Stories…we’re humans, we need stories. And in uncertain, anxious times, something to take us away from our fears and ourselves is always welcome.
Here’s a brief exceprt from what will be the next Tom Harper novel. It’s called Brass Lives, and it’s set to appear sometime in 2021. Sorry, with publishing schedules all topsy-turvy, I can be more exact than that at the moment.
It takes place in 1913 and Tom is now the Deputy Chief Constable of Leeds, with an office at the Town Hall. Ash has become a Superintendent and taken over Millgarth.
Before we get to that, though: my publisher has Gods of Gold, the first Tom Harper novel, currently at 82p/99c an all ebook formats, everywhere in the world. But only until the end of May. You might enjoy it, and at that price you can take a risk.
Secondly, I’ve written a short history of Sheepscar. No fiction, all fact. If you’d like a copy, drop me a line and I’ll send it to you in a pdf file.
Now, would you like to catch up with Tom?
He’d been back in his office for an hour, sipping a mug of tea and reading the daily reports from the divisions when the telephone rang.
‘Morning, sir. It’s Superintendent Ash.’ The familiar voice made him smile. Until Harper’s promotion, the two of them had worked together every day. Then Ash had taken over A Division and moved up in rank to run the station.
He knew the man; Ash wouldn’t ring unless there was a good reason.
‘Good morning to you, too. What can I do for you?’
‘Something that might strike your fancy, sir,’ Ash replied after a moment. ‘I don’t suppose you’d like your dinner at the cafe in the market, would you?’
‘I imagine you could twist my arm,’ Harper said. ‘Your shout?’
‘Of course, sir. Between one thing and another, I don’t believe I’ve ever had a free lunch with you yet.’
He walked, glad of the exercise on a warm day. Briggate was thronged with Thursday shoppers crowding the pavements. Trams and lorries and carts bustled up and down the road. Harper cut through County Arcade, astonished as ever at its elaborate gilt and splendour, before crossing Vicar Lane, entering Kirkgate Market and climbing the stairs to the café on the balcony.
Ash was waiting at a table. He’d always been a big man, but now he looked broader than ever, the shaggy moustache over his top lip as grey as his hair. His face crinkled into a grin and he stood, hand extended.
‘Thank you for coming, sir. I hope you don’t mind, I went ahead and ordered; I know you like the cottage pie here.’
‘That’s fine,’ Harper said, and it was. ‘What’s so important? Something wrong at Millgarth?’
The station would always have a special place in his heart. It was home.
‘Nothing like that, sir. Something a little unusual, though.’
‘What is it?’
Ash held a letter in his hand, written on thin onionskin paper.
‘This arrived from America, sir. From the police in New York.’
That was enough to pique his curiosity.’ What do they want?’
‘It appears that one of their criminals is on his way here. I suppose he’s probably arrived now.’ Ash stopped and pinched his lips together. ‘He’s coming back here, that is. It seems he grew up in Leeds, moved to America when he was ten years old. Followed his mother. She went ahead and got herself settled.’
‘Go on,’ he said.
‘His name’s Davey Mullen. Born on Somerset Street.’ It was no more than three minutes’ walk from where they were sitting, a row of run-down, hopeless houses. ‘He’s twenty-one now.’
Harper rubbed his chin. ‘What’s he done to make them write to us?’
Ash grimaced and shifted on his seat. ‘It’s more like what hasn’t he done, sir. Quite a bit, given his age. It took me by surprise.’ He paused, just long enough to be sure of Harper’s attention. ‘They’re as certain as they can be that Mullen’s murdered at least six people.’ He let the sentence hang in between them in the air. ‘Four of them shot, the other two beaten to death. And two of those shootings were in broad daylight, with witnesses.’
‘Then surely-’ he began, then stopped when he saw the look in Ash’s eyes.
‘The witnesses decided to leave the city or refused to testify.’
Harper sighed. The old, old story. Fear and intimidation.
