the table and said in a slightly less enthusiastic voice, ‘There were also traces of formaldehyde on the orange peel, a drop of rabbit’s blood and some salt, so I’m assuming it came from somewhere near the meat markets. And I found out what the fruit is.’ From a shelf near a giant wardrobe that looked, to Tess’s eyes, even more suspicious than the one upstairs, he pulled down a large encyclopaedia, and opened it on the desk. ‘It’s something called a “lychee”. An incredible delicacy. I think there must be about two men in the whole city who’d be able to sell something like this, and to a very specialist clientele. The tooth marks on the stone are remarkable - razor-sharp teeth, very pointed, one of those sets of teeth you’d recognizeanywhere.’‘Anywhere?’‘Have you ever seen a stuffed predatory fish, a freshwater trout, perhaps?’‘Uh. . .’He scowled. ‘A dead fish with big teeth?’‘Urgh.’‘So you’d better get your shoes on.’‘What?’‘You’re going to find the people who sold these pieces of fruit.’‘Why?’‘Because they were found too close to the bloodstains in an area where no one eats that kind of food to be coincidence.’‘Whyme?’‘Because of your charitable, helpful character?’Now she scowled. ‘What are you goin’ to do?’‘I’m going to take Tate for a walk.’ A man wearing a crooked top hat, who turned up his collar in all weathers and had a taste for ginger biscuits, still watched Lyle’s house, but now his narrow, alert eyes were tired in his face with its unusually almond-dark skin that was once yellow but had been baked and lined by exposure to all elements, including the worst of humanity. He had been standing and waiting too long, relieved on his endless watch for but a few hours by a colleague, who long ago left him to his task. He stretched, tight shoulders bunching under the thick coat, and yawned.The door opened on the other side of the road, and the girl, who he knew was called Teresa but about whom he knew nothing else, slipped out, looking furtively around. She didn’t see him as he drew back into the shadows, and he smiled. For a moment yesterday, he ’d worried that she had.He didn’t follow her. He watched the house expectantly.It took Lyle fifteen minutes more to emerge, with Tate padding at his feet, then look around thoughtfully, eyes flickering over where the man stood but not focusing on him, before turning and marching in completely the opposite direction from Teresa. Lyle today was wearing an anonymous grey overcoat and a broad-brimmed traveller’s hat that was very distinct indeed. In the shadows, the man almost smiled.He followed Lyle.He followed him up to the Strand, through the throngs of people and carriages, up the bustling, shoulder-to-shoulder wide streets of yellow Regency houses nestling against each other, through Covent Garden where the stall holders called out, ‘Pineapples, ha’penny a slice’; ‘Penny a bunch turnips’; ‘Oranges, two a penny’; ‘Cherry ripe, two pence a plate’; ‘Wild Hampshire rabbits, two a shilling’; ‘Fine ripe plums, penny a pint’. And then on, elbowing past the hawkers and the buyers and the penny-gaff clown with his penny gaffs and the Silly Billy chanting ‘Eh, higgety, eh ho! Billy let the water go!. . .Nicky nickey nite, I’ll strike a light!’ - and on, up Long Acre.He followed Lyle as he skirted the St Giles rookery, a maze of dark alleys and dens that huddled round the church of St Giles and the brothels of Seven Dials. Avoiding the looks and eyes of the blackcaps and garrotters hiding in the shadows of the cheap boarding houses, twelve to a room, seven rooms a house, five houses a privy, he followed Lyle around St Martin’s Lane, past the shut doors of the dancing halls and the music halls where each night the crowd pressed in on each other’s feet to hear the lady in the red rouge scream and the man with the fake nose howl. He followed Lyle into Trafalgar Square and then down towards Charing Cross Station, where steam billowed up in huge gusts that shrouded the seedy hotels around it and drove the men waiting with their hansom cabs to shout out loudly, ‘Cabby, cabby’ to draw attention to themselves. Briefly, in this mêlée of crushing human life, he lost sight of Lyle, but almost immediately saw that distinctive hat and, more telling yet, Tate ’s paws and ears contending for which could pick up more dirt from the cobbles.
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He followed Lyle up towards Green Park, but at Haymarket Lyle seemed to change his mind and cut north again up a wide road adorned with heroic statues and stately clubs, a clean, far cry from the brothels that co-existed just a few blocks away under roofs held up with strategically perched planks and mouldering below gutters of stagnant green water. He followed him all the way back up to Piccadilly Circus, starting to wonder when Lyle was going to tire of his sport. Suddenly, in front of a new building that narrowed to a desperate point on one corner, Lyle stopped, bent, scratched the dutiful Tate behind the ears, straightened up, surveyed the clattering jungle of streets hung over with the perpetual smoke and haze of London, and briefly took off his hat to swipe a finger along the sweatband across his forehead.Underneath his hat, Lyle ’s hair was black.The man with the crooked top hat and taste in ginger biscuits stopped dead, almost in the middle of the street.Underneath his hat, Lyle was not Lyle. But Tate was definitely Tate, and as the man watched, the dog turned and started trotting away back towards Covent Garden seemingly without a care. He tried to follow the dog through the crowd, but quickly lost him, and before the man knew it he was standing in a heaving mass of people pushing and shoving towards Regent Street. He stopped again, and scanned the crowd with a slow, intense gaze.There was no sign of Lyle. Anywhere.He started walking, nearly a run. He doubled back, avoiding the dangerous narrow streets to the west of Regent Street that led into the notorious, cholera-ridden, smoke-drenched, crime-ruled dens of St Giles, and marched determinedly back towards the wide expanse of Green Park. The second he stepped on to the grass, oppressed by the blackened trees that dotted it here and there, he stopped again, and his gaze swept the park. No sign of Lyle.He marched quickly through the park, stopping every now and again to turn and scan every face that passed. Then he walked again, almost running, sending ducks scattering around the stagnant brown lake, as a smelly, acrid rain began to drizzle, that spattered the damp mud and sounded like a distant muffled drum.He stopped one last time as the rain thickened to a grey blanket, and people started scurrying for shelter, collars turned up. He saw couples sheltering under coats and running for trees or gazebos; workmen trudging on with the same resolute expressions; children, filthy, black with soot and grime, dancing under the water as the dirt flowed down their faces and into their brown clothes. He saw a woman in green; a man in a black overcoat, his collar turned right up against the rain, darting under a tree with a newspaper over his head; a man in corduroy; a man in tweed; a woman in plain wool; a horse in harness. He thought, for a second, he saw a dog of uncertain parentage, ears trailing in the mud, rolling over and getting himself thoroughly dirty in glee, but when he moved towards the dog it saw a pigeon and started barking, galloping away through the rain and sending up a spray of water behind it, overwhelmed with enthusiasm for this new cause.The man gave up. He turned and started to walk west.Lyle watched him go.When the man was more than forty yards away, just a vague shape in the rain, Lyle shook the water off the newspaper he held over his head, did up the last button on his black coat, pulled his collar higher around his chin, and followed. Tate, turned brown with the mud, padded along behind him. At its very north-western corner, Green Park joins Hyde Park’s south-eastern corner, after which Hyde Park bends sharply north up Park Lane, where the carriages with the padded seats and expensive ladies of taste and tastes clattered around, looking for someone to keep them company. And just behind Park Lane, tucked into a surprisingly well-kept street that bordered the slum of hidden factories mazing the narrow byways behind the wider, more popular arteries of the city, was a mews. The stables were empty, the horses being out on their long day’s work. Above the stables and occasionally in them were the homes of the horses’ owners: messengers, cabbies, and costermongers with their carts. Beyond these stables was a house that might once have been luxurious, but now was crumbling, old red bricks cracked from neglect, windows half-covered by tatty curtains. Through a small door below these windows darted the man. He bounded up a flight of stairs that shook and warped under him, pushed open a loose door and went into a room, empty except for some furnishings covered over with dust cloths that would never be moved and a few mats on the floor. Sitting around a small fire set in a cauldron in the centre of this floor were a group of Chinese men. They paid the man no attention as he strode in, unwinding his long red scarf to reveal his worn face in full, and stripping off the coat, to toss it lightly into a corner.A man with a fat pigtail almost down to the bottom of his back, looking out of place in an overlarge waistcoat, said serenely in near-accentless English, ‘Why are you back so early?’