It’s just four weeks until Brass Lives, the ninth Tom Harper novel, is published. Set in 1913, it features Davey Mullen, who was born in Leeds but moved to New York as a child. Now 21, he’s a gangster, a killer, recuperating from an ambush in Manhattan, where he was shot 11 times and left for dead.
Mullen – based on a real figure, Owen Madden – is supposedly back to visit his father, who remained in Leeds. The New York police have warned Leeds, and Tom, now Deputy Chief Constable, has uniforms tailing Mullen. But he’s still surprised when the man shows up at the Victoria one night…
He’d finished his supper and poured the last cup of tea from the pot when Dan the barman came up the stairs to the parlour.
‘I’m sorry to bother you, Tom, but there’s a man downstairs asking for you.’
That was unusual; people rarely sought him out at home. ‘Not one of my lot, is it?’ he asked. Maybe they’d found Fess. No, couldn’t be, Harper thought; they’d have telephoned.
‘This one’s definitely not a copper.’ Dan frowned. ‘You ask me, he’s got the smell of crime about him. Young and big. Talks strange, too. Like he’s from Leeds but with something else on top that I don’t recognize.’
Harper gave a grim smile. Mullen had decided to come to the Victoria.
‘Thanks, Dan. I’ll be down in a minute.’
Annabelle was watching him. ‘You know who it is, don’t you?’
‘I can take a good guess. It’s that man I told you about, the one from New York. Mullen.’
‘The one who’s killed people.’
‘Here. In my pub.’ She glared and started to rise.
‘Give me a minute before you come down,’ he asked. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he doesn’t cause any trouble.’
‘He’d better not.’
Mullen was sitting at a table with his back to the wall, a pint of beer in front of him. He had the handsome, dark Irish looks that he’d shown in his police photograph, wearing an expensive grey suit that fitted him flatteringly, with a soft collared shirt and a brilliant red silk tie fastened with a gold pin. Flaunting his money in his clothes.
He sat with his legs crossed, shining black shoes catching the light, looking at faces and assessing their eyes for danger as Harper settled across from him.
‘You’re safe enough in here. From the customers, at least.’
A dip of the head in acknowledgement.
‘This must be different from the places you’re used to at home,’ Harper said.
Mullen grinned and showed his good, even teeth. ‘A bar’s a bar, doesn’t matter where you put it. Sláinte.’ He took a long drink of bitter. ‘I’ll tell you this, though: the Americans have a long way to go before they can brew beer like the English.’ He stared at the glass. ‘And Leeds is home, after a fashion.’
‘Some parts of it might be. But not this place. What brings you out here?’ Harper’s voice was sharper, his face hard.
‘A man told me that you lived above a public house. I was curious to take a look and see what kind of deputy chief constable would do that. Anyway, it’s only a short stroll from Somerset Street. Perfect for a summer’s evening.’
Harper saw the man’s gaze shift and his smile broaden.
‘This is the woman who owns the public house,’ he said.
‘Mrs Harper.’ Mullen stood. For the briefest moment, he looked awkward and self-conscious, as if he wasn’t quite sure how to act around a woman. ‘A pleasure to meet you. You have a very welcoming pub here.’
She sat, never taking her eyes off him. ‘Are you enjoying your visit to England, Mr Mullen?’
‘I am, ma’am. I’m enjoying being back and seeing my father again.’ Dan was right, Harper thought; there was still a definite trace of Leeds in his voice, somewhere deep in the bedrock. But much of it had been overlaid by the nasal New York cockiness. ‘I got to say, it’s changed a lot in ten years.’
‘How is your father?’ Harper asked, as if he hadn’t seen a report on Francis Mullen just the day before. The man spent the better part of his time drunk. He’d been kicked out of two beershops for trying to start fights.
‘Happy