‘Why’s he coming here?’
‘Recuperation. That’s what he told people. He’s a member of a gang. It seems some people from another gang found him on his own outside a dancehall and shot him eleven times.’
‘Eleven?’ Harper said in disbelief. ‘Come on. Nobody can survive that.’
‘He did, and he made a full recovery. He refused to tell the police who did it, but not long after he was back on his feet the bodies of some of this other gang started turning up. Now he’s heading to Leeds until things cool down in New York.’
‘What do they want us to do?’ Harper asked. ‘They don’t have a warrant for him, do they?’
‘Then unless he breaks any laws here, he’s a free man.’
‘They’re tipping us the wink so we can keep an eye on him. His other reason for being here is to see his father. It seems he never made the trip to America with the rest of the family. It was just Mullen and his brother who followed their mother over there.’
‘What’s the father’s name?’
‘Francis Mullen. Goes by Franny. I had Sergeant Mason dig out his file. There’s not much to him, really. Petty crook, in and out of jail. Loves his drink. Never held a proper job in his life. Parents came over from Ireland during the famine.’ He shrugged and took a photograph from his pocket. ‘The New York people included this, sir. It’s Mullen, from the last time they arrested him.’
Harper studied the picture. It showed the man’s head, viewed full on. Thick, dark hair, glistening with pomade. A smile of straight, white teeth and a face brimming with arrogance, a young man utterly certain that the world belonged to him. On the back, someone had scribbled a few details: Mullen was a big man: six feet one, weight two hundred and ten pounds – fifteen stone, he calculated – carrying sixteen scars all over his body from knives and bullets. The next of kin was his mother Maureen. Mullen still lived with her, an address on West 47th Street. Behind it, in brackets, someone had added Hell’s Kitchen. An apt name for any neighbourhood that was home to a man like him.
The waitress arrived with two full plates.
‘They’re hot, so don’t you be burning yourselves,’ she warned. ‘I’ll be back in a tick with your pot of tea.’
No talking shop while they ate; that was the rule. No spoiling the digestion. It allowed a few minutes for pleasure, a pause for thought. A constant roar of noise rose from the market, the conversation of shoppers, traders calling out their wares. Finally, Harper wiped a slice of bread around the plate to soak up the last of the juices, swallowed the final bite and washed it down with a swig of tea.
‘What did you have in mind for Mullen?’ he asked.
‘I thought Walsh and Galt could pay him a visit,’ Ash replied. ‘Just a quiet word, let him know his card is marked. Polite as a Sunday tea party.’
‘The slightest breath of trouble, haul him in,’ Harper ordered. ‘We don’t want any murderers walking round Leeds like they’re God’s gift. Keep a uniform on him too.’
‘Not plain clothes?’
‘No, let’s make it blatant. We’ll show him he’s not welcome here.’
‘I’ll take care of it, sir.’
‘Anything else worthwhile?’
‘Nothing much. Just the Boys of Erin trying to act up again.’
They’d been a growing thorn in the side of the police for a year, ever since Johnny Dempster became leader of the gang. Harper thought he’d crushed them more than twenty years ago, but they were slowly creeping back. They wanted to be a force again, to rule the Bank the way they had a generation before. It was the area of Leeds where the Irish had settled when they arrived. Back then it was desperately poor, dirty, a place where disease thrived. Even now it was bleak. Annabelle had grown up there, on Leather Street. Many still living on the Bank today could trace their ancestors back to Ireland.
‘What have they been doing this time?’
‘Tried a little protection on shopkeepers. We’ve taken care of it. I’m keeping a watch on them. Dempster’s ambitious. I’ve a feeling he has big plans.’
‘Time to stamp them down again?’ Harper asked.
‘Not just yet, sir,’ Ash replied thoughtfully. ‘I want to see what they have in mind.’
‘Keep me informed.’ He stood and patted his belly. They always served up big helpings in the cafe. ‘And make sure this Mullen knows he’s being followed.’