‘He knew I was following.’‘Are you sure?’‘He went to great pains to lose me.’‘That is unsatisfactory, Feng Darin. What are you going to do to remedy the situation?’Feng Darin stared thoughtfully out of the window at the rain. As he watched, a shadow, greyed in the rain, sandy-red hair soaked dark brown and clinging to its scalp, looked back up at the window. At his side, brown mud trickled off a dog. In the rain, the man seemed to smile, then turn slowly and walk away.‘Feng Darin,’ repeated the man with the pigtail from inside the room. ‘What are you going to do to find him again?’‘I won’t have to do anything,xiansheng. He has found us.’The other man smiled faintly, and nodded. ‘If he can find us, Feng Darin, he can find the Plate.’‘Before the Tseiqin?’‘We can only hope.’Feng sighed. ‘But hoping is too passive,xiansheng.The Tseiqin have no hesitation about taking matters into their own hands. I think we should not hesitate either.’‘Well then? What are you doing standing here?’CHAPTER 8SlumThere was one other place Lyle wanted to take Tate that day, and it was on the other side of town. He found a hansom cab and sheltered inside, shivering from the rain pelting the loose cab window and drying on his coat, while water slowly pooled around Tate at his feet. The wet weather brought premature darkness down on London so that, even though it was still morning, the whole city had the feeling of dusk, before a long night.The driver of the cab wouldn’t take him closer than half a mile, and even then he took convincing. The Bethnal Green rookery was cold, dark, damp. Out of dark doorways dark faces leered; from the broken crooked windows in blackened crooked walls, tattered rags serving as curtains flapped wetly. Under each passage and arch across each street, pipes dripped on to mildewed surfaces; at the end of each street refuse mouldered; between each courtyard and alley there was a cellar through which people passed as a common thoroughfare, dipping in and out of a darkened doorway that opened up through a smoky wall. Not even the most intrepid costermongers ventured into the heart of the rookery with their wares or carrying anything more than a few pennies. Children gambled on the edge, hiding behind shattered crates dumped on ruined muddy streets. In the heart of the rookery, boarding houses boasting no beds and only a partial roof hid scowls that lurked around each bubbling wrought-iron pot where strange concoctions slowly burnt black and each inn was full of the silence of broken men taking their tankards too seriously to be safe.Lyle padded through all this, hands deep in his pockets, chin buried in his coat, avoiding the glares that flew his way, Tate trying to pretend he wasn’t with Lyle at his side. Barely the only people attempting to ply their wares were the patterers, who leapt out of doorways to thrust in Lyle’s direction pamphlets with titles like ‘The Serving Girl Surprised!’ followed by a suggestive picture that promised worse inside. Lyle scowled, shook his head and scurried on.There was one place inside the Bethnal Green rookery that resembled civilization, and even then it was a civilization in decline. Lyle found it through a half-open crumbling door a few steps below street level, above which someone had hammered a sign reading ‘House of Pr’ before someone else had come along and broken off the other half of the sign for some other purpose. He pushed open the door and stepped into a darkness that stank of tobacco, opium, sweat and cheap make-up made from ground lead. Faces lurked in the shadows, and those that weren’t lost in some other world glared at having their rest interrupted. A stair at one end led up to an unseen fiddle player whose instrument possessed no more than three strings. The sounds of drinking and pattering feet accompanied him in occasional loud gales of shouting that lapsed again into an alcoholic silence. Lyle walked to the stairs, but didn’t climb them, turning instead to a small door tucked just behind them, bolted, with a sign crudely written on it in charcoal, ‘kep owut ’. He knocked on the door. After a second it opened and a very large man with a crooked nose that hadn’t healed properly from when it last broke, and a pair of lips so cut and bruised they barely resembled a mouth any more, glowered at him. ‘Keep out,’ he growled, indicating the sign with a huge, bulging finger.‘I need to see the Missus.’‘Keep out!’‘Just tell the Missus Mister Lyle is here, please.’The door slammed shut. Lyle waited, leaning into a corner, trying to look unobtrusive in the smoke. Someone lying on a pallet by the opposite door was starting to whine in a high-pitched, if undeniably happy voice that sounded like a frightened cat mewing. The door unbolted again and a new face appeared. It was round, possessed more chins than its owner had fingers - of which three were missing on the right hand, just stumps remaining - above a large red, low-necked dress stained in more mysterious ways than Lyle wanted to speculate on, and was topped by a huge yellow wig that in low-ceilinged houses presented something of a fire hazard. It beamed at Lyle.‘Horatio! Come in, come in.’He sidled uneasily into the room. The woman glanced at the large man skulking in a corner and said imperiously, ‘Go.’The man lumbered out, his face impassive. The door closed behind him. Lyle looked round the room. A huge, dirty and cracked mirror dominated one corner, a sofa another, the stuffing showing, and another wall was obscured by equally damaged dresses of a similar low-cut nature, and wigs to match. His eyes fell on a desk in front of the mirror, laden with pots and brushes. He picked up a pot at random, sniffed it, frowned and said, ‘This smells of belladonna.’‘Mistress of the night,’ replied the Missus with an overdramatic flourish.‘Hallucinogenic,’ replied Lyle reproachfully, putting the pot down again. ‘How are you, Mrs Gardener?’She drooped herself over the end of the sofa, waving a long white hand airily. ‘As well as can be expected, darling boy. And you? Are youstilltrying to cure society’s ills?’‘Only as a hobby, Mrs Gardener. But I do have a favour to ask.’‘Favours?Horatio, dear, I thought we established that all debts are repaid.’‘All right - an exchange.’‘You’re not going to be so vulgar as to offermoney, are you?’‘Ma’am,’ he replied with a faint sigh, ‘I couldn’t compete.’ Lyle dug into a pocket, rummaging around deep inside before he found what he was looking for. He pulled it out triumphantly, held it up and said, ‘Burn one teaspoon in your room whenever you have an attack, inhale the fumes and it ’ll temporarily reduce the breathing difficulties.’She took the pot, lifted the lid and peered suspiciously at what was inside. ‘It’s a powder, not a herb.’‘Yes.’‘What’s it made of?’‘It ’s chemically derived.’She frowned. ‘Have you tested it?’‘Yes.’‘Onpeople?’‘Once, yes!’She sighed, and the pot disappeared somewhere into the desk next to her. ‘Well, I trust you, Horatio Lyle. More than the quacks who call themselves physicians, at least. And what do you desire in return?’‘Information, please.’‘It’salwaysinformation with you, Horatio, my darling boy. How do you expect our relationship to develop like this?’‘I need to know about Bray.’Her expression darkened. ‘Bray?’‘Yes.’‘Why do you want to know about him?’‘I’m looking for him.’‘For yourself, or forthem?’‘If by “them”, you mean the bobbies, no, not necessarily. It depends what he has to say.’‘Horatio, wouldn’t it be simpler for us all if you let him be?’‘Why, where is he?’She sighed expansively, leaning back and away from him, to study his face from an angle. As the silence stretched, he shifted uneasily and said, ‘Ma’am, I’m not leaving until I have an answer. Agoodanswer, I mean.’
