Tales Within A Tale 7 – A Teaser

Now it’s just four weeks until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s still plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here, the second with Robert Carr here, the third with Miss Worthy here, the fourth with Barbabas Tooms here, the fifth with John Laycock here, and the six with Samuel Sugden here.

This time it’s a little different, a short teaser that tells you how the books gets its name.

And, of course, you can read more about Skin Like Silver here.

Like what you see? Order your copy here (this is currently the cheapest price by far!).

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Harper stood in the superintendent’s office the next morning. His palms were bandaged and tender but they’d mend in a few days. Annabelle has fussed around him, putting on a lotion that burned before it soothed. He ached all over.

‘I need you down to have a look at that fire,’ Kendall told him. ‘Take Ash with you.’

‘I thought they’d put it out.’

‘They have. I want to make sure it wasn’t anarchists who caused it.’

The man was as immaculately turned-out as ever, suit pressed, moustache and side whiskers trimmed, the crease in his trousers as sharp as a blade. But his face was lined with worry.

‘I thought they were all talk,’ Harper said.

‘They are,’ the superintendent replied. ‘But you know how it happens. All it needs is one hothead taking that “assault on the system” line of theirs to heart.’ He shook his head. ‘Stupid. Work with Dick Hill until he’s established a cause. Just in case.’

‘Yes, sir. I have that dead baby, too.’

‘I know. What have you found?’

‘Nothing.’ He paused, thinking of the tiny corpse on the table. ‘Honestly, I’m not sure if we ever will.’

‘Keep trying, anyway. Your hands, Tom…’

‘From the pumps yesterday.’ He held them up. ‘Blisters. They’ll heal soon enough.’

‘You’d think the criminals would have been running free, what with every officer down there,’ Kendall said. He took his pipe from his waistcoat pocket and lit it with a match. ‘But there was nothing reported.’ He arched his eyebrows. ‘Think about that. Not a single crime anywhere in Leeds.’

There was just enough of a breeze to bring a sense of freshness, the hint that autumn might arrive soon. Harper walked side by side with Ash, the constable quiet as they passed the Corn Exchange. Carts clattered quickly along Duncan Street. Piles of horse dung were flattened on the road. Men ran, pushing barrows piled with goods to deliver. A tram rolled by with the grinding sound of wheels in the iron tracks. The air smelt burnt and dead as they neared the station.

‘How did you like the inspection?’ Harper asked.

‘It was right enough, sir.’ He gave a small grin. ‘My missus thought I looked that smart all dressed up.’

‘Mine made me have a photograph taken wearing it.’

‘They must love the top hats, those women.’ He shook his head and tapped his old bowler. ‘Me, I’m more comfortable in this.’ He paused. ‘I heard one of the firemen died yesterday.’

The inspector nodded. ‘When the platforms collapsed. Nothing anyone could do. They couldn’t even get in to bring the body out.’

‘Sad business, sir.’

They’d become used to working as a team since Reed had left. They functioned well together, although there’d been little to tax them too hard. All the crimes they’d investigated in the last few months had been straightforward. Profit or passion, and a simple matter to find the culprit.

Harper doubted there’d be much for them here, either. He didn’t believe any anarchists were involved. The only problem would come if Hill said the fire was arson.

New Station was filled with rubble and wreckage. Thick dust clung to piles of bricks, and charred wood still smoked lightly. But passengers were already crowding the three undamaged platforms, craning their necks to see all the ruin, and most of the trains were still running. Harper shook his head in amazement; after all the destruction, he wouldn’t have believed it possible. Or safe.

They found Hill down among the arches that had once supported everything. All the surfaces were black with soot, the smell of fire and destruction heavy and cloying, and he started to cough. A yard or two below them, the River Aire rushed by.

‘Hello, Dick,’ Harper said. ‘We’ve been sent down to help.’

Inspector Hill looked haunted. He was still wearing the uniform he’d had on when the blaze began. There were rents along the seams, the blue so covered with dirt that it seemed to have no colour at all. Dark rings lined his eyes.

‘Tom,’ he answered and let out a sigh. ‘We just brought out that man who died. Schofield.’

‘One of yours?’

Hill shook his head. ‘He worked on the one the insurance company engines. The floor just gave way underneath him.’ He stared up at the sky. ‘Ten years and I’ve never seen anything like it. As best as we can guess, he must have crawled forty feet after he fell. Almost made it out, too, poor bugger. It’s a miracle there was only one, really.’

‘Any idea where it started yet, sir?’ Ash broke the silence that grew around them.

‘Oh, we know that.’ Hill pointed to an empty space, nothing left at all. ‘You see that? It used to be Soapy Joe’s warehouse. Packed full of tallow and resin. Tons of the bloody stuff. That’s where it began. And that’s why it burned so hard and long. Once that went up there wasn’t a chance.’

‘What caused it?’ Harper asked.

Hill shrugged. ‘A spark? An accident? Deliberate? There’s not enough left to tell. I wouldn’t even like to guess. The best I’m ever going to be able to say is that it happened. It’s nothing to worry CID, anyway.’

‘The superintendent wondered about anarchists.’

‘I don’t see it.’ He shook his head wearily. ‘Honestly, Tom, I don’t. I’m going to dig around but I don’t think I’ll find any evidence of anything.’

‘You should get some sleep, Dick.’

‘Later.’ Hill brushed the idea away. ‘I need to take care of a few things first. We’ve never had anything as bad as this before in Leeds.’ He waved at hand at the damage. ‘Look at it. It’s going to cost a fortune to rebuild. But the railway’s already had engineers out this morning. Can you believe that?’

‘They want to be making money again,’ Harper said.

‘Sir! Sir!’ The shout echoed off the stone, making them all turn. A fireman was picking his way through the mounds of stone and brick. ‘There’s another body down here. It looks like a woman.’

They ran, scraping their way over the debris. Dust rose around them as they scrambled.

‘Over here,’ the man called. He was standing by a pile of rubble. ‘You can just see her foot over there.’

They gazed. Half a button boot, the leather torn clean away to show bloody flesh. The rest of her was buried under chunks of concrete.

‘Must have collapsed right on top of her,’ Hill said grimly, taking off his uniform jacket. ‘Let’s get this shifted.’

Ash glanced at Harper’s bandaged hands.

‘Will you be all right, sir?’

‘I’ll manage,’ the inspector told him as he stared at the foot.

It took them a quarter of an hour to move everything, sweating and grunting. Blood seeped through Harper’s bandages. He grimaced and worked on.

‘Christ,’ Hill said quietly.

Most of her clothes had burned away. Her hair was gone. She was part-flesh, burned and black. But it was the rest of her that made them draw in their breath. Patches of metal across her body that glinted in the light. Skin like silver: the thought came into his head.

‘What..?’ At first he didn’t even realize he’d spoken.

‘Must have been the girders,’ Hill said. He couldn’t take his eyes off the body. ‘They melted in the heat and the metal dripped down on her.’ He wiped a hand across his mouth. ‘I just hope to God she was already dead.’

Harper took a deep breath and squatted, moving this way and that around the corpse. Only the shape and size of the body and the torn button boot showed she’d once been female. Now… he could scarcely believe what he saw. It was grotesque. A statue of death. He shuddered as he stood again.

‘What the hell was she doing down here?’ he wondered.

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