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She took a deep breath, and let it out again. ‘Bray is an unfortunate. If you’d met his Pa. . .born bad, died drunk. You can’t blame the boy for falling into other pursuits.’‘That’s not really for me to decide, is it? Where is he?’‘He was staying with a friend of his, a man with four fingers. . .’‘Carwell?’The sharpness of his question surprised her. ‘Yes, it might well have been the same.’‘Where was he staying?’‘A boarding house owned by Mrs McVicar, a Scottish lady of some repute.’‘I think I know it. Is he there now?’She waved her arms in expansive ignorance. ‘He and Carwell both appear to have dug themselves into the shadows. Carwell - and his brother - used to be a common client here, but I hear from those who know such things that he and Bray were both working on something -’ she waggled her eyebrows meaningfully at Lyle - ‘substantial. Is that what brings you here, Horatio? Something “substantial”?’‘I’d rather not talk about it.’‘It must be sensational, then.’‘Will you contact me if you see Bray?’Her eyes narrowed fractionally. ‘Perhaps.’‘He might be in danger.’‘From who?’‘The people who killed Carwell.’She didn’t blink, and though her smile remained fixed, there was a tiny, imperceptible tightening as she hid her reactions behind a mask of stone. ‘In that case, it may well be that I will contact you.’‘Thank you.’ He smiled, nodded politely at her and, without another word, turned and left the room and that house as fast as he possibly could, trying not to breathe on his way out. Mrs McVicar’s boarding house was a leaning tomb around a small courtyard which had, over the years, filled up with other smaller houses, sheds of wood tied together with bits of damp rope, that turned the courtyard into a square surrounding yet more houses of mud floors, cloth roofs and walls through which the light crawled in each long, crooked crack. In the kitchen there was a small group of footpads and thieves carefully sipping thin soup, the colour of which derived more from the orange-brown water that sloshed out of the pump than from the ingredients carefully sprinkled in it. Several glanced at Lyle as he entered, with a calculating look. Tate growled at them. Lyle did his best to ignore them, and asked in a voice increasingly inflected with the accents of that part of town where the Madam was. It was a habit he ’d acquired when young, and never managed to lose, so wherever he went, Lyle found himself speaking in the local accent. Though it could often be embarrassing, it was occasionally useful too, and Lyle was almost grateful for it now.The Madam was outside, washing. Lyle found her bent over a stone trough by a wrought-iron pump, hammering sheets so thin he could see through them the colour of her eyes. He waited until she had finished and was hanging them out to drip dirty brown water on to the dirty brown earth, before saying, ‘Mrs McVicar?’She turned quickly, fists instinctively bunching up, saw him and didn’t relax. ‘What d’you want?’‘Erm. . .I’m looking for Bray, ma’am.’Her eyebrows knitted together. ‘Who?’‘Bray. Stayed here with Carwell.’‘Who?’‘Carwell. Short, missing a finger on his right hand? If you have any information about. . .’‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. Goodbye,’ she said in a voice that had a strange drone Lyle hadn’t expected to hear. Leaving her washing where it was she turned and marched with a glassy expression into the house. Lyle followed, but she slammed the door shut behind her, without once looking back at him. Lyle stood for a few astonished seconds on the step, then hammered on the door. ‘Mrs McVicar!’ Silence from inside. ‘Mrs McVicar!’ He looked down at Tate, who assumed an unhelpful expression even by doggy standards. Lyle groaned, looked at the door, backed off a few paces and charged shoulder-first at it. On the third impact it burst open and he limped in, rubbing his aching arm and hopping slightly, having nearly tripped over his own feet. Inside, Mrs McVicar was mindlessly scrubbing a couple of thin metal plates in a stone sink. He strode up to her and tried again, in his most authoritative voice.‘Mrs McVicar, I am a Special Constable.’She stared blankly at him. ‘Who are you?’‘Ma’am, I need to find Bray. I have reason to believe. . .’‘Who?’He frowned. Her expression was one of total incomprehension. ‘Mrs McVicar?’‘Yes?’‘Are you feeling all right?’‘Of course I’m feeling all right. Who are you? What are you doing here?’‘I’m Special Constable Horatio Lyle, ma’am. . .’Immediately her eyebrows came together. She seemed to be trying to remember something. Distantly she murmured, ‘Lyle? Horatio Lyle?’‘Yes, that ’s right.’‘Looking for. . .’‘Bray. Friend of Carwell.’‘Bray. Bray?’ Her eyebrows flickered and she seemed to be trying to say something, mouth working up and down soundlessly around a trapped answer.‘Ma’am, are you sure you’re feeling quite well?’Without a word of warning she suddenly turned and marched over to a shelf, turning her back to Lyle. He followed her quickly as she opened a drawer and reached in. ‘Ma’am?’Her hand came out, clutching a carving knife. He jumped back quickly. It was a cheap knife, the handle half-fallen off, the blade rusted, but it still had the look of something designed for cutting through meat with the least possible effort. She didn’t move, didn’t look at him, just stared at the rusted knife in her hand. ‘A man came,’ she said in a distant voice.‘A man?’ murmured Lyle, his own voice shaking slightly as he backed towards the door.‘Yes.’ She spoke like someone in a dream. ‘A beautiful, kind man. Eyes like emeralds. “Where is Bray?” he said. “Where is Bray?” I hardly dared speak, I sounded so crude and soweakcompared to him.’‘Yes?’ prompted Lyle, his voice barely above a whisper.She turned slowly, and though her eyes were open and fixed on him, he doubted if she was seeing him at all. ‘He. . .hesmeltof sweet exotic fruits and. . .of leaves in empty forests - such a clean, pure smell, so. . .enticing, so warming. He said, “You are weak” and I almost cried to be honoured by his speech and his looks.’‘“Exotic fruits”? And teeth like a fish?’ suggested Lyle, one foot already outside the doorframe, ready to run, one hand wrapped tightly round a glass vial, half-hidden behind his white knuckles.She ignored him. Perhaps she couldn’t hear him. ‘He said a man would come, a policeman, Horatio Lyle. He said this man would want to know where Bray was, and that this man was evil.’ She raised her head slowly, and now her eyes seemed to drift into focus for the very first time. She saw Lyle. She smiled. She slowly changed her grip on the knife and, without warning, without a cry or a change in her serene expression, without a word or a sigh, she ran at him.Struck dumb, Lyle doubted his own eyes, and only as she was nearly on top of him, the point angled towards his heart, did instinct kick in. He jumped back, pivoting out of the door and round against the wall, while at his feet Tate barked furiously. Mrs McVicar swung out of the door frantically after him, but was hindered by Tate leaping up and biting at her ankle. Lyle staggered back as she struggled to free herself, face still serene despite the blood flowing around her ankle and Tate clinging on grimly. As she brought the knife up again Lyle threw the glass vial down on to the ground as hard as he could.It smashed, sizzled and then exploded in foul-smelling thin grey smoke that leapt up instantly and burnt the eyes, making them run and tickling the throat. Lyle felt something brush his arm and pushed hard against it. He heard a little, unpleasant sound like the snipping of scissors slicing rashers of bacon into pieces, and a sigh that seemed to go on for ever. Tate was barking, but if he was doing that, he couldn’t be biting. Lyle staggered out of the cloud of smoke, coughing and heaving. Windows were opening, voices were shouting, children were appearing at the mouths of alleys to stare, people were emerging from doorways. Lyle flapped ineptly at the smoke with his hat as Tate limped out of it, and slowly, deadened by the still-falling rain, it drifted away. He looked down at the ground. Blood was slowly pooling. Mrs McVicar lay, breathing heavily, legs twisted under her, head to one side, the carving knife bloody at her side. Blood seeped through her bodice, diluted by the rain. He heard someone start to shout, but it was a long way off. Everyone else just watched in silence. For a second he stood in dumbfounded horror, trying to comprehend what he ’d just seen, before instinct once again took over. He rushed over to Mrs McVicar’s side, kicking the carving knife away with the toe of his boot, kneeling down at her side and tearing at her clothes while shouting, ‘Someone get a doctor!’A child ran off, but whether to find help or not, he didn’t know. In the silence broken only by the drumming rain, the crowd of onlookers edged tighter around the body. ‘Someone get a doctornow!’ he yelled. He tore away at the bodice and saw the long, deep slice in her side. ‘Oh God,’ he whispered under his breath. Her eyes flickered open and slowly focused on him.‘Who. . .’ she began weakly.Lyle grabbed a wet sheet from the stone trough by the pump and started tearing through the flimsy fabric, while everyone stood and watched. ‘Help me!’ he snapped at the nearest person, who came forward uncertainly to take a handful of sheet. ‘Hold it against the cut, hard,’ snapped Lyle, digging through his pockets furiously.‘Who. . .’ began Mrs McVicar again, trying to raise herself and see his face clearly.‘Horatio Lyle,’ he whispered. ‘It ’s all right.’‘Lyle?’ There was understanding there now, a recognition and warmth he hadn’t heard before. She reached up with a bloody hand and tried to grab his. He held her hand tightly, feeling the weak pulse underneath it. Trying to move nearer to him, and in a voice that was almost drowned out by the rain, she whispered, ‘Don’t look at the eyes.’ Then she smiled. And gently lay back, and let go of his hand.The only noise left was of the falling rain. The man holding the bloody sheets glanced up at Lyle with a question in his eyes, and Lyle looked away. He stood up slowly. He turned to search for Tate, saw him cowering, sodden and cold, in a corner, walked over to him, squatted down, wrapped the freezing, wet dog in his coat, and carried him to the nearest hansom cab without saying a word.CHAPTER 9Stone‘You all right, Mister Lyle? You look all pale an’ all.’‘I’m fine, thank you, Teresa. Come in out of the rain.’He closed the door quickly behind Tess as she slouched into the quiet house. Taking her coat, he hung it up next to his own sodden garment, so that the two could drip together, and led her quickly into the sitting room, where a fire was blazing and Tate was lying in a warm basket, snoozing happily. A half-eaten plate of bread and cold meat lay on the table next to a large padded armchair, which was grooved and worn in a shape that exactly matched Lyle ’s dimensions. Into this Lyle flopped without a word, not looking directly at Tess, but staring into the fire. She had a feeling he ’d been doing that most of the afternoon. At his feet was a pile of the day’s newspapers, crumpled by intensive reading and careless discarding.‘Good. . .dog walk, Mister Lyle?’ she hazarded.‘I found out where our elusive follower is staying.’‘An’?’‘He’s staying with five other Chinese gentlemen in a mews off Hyde Park. His neighbour said they’d moved in there about three months ago.’‘Ain’t that a bit odd?’‘Yes, a bit.’She shifted uneasily. She wasn’t used to his intense silence. ‘An’ anything else happen?’‘I read the newspapers.’Tess brightened at this. ‘Well, that don’t sound so bad!’‘They’ve found Carwell’s brother, Jack. He was thrown up by the tide a few hundred yards further down the river, after we’d gone. According to the reports, his throat had been cut, with some sort of hunting knife.’ Lyle’s voice sounded tired and empty. ‘The Carwells always worked together. It ’s no surprise.’ And, almost inaudible, ‘Such a waste.’Tess felt obliged to say something but couldn’t think what. ‘Oh. But nothin’elsehappen, right? Only ’cos it seems to me how you got this way of sorta gettin’ into trouble when I ain’t here to make sure that you don’t do nothin’ silly an’—’‘A lady attacked me with a carving knife. Without provocation. In mysterious circumstances.’Tess shuffled uneasily. ‘Oh,’ she repeated finally, when the silence dragged too long. ‘Well, you ain’t seemin’ too dead, so it can’t have beenthatnasty.’
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Lyle looked up, and seemed to see her properly for the first time. He tried to smile, and said in a softer voice, ‘I have never seen anyone act the way she behaved. Mrs McVicar, I mean. It was as if she ’d been hypnotized, conditioned to think a certain way by someone who came before me. Conditioned not to talk about Bray, conditioned to attack anyone who asked about Bray. “Don’t look at the eyes.” I don’t believe that hypnotism can induce any effect which cannot be undone again, Teresa, but there was something in what I saw that I cannot explain.’‘Perhaps it were. . .’ she shrugged, ‘magic, Mister Lyle?’‘That ’s really very unhelpful.’‘Sorry, Mister Lyle.’Silence again, uncomfortable and heavy. Suddenly Lyle let out a long breath, looked up briskly, forced a smile on to his face and said in an authoritative voice, ‘So, Teresa, what have you discovered? ’ Sitting by the fire in the kitchen, Tess ate a hastily prepared sandwich with one hand, drank a thick cup of soup with the other, and talked through the crumbs while Lyle watched with a slightly pained expression.‘I went to Covent Garden first, ’cos I thought how they’d know there where this fruit thing come from, bein’ a. . .a. . .’‘Lychee.’‘An’ all. And I met this man there what said it come from China an’ the best place to ask were down at Clerkenwell where the East India Company had their offices. So I went down to Clerkenwell an’ there was this man what said “Hello.” An’ I said “Hello” an’ he said, “What do you want?”, only I think it was slightly different, ’cos I. . .’‘Teresa?’‘Yes?’‘Did you find out who sold the fruit?’She glowered. ‘You got no patience, have you, Mister Lyle? I’d listen ifyouwere tellin’ a good story.’‘No, you wouldn’t!’‘Well, I’dpretendto listen.’He sighed. ‘More soup?’She looked at her half-full cup. ‘Yes.’He poured slowly. She crammed another mouthful of bread into her mouth and washed it down quickly. Cheeks bulging, a mumble came out that might have been, ‘It’s this fella called Granter.’‘Granter?’‘Uh-huh. Mr Granter.’‘He sells lychees.’‘Well, he’s the company’s repres. . .man what goes around to the houses of all the bigwigs and tries to get their money for way more than it’s really worth and probably gets away with it too, ’cos all the bigwigs are just slow when it comes to business an’. . .’‘Where is Mr Granter?’‘He lodges at. . .’ she frowned, ransacking her memory, ‘the Angel Inn.’‘I know it.’‘Right.An’, ’cos I’m extra nice and really underpaid and really underappreciated an’ oughta get a medal an’ all, I found out who boils oranges.’‘Lots of people boil oranges before they sell them, Teresa.’She rolled her eyes. ‘Iknow, Mister Lyle. But if you’ll let me just speak without all this interruption an’ all, I’d tell you that there was this man near the meat market in Smithfield, name of Josiah, an’ everyone local knows he boils his wares before he goes on sellin’, in order to get more money, but he only ever tries sellin’ to the bigwigs.’ She thought about this, then added righteously, ‘On account of how they’re slow.’‘Where does Josiah lodge?’She eyed the loaf of bread on the centre of the table, and didn’t say anything. Lyle sighed. ‘Teresa. . .’‘Yes, Mister Lyle?’‘Have you so soon forgotten how I didn’t hand you over to the bobbies?’‘I think of it always, Mister Lyle. You’d be right proud of how much I think of it.’He sighed, leant over and started hacking at the loaf of bread. ‘You’ll get fat,’ he warned.‘Then I guess I’ll be less hungry when I go back to work.’Sudden, embarrassed silence. Tess felt her ears starting to go pink. She slurped soup hastily. Lyle said, in a quick, low voice, ‘Look, if you ever get yourself into. . .’‘Josiah,’ she blurted, ‘lives near the old furniture place round the hospital.’‘St Bartholomew’s Hospital?’‘Uh-huh.’‘Right! So all we need to do now is. . .’Upstairs, the doorbell jangled.The figure standing on the doorstep was so swaddled in a black cloak, beneath a hat several sizes too large and a huge beard, that it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. He hissed in a voice hoarse with the effort of disguise, ‘This is the residence of Mister Lyle?’‘Yes.’‘May I be admitted?’Tess peered round Lyle at the figure and said, ‘He looks horrid, Mister Lyle.’Lyle frowned at the figure, then looked past him at the hansom cab waiting below and the rather chubby woman standing beside it with a nervous expression. He looked back to the figure at the door and said in a brisk voice, ‘Thomas, why are you wearing a false beard?’‘Sir!’ hissed Thomas desperately, his voice becoming slightly more normal, if shrill with dismay. ‘I can’t be seen here! My father will be furious! Please, let me in!’Lyle rolled his eyes, but stepped to one side. Thomas scurried in. Lyle closed the door and Tess immediately reached up and plucked at the beard, dragging it from Thomas’s face. She looked at it then at Thomas and started laughing. Thomas flushed red from the bottom of his neck to the tips of his ears.‘Thomas,’ said Lyle, ‘what are you doing here?’‘I sneaked out!’ he declared gleefully, unwrapping himself from the huge cloak. ‘My father thinks I’ve gone with my governess to visit my cousins!’‘Why?’ demanded Tess, rolling her eyes in exasperation.‘Teresa,’ said Lyle, in a warning voice. Then turning to Thomas, ‘Why?’‘I want to help!’Tess realized she was holding the false beard, and tossed it on to a table in disgust. ‘Well, that’s very considerate of you, but I think we can. . .’‘I can help, I know I can! I know my father’s handwriting, his signature, I know who his friends are, who might have received letters from him, how they could forge it. Look!’ He dug into his cloak and pulled out a pile of letters. ‘I took these! And I went to the Bank and said who I was and theygaveme the letter used to deposit the sarcophagus in the vault!AndI sneaked into my father’s study and looked through his correspondence, and I found something!’Tess put her hands on her hips. ‘Do you really think that—’But Lyle snatched the papers from Thomas’s hands, eyes widening in delighted surprise. ‘You stole these?’Thomas flushed a brighter shade of purple-red. ‘I do notsteal. I think that as they are family property and I am the future Lord Elwick I have every right to. . .’Lyle was already flicking through the thick sheaf of documents. ‘Is this the one used at the Bank?’ he asked, holding up a piece of paper.‘Yes.’‘Hm. Come on, children.’He strode down the corridor into the sitting room, reached behind a bookcase, and pushed something that clicked. It wasn’t the bookcase that swung outwards, which disappointed Tess immensely, but just a simple square of wall that blended seamlessly into itself. Lyle jogged down the spiral staircase behind it, and through another seamless wall into the furnace room where the pistons, pipes and coils of wire waited for use. He handed the dynamo with its little bulb over to Tess, who obediently spun the handle and watched light burn, while Lyle picked up a very long metal pole, taller than himself, twiddled a couple of handles so that a slow, pervading hissing sound filled the room, extended the metal pole towards a small niche in the furnace that looked specially designed to accommodate it, and flicked something. There was a whooshing sound. The furnace started burning with a dull orange light seeping through the few slits visible in the metal monster. The magnet in its coil of wire slowly started spinning, and as the electricity began to flow Lyle pulled another lever.Lights went on in the room, bulbs exploding into almost unpleasantly bright fluorescence. Thomas gaped, his eyes wide with wonder and delight. Tess contrived to look bored.In this radiance and clattering noise, Lyle picked up another pole and reached up to one of the three big bulbs, the size of a man’s head and glowing red-hot, embedded in the ceiling. Behind it, he turned a curved mirror, like the reflector in a light-house, until the light was centred on one table. He repeated this for the other three bulbs, so that all the illumination was focused on one place. Into this spotlight of burning whiteness, he put the papers, and pulled out a magnifying glass.For a long while there was silence, apart from the machinery grinding away, while Lyle examined each document with scrupulous slowness. Finally he tutted, put the glass down and said, ‘If these letters are originals by your father. . .’‘They are,’ said Thomas quickly.‘Well. That is. . .interesting.’Thomas tilted his chin up proudly. ‘Yes, sir. I thought as much, sir.’ There was something he had to remember, he knew. A voice he had to remember, or possibly forget. His fingers itched. He smelt. . .something like dead leaves on a forest floor. . .Lyle was reading the letter.To whom it may concern . . . the following item . . . deposited in my name . . . redeemable upon . . . vault V18E . . . not to be opened under any circumstances . . . yours faithfully, Thomas Henry Elwick, third Baron of that name.Lyle was starting to frown, rubbing the edge of the paper, turning it over, looking at its thickness, feeling its texture, scratching at the letterhead, then at the stamped seal on the bottom, then at the signature, his frown deepening each time. Thomas hardly noticed, trying to remember. . .‘Teresa, there’s a pad of paper in the desk drawer there. Would you bring it over?’She nodded, scurried to the desk, and opened the drawer. Inside was a series of metal tools that she didn’t dare speculate on, a collection of pens and pencils, a pad of paper, a mousetrap, and several pieces of disassembled metal that collectively resembled a gun. She closed the drawer quickly and darted back with the paper. Lyle took it without looking up and murmured distantly, ‘Thank you, Teresa.’Through the thin paper, which had the rough, jagged-edged look of a home-made item, he then laboriously traced the signature written on the forged letter to the Bank. Tess and Thomas watched in silence, though Thomas kept on finding his eyes wandering to the giant furnace, which dominated half of the room, clattering away with a sound that made his heart race. He looked slowly back to Lyle. There was something he had to remember, something inside that said. . .He felt inside his jacket, and was slightly surprised to feel something cold and metallic there. His fingers tightened round the smooth wooden handle. He stared at Lyle, busily scratching away at the desk, then at Tess, who was absently bent over, tickling Tate behind the ears. He took an uneven step towards Lyle, trying to remember, or perhaps not to remember, perhaps to forget, and. . .Lyle looked up and said, sounding worried, ‘This letter isn’t a forgery.’‘It ain’t?’ said Tess, mild surprise entering her voice as she straightened up and moved towards the table to look.‘If it is a forgery, it’s immaculate. The signature is identical, the seal, the paper,everythingis perfect. This letter is either an impossibly good fake or the very real thing.’Tess and Lyle looked slowly towards Thomas. His face was stone, his eyes were slightly unfocused. ‘Thomas?’ murmured Lyle.Thomas’s hand tightened over the object tucked inside his jacket. He saw. . . green eyes . . .he saw. . .hesaw . . .‘What’s wrong with him?’ hissed Tess.Thomas’s hand started coming out of the jacket. Lyle pushed Tess to one side quickly and dug into his pockets. They were empty. ‘Tess, take Tate and run!’ he snapped as Thomas drew out the long, slim knife, sharp and clean. Tess looked from Thomas’s empty expressionless face to Lyle’s pale one, and didn’t need to look again. She grabbed Tate by the scruff of the neck, dragged him towards the door and ran. Tate didn’t need much convincing to follow.Thomas’s eyes slowly fixed on Lyle, who started edging away from the desk, towards a chest of drawers. ‘Thomas. . .’ he murmured, and then realized he didn’t have anything to say. He shrugged helplessly. ‘Forgive me for stating the obvious, but you’re holding a knife.’Thomas blinked once, twice. He whispered, ‘He told me, Mister Lyle. He was so kind, so beautiful, how can you disobey a man of his mastery and power? You are not good, Mister Lyle. You and your family bring iron machines to think iron thoughts and make iron worlds. You look at a flower and see numbers in each petal, you look at the sky and see dust in each raindrop. He told me. He said he was strong, and I was weak. I wanted to cry that he could say so.’Lyle groped at the chest of drawers behind him. ‘Thomas,’ he murmured, sliding open a drawer, ‘you’re not well. You’reill, in fact. Possibly drugged. Someone’s been getting into your head. Just. . .put down the knife somewhere where no one’s going to walk on it and we ’ll find you a doctor and a nice place to go quietly mad in, what d ’you say?’Thomas slowly drew the knife back into a better grip to kill with. Lyle grabbed something out of the drawer. It was a tube, lightly caked in baked white clay, but from inside which could be seen spiralling sheets of metal that never touched but between them formed the thick bulk of the tube’s mass, before narrowing into two sharp, wiry ends which didn’t touch, but protruded like antennae. Lyle said, ‘Now, Thomas, there are two ways this can go. I might have managed to charge this properly on the static generator, in which case it’ll be all right, or the science might be terribly, terribly wrong, in which case it’ll be difficult to tidy up. So just before you go mad, tell me what you’re seeing that’s sending you like this.’
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Thomas hesitated. He stared at Lyle, his mouth opening and closing slowly as he tried to think. The words that came were half-choked, forced out harshly. He hissed, ‘Don’t look at the eyes,’ and ran at Lyle.Lyle let him come and, as he neared, ducked under the knife and stabbed up hard at Thomas with the wiry ends of the tube. There was a static sound, a smell of burning, and a shower of fat blue sparks as the charge stored in the metal and clay tube discharged, up through Thomas. Lyle heard a scream and tottered backwards, surprised to find himself still alive. The knife fell from Thomas’s hand and he staggered back, falling to the ground, screaming endlessly, twitching from side to side and holding his head as if in intense pain, and still he screamed, a deafening, unnatural sound, so loud that Lyle had to clutch at his ears, curling away from it in pain, and still the howling went on as Thomas kicked and writhed blindly on the floor, before going limp, head on one side, hands loose and eyes shut.Tess exploded from the end of the stairs, Tate in tow, as the silence settled. She held a poker and charged with the headlong determination of someone about to do something heroic. She saw Thomas lying on the floor, dropped the poker and squeaked, ‘Youkilledhim?’ She didn’t sound particularly offended - just surprised.Lyle stared at the tube in his hand. ‘It’s never donethatbefore.’ They put Thomas in Lyle’s bed and watched him uneasily. ‘What d ’you do to him?’ hissed Tess in a conspiratorial voice.‘Nothing. I allowed a little stored charge to discharge, that ’s all.’‘What does that mean?’‘I gave him a little electric shock.’‘I heard screamin’!’‘Yes. No one’s ever started screaming when they get shocked before,’ he said, frowning in worry. ‘Confusion and unconsciousness, yes, maybe a tiny burn mark around the point of discharge, possibly, occasionally prolonged vomiting and nausea, sometimes heart attack for a little while - but never have I seenanyoneroll around on the ground screaming after being hit bythat.’‘Will he be back to a bigwig soon?’‘I’d be worried if he was back to being a black-market opium dealer with a criminal record soon.’ He saw Tess’s expression, and said in an embarrassed voice, ‘He should wake up quickly. People get more shocked than actually scarred by electricity.’‘What happened?’‘He had a knife.’She rolled her eyes. ‘Apart from that, Mister Lyle.’Lyle looked with real worry at the slumbering Thomas. ‘It’s as if someone is going round hypnotizing anybody who’s come into contact with the case. I don’t know how. It seems impossible to contrive. But he said the exact same words as Mrs McVicar:don’t look at the eyes. Same words, different people, both connected with the case and the Fuyun Plate.’‘Oh.’ Silence. ‘Mister Lyle?’‘Yes?’‘You know you were ’orrid when I said the “magic” thing?’‘Teresa!’ he snapped irritably.She raised her hands. ‘I’m just thinkin’ about what the file thing said. The cultural signifi. . .ficance thing.’He stared down at the slumbering Thomas. ‘The Fuyun Plate was supposedly made for “Tseiqin”, demon-angel creatures. Legend places its origin in ancient Tibet.’‘Is Tibet near here?’Lyle rubbed the bridge of his nose wearily, eyes wrinkling closed to try and shut out distracting thoughts and fatigue. ‘No, Teresa,’ he said, sighing, but not unkindly. ‘Tibet is a province of China.’‘An’ it were a Chinaman what followed us, weren’t it?’‘Yes. It was.’‘So?’ She waited expectantly.In a slightly surprised voice Lyle said, ‘You know, you’re right.’‘Iam?’ She sounded astonished and delighted.‘It ’s time we knew a little bit more about what we ’re looking for. I think I know who to ask, too.’CHAPTER 10WakingsEvening in London, a bruised sky turned blue-orange near the sunset.Thomas woke in an alien bed, sat up, felt a stab of pain in his side and lay down again quickly. A familiar voice at his side said, ‘You’re still not bein’ stupid with knives, are you? Only Mister Lyle weren’t happy.’He half-turned his head and Tess slowly came into focus. ‘Where is this?’She sighed. ‘Stupid question.’‘What happened?’‘Well, first you were all helpful, in a bigwig way, and then you got out this knife and decided to be all stupid and kill people, which were justbad. And you weren’t even very good at it, were you?’‘Where ’s. . .Mister Lyle?’‘Out,’ she said sharply. ‘But he says I’m to sock you if you do anythin’ bad.’ He realized Tess was holding the tube with the sharp wire antennae.He sat up, carefully, taking his time. ‘I won’t hurt you.’‘Too right!’ She frowned at him. ‘Why’d you do it?’‘I don’t remember. It was a dream. I saw green eyes, the most beautiful eyes I’ve. . .’ He realized what he was saying and blushed. ‘And a voice. It was beautiful in my mind. I couldn’t argue with it.’‘You’re mad!’‘It’s all right!’ he said hastily as she stood up. ‘I’m feeling better now. It’s gone. It’s just like a dream. I didn’t know it was there before, but when I looked at Lyle and saw him working, the eyes and the voice were justeverywhere, just. . .’She leant close towards him, and hissed in a conspiratorial voice, ‘You want to know what I think?’‘What?’ he whispered in the same hushed, dreadful voice.‘Do you believe in magic, bigwig?’ Horatio Lyle was waiting. He stood, fingers twined together, on a bridge that spanned the purple-black Regent’s Canal, watching the dark water crawling towards the nearest lock. A barge passed underneath, laden with coal, black from its cargo. The lampman bumped his ladder across the bridge, pausing to light the lamp that hung on its support above and casting Lyle into a pool of yellow light that showed him to be the only person near the water. Lyle waited. After a while, he became aware of a black shadow standing a dozen or so yards away, keeping out of the light, watching him intensely. He smiled.‘It’s you I’m waiting for,’ he called.The shadow slunk into deeper darkness.Lyle waited. He didn’t hear the footsteps behind him, though he had been concentrating for all he was worth, but nor did he jump when the man spoke at his shoulder. ‘Mister Lyle.’ There was a faint accent there, something foreign and mysterious. He didn’t turn to face the man in the crooked top hat.‘You know my name. What ’s yours?’‘Feng Darin.’‘Very pleased to meet you, Mr Feng.’‘If you are here to confront me, Mister Lyle, you are wasting your time.’‘Why are you following me, Mr Feng?’‘You are looking for the Fuyun Plate.’Lyle seemed surprised. ‘That was easy.’‘In what way?’‘You just answered my question.’‘Why should I not tell you something you already know?’Lyle smiled politely, and nodded. ‘If I turn to look at you properly, will you be offended?’‘Yes.’‘Very well, then. Do you know where the Plate is?’‘If I knew that, why would I follow you?’‘What does the Plate do?’‘What legend says it does.’‘How?’‘How legend says it does.’‘Forgive me for scientific doubt, but that hardly seems plausible. ’He felt the shrug behind him. ‘Be that as it may, it is the truth.’‘What is the significance of the eyes?’‘I do not know what you mean.’‘I’ve been attacked twice today, by people acting as if hypnotized. They mentioned eyes. Why did they attack me?’‘People will want to stop you getting the Plate.’‘Why?’‘It has power.’‘Oh yes, the cultural significance. Not to mention legend. Are you a Chinese spy, or is that really just a bit melodramatic?’‘I am. . . was . . .Tibetan.’‘Really?’ Lyle brightened. ‘Was?’‘I serve a cause within China, not Tibet.’‘That ’s rather interesting.’‘Why?’‘You’re the first Chinese man I’ve met who serves a causewithinChina, rather than the Emperor. Will you stop me getting the Plate?’‘That depends entirely on what you are planning to do with it. If you swear to hand the Plate over to me on recovering it, then I will not stop you.’‘I can’t swear that.’‘Then I cannot promise not to stop you.’Lyle sighed. ‘I thought you’d say that.’Quietly, Feng asked, ‘Can you find the Plate, Mister Lyle?’‘Perhaps.’‘It is of paramount importance that you find it before they do. If they can find it and restore it to its original form, they will be unstoppable.’‘They?’‘The Tseiqin.’‘Oh yes, I should have guessed.Them,’ said Lyle in a dejected voice. ‘You don’t seriously expect me to believe any of this, do you?’‘You are an intelligent man, Mister Lyle. I hope you can believe whatever the truth happens to be.’Lyle frowned. ‘How do you mean, “restore” it?’‘The Plate was damaged a long time ago - deliberately - to prevent the Tseiqin from using it for their intents. Now the time has come when they can repair it, as the time has never been right before. They will repair it by the iron that they revile. It is vital that they do not achieve this. You must not let them. We will kill to stop this, as they will kill to achieve it. They are watching you, Mister Lyle.’Lyle stared at the water, and ran his hands wearily through his hair. ‘This is horse manure,’ he muttered under his breath. Silence from behind. ‘Mr Feng?’ He turned and looked into darkness. Feng Darin was gone. ‘Just let me try to understand this. You say you saw me working and suddenly your head was full of green eyes and beautiful voices and you couldn’t resist their exhortations to murder.’Thomas thought about it. ‘Sir, I am so very sorry, I. . .’‘He were bewitched, Mister Lyle,’ said Tess brightly. ‘Just like that other one.’‘The other one?’ said Thomas weakly, feeling his heart trying to jump out of his chest.Lyle shot Tess a look. ‘Why is it I seem to go through life meeting stranger and stranger people who either threaten menace or actually charge at me with carving knives? Whoarethese people who just happen to have carving knives stashed in every pocket and sleeve?’‘Mister Lyle, you carry chemicals and electric things and magnets an’ all,’ pointed out Tess in the best serious voice she could muster.‘That is beside the point.’‘Well, actually, it really ain’t, ’cos. . .’‘Teresa!’They lapsed into silence. Finally Lyle said, ‘You’re certain you’re not feeling any murderous compulsions at the moment?’‘No, sir!’‘He might be rep. . .repress. . .’‘Repressing, Teresa.’‘Like he were when he come in!’Lyle stared thoughtfully into Thomas’s eyes, and Thomas met the gaze head on, standing up a little straighter and matching his stare with the full force of Elwick arrogance that he could muster, while inside his stomach churned and his elbows shook in his sleeves. At length Lyle said very quietly, ‘All right, lad, say I believe you.’‘Lyle never believes no one,’ whispered Tess helpfully into Thomas’s ear.‘Teresa! You are not assisting the situation!’‘Just thought he deserved to know, Mister Lyle.’Silence. Thomas swallowed, feeling it drag at his self-esteem. At last Lyle said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t like it and it ’s probably bad. You don’t seem like the unstable kind, and nor did Mrs McVicar - and the fact that you both said the same thing is disturbing too. The letter that you brought from the Bank is written in your father’s hand, on your father’s paper, with your father’s seal, and I’m willing to swear that it isn’t a forgery. How is it possible that your father would deliberately choose to put into his vault a sarcophagus containing a thief?’Thomas opened his mouth to speak, but Lyle quickly raised a hand. ‘I know. It isn’t possible, or at the very least isn’t rational. But there have been a lot of people doing a lot of irrational things of late, and perhaps your father’s inexplicable action is one of those irrational things. Still, there’s a chance I might need you, lad, so I’m going to take the chance that what you say is true and that you’re not really a murderer in the making. If, though, you are lying, and if you attempt to hurt Teresa or myself, I swear that a massive electric shock will be the least of your worries. Do you understand?’
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‘Yes, sir.’‘Good.’ Lyle smiled, stood up in a single, brisk movement, clapped his hands together and said, ‘Then let’s go and do a little detecting, shall we?’ The evening had settled in for good, and now the only traces of light on the horizon were echoes of sunshine, and not the sunlight itself. The office was grand, all strange foreign wood, imposing portraits and, in one corner, a parrot that Tate growled at with unremitting hatred.‘Mister Lyle, your request is an unusual one.’‘Mr Granter, there are pressing circumstances.’‘What sort of “pressing circumstances”, might one enquire, Mister Lyle?’Lyle hesitated. ‘Security of the realm.’‘Dependent on the sale oflychees?’‘Erm. . .yes.’Mr Granter looked from Lyle to Tess and finally to Thomas. The last made him sigh and relent. ‘Well. . .you are clearly a man of integrity.’ Thomas almost preened. When Mr Granter spoke, his eyes had been onhim. Lyle tried not to seethe, the smile locked on his face.‘You’re too kind, Mr Granter.’ Behind the cattle-thronged, chicken-covered, pig-packed streets of Smithfield, paved with the inevitable consequence of pushing thousands of live animals in and out of the market every hour of the day, was a small tenement whose smell of ancient, mouldering fruit immediately identified it. ‘That one,’ said Tess, pointing a triumphant finger at the smallest, darkest, smelliest door, lit only by the lantern Thomas carried.‘Right,’ said Lyle, striding up to it. He hammered a few times on the door, which opened a crack.A suspicious eye regarded him and a gruff voice said, ‘What d’you want?’‘Mr Josiah?’‘Who’re you?’‘Special Constable Horatio Lyle.’The door started closing quickly again, but Lyle had put his foot into it. From behind the flimsy wood, Mr Josiah snapped, ‘I ain’t got nothin’ to do with your kind!’‘Mr Josiah, I’m not here about anything you might have done. I just need to know where you sell your oranges.’‘I ain’t talkin’ to you!’Lyle sighed. ‘Mr Josiah, I can get authority.’‘And he can pay!’ piped Tess helpfully from behind him. The door opened an inch further. The eye returned.‘Youpay?’Lyle glared at Tess, but muttered grudgingly, ‘I suppose I can offer a couple of shillings for the information.’‘What d ’you want to know?’‘I need to know who you sell your tasty, fruity boiled oranges to, which streets and which clients.’The door opened a little wider. ‘Give me the money, an’ you can come in.’‘Thank you.’ Half an hour later, Thomas realized he’d never been in London at this hour of night, not without a small army of servants to keep him safe, or unless he’d been to the theatre with his parents or his cousins or the girl from the estate in Hampshire he was supposed to marry. Though it was dark, he had to admit it was, in a strangely haunting way, almost attractively so. Each light seemed brighter and more vibrant for the thick dark surrounding it.‘There’ll be fog tonight,’ muttered Tess, as the three of them huddled together under the lamps of Smithfield. Lyle didn’t answer, but Thomas immediately looked round at the streets leading into the market, searching for an oncoming tide of grey-ness up the narrow passages.Lyle had a map unfolded and was tracing a route along one of its anonymous black and white streets. ‘Primrose Hill?’Thomas glanced at the sheet of paper Mr Granter had given them. ‘Erm. . .no, sir, no clients on Primrose Hill, but there is a Mr Wedderburn on Oppidans Road, sir.’‘No. Josiah doesn’t sell to anyone on Oppidans Road. His route skirts the top of Primrose Hill, then up along Fellows Road where he sells to the big estates, and then north all the way up to Lord Crispin’s Manor below Parliament Hill, and Kenwood where he ’s got an. . . understandingwith the parlour maid.’Tess nodded appreciatively. ‘Some prime slow’uns up that way, Mister Lyle.’Thomas stared at her with an appalled expression. ‘Forgive me, miss,’ he finally managed to stutter, ‘I don’t think I am aware of your. . .disposition.’Tess stared at him with an intense frown. ‘What you do for money,’ translated Lyle helpfully.A grin of delight and revelation split across her face. ‘’Course! I pinch bigwigs’ purses.’Thomas stood in frozen astonishment for a second, then started to laugh, a slightly uneasy laugh made unnaturally loud by its falseness. Tess stared at Lyle again, with another questioning look. ‘He thinks you’re telling a joke, Teresa,’ he translated kindly, not glancing up from the map.Tess grinned uncomfortably at Thomas. ‘Oh. Yes. ’Course.’‘Does Mr Granter go anywhere near Belsize Park?’ asked Lyle suddenly, finger still hovering over the map.Thomas hastily looked down at the map, assuming a serious expression again. ‘Erm. . .yes, sir. He has four clients there - Mr Shull, Countess Ascham, Lord Chetwynd and. . .oh.’‘Oh?’ said Tess quickly, looking up with alert eyes.‘Same question,’ said Lyle uneasily.‘Lord Moncorvo.’‘Who?’‘Same question.’‘He. . .he’s a friend of my father’s. He. . .’Don’t look at the eyes, boy . . . and how much does Horatio Lyle know, boy?‘He. . .’‘Mister Lyle?’ Tess hissed, as a glassy expression slowly crossed Thomas’s face. She edged uneasily behind Lyle as he knelt down in front of the stricken boy and waved his hand slowly up and down in front of Thomas’s glazed eyes.‘Thomas?’Boy, perhaps it is time we discussed Horatio Lyle in more detail . . .‘Thomas, you’re not carrying another knife, are you?’What do you want me to do, sir?Go to him. And when you are there, kill him, boy.Yes, sir.You are weak, boy. But I like you. You have a dream in you yet, boy.Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.‘Thomas!’Thomas jerked slightly, stared at Lyle and began to back away. He put one hand in his mouth and said through it, ‘Mnn!’‘Thomas, use language!’‘I. . .he came to the house and. . .’You won’t remember me, will you? I’m a dream, boy, a memory of a better time when the skies were clear and the trees grew straight for the sun. You won’t remember me. You’ll dream of my shadow, boy.‘Who came?’‘Moncorvo! He wasthere,but I’d forgotten and. . .mnn. . .’‘Eatin’ your hand probably ain’t helpin’, bigwig,’ said Tess kindly.‘Teresa! Now isnotthe time!’ Lyle wrapped his hands round Thomas’s upper arms and shook him gently. ‘Listen, just tell me what Moncorvo said, tell me what happened.’‘He. . .’‘Thomas Edward Elwick, pull yourself together!’ he barked suddenly, sharply.Thomas snapped automatically to attention. ‘Sorry, sir,’ he muttered.‘That’s better. What did Moncorvo say?’‘He said, sir, that you were evil, bad. . .that you had a heart made of iron and blood of iron and that you’d make the world a machine, sir.’‘That ain’t true, is it?’ asked Tess in a little, worried voice.‘Think of it as a metaphor, Teresa,’ muttered Lyle distractedly, still staring into Thomas’s eyes.‘Oh well, if it’s ametaphor.’‘What else did Moncorvo say, after the evil-aspect was fully covered?’ sighed Lyle impatiently.‘He said. . .’ Thomas gulped.‘Thomas, you’ve run at me with a knife already. Nothing you say or do might surprise me.’Thomas’s voice was barely above a whisper. ‘He said that I should kill you, sir.’ Almost immediately he barked, ‘But I’m sure, sir, that it’s not important now, because I would never, sir, I. . .’Lyle stood up quickly, without a word. Thomas felt himself starting to burn red again. He opened his mouth to speak, but Lyle got there first. ‘Lad, have you ever been hypnotized? ’‘No, sir.’Lyle didn’t immediately answer again.‘Sir, I’d never. . .’‘I know, lad. I’m thinking.’ Silence. Tess shifted nervously. At her feet, Tate yawned. Finally Lyle shook his head and said, ‘I’m out of my depth here.’‘Your fault for takin’ the case, Mister Lyle.’‘Teresa, if you say one more unhelpful thing I swear I’ll take you straight back to Mr Josiah and offer you as an alternative to the house packhorse!’Tess wisely closed her mouth, and pouted instead. Thomas hung his head.Lyle tried not to chew his nails. Finally, he shook his head and muttered, ‘There’s nothing for it now. We’re going to have to go and take a look at Moncorvo’s house.’Thomas paled. A sudden abject terror curled up in his stomach, but he fought it down, telling himself that it was nothing; madness, nothing more. Tess looked thoughtfully up at the sky, then down at the ground. ‘Can I say something helpful, Mister Lyle?’‘Try.’‘Do you think seein’ that Moncorvo will make us happy?’‘That wasn’t helpful, Teresa.’‘But it were an improvement, right?’He sighed. ‘I’ll find a cab.’CHAPTER 11EncounterThe Moncorvo mansion was part of a new terrace of grand white houses, each one no longer than London Bridge and no higher than All Saints’ Church. Lights flooded out of each high window, and the front was busy with carriages. The hansom cab containing three humans and a dog stopped fifty yards away from the front door, which led out on to a green area of pond-dotted grass, across a sparkling new cobbled street, as white and polished and grand as the mansions themselves. The door to the mansion was open, and in and out of it glided ladies in dresses that trailed along in a rustle of silk, men who swept their hats off with the same grandeur with which they swung their canes, liveried servants with impassive expressions, expectant drivers and porters bearing lighted candles.Lyle, Tess, Thomas and Tate watched this from the window of the carriage. ‘A party?’ suggested Tess, sounding none too pleased at the thought.‘Perhaps.’They sat in silence while the night wore on. Somewhere down the hill, an old stone church, lost in a world of urban expansion, struck ten. On the floor of the cab, Tate started snoring quietly. After a while, Thomas realized Tess’s head was hanging against one side of the carriage, her mouth slightly open and eyes shut. He looked up at Lyle, and found the man’s eyes fixed on his, a slight, almost fond smile around his mouth. Lyle struggled out of his own large grey coat, and Thomas noticed how the pockets bulged and how the inside had its own pockets and was cut just as the outside, but in black, not grey. Lyle laid the coat over Tess’s sleeping shape, then sat back against the seat of the carriage and watched the street, still in silence.The clock down the hill struck quarter past. Thomas said, ‘Sir?’‘Yes?’‘May I ask a question?’‘Of course.’‘Why did you decide to become a policeman?’Lyle glanced at him, saw his sincere expression, and looked slowly back towards the lights of the Moncorvo mansion. ‘I needed a job.’‘The Lyle estate has plenty of money, sir. Your father built machines.Youbuilt machines. I went to one of your lectures. I didn’t understand much, sir, but when you talked about what might happen, about how machines might change the world, I understood that. No more pain, you said, no more poverty.’Lyle smiled wanly. ‘I wouldn’t take it too seriously, lad.’‘I wish it were true, sir. Do you think it can happen?’‘Possibly. There is a mathematics in the universe, a symmetry in everything on the planet, that leads me to believe machines, tools and devices, are just an extension of nature.’‘Then why a policeman, sir?’‘Perhaps to see if there was mathematics in people?’‘Is there, sir?’‘No.’ He frowned at his own words. ‘Sometimes. You can say that a wrong plus a wrong will make an even greater wrong, but that’s really far too simple. A certain kind of wrong, plus another wrong, can make a wrong. Two “x”s added together makes two x. An “x” and a “y” added together make nothing satisfactorily singular that I can see.’ Thomas nodded to himself, and didn’t speak. Lyle shot him another sideways look. ‘You want to be a detective, lad?’ It was hardly a question.‘I want to make a difference, sir.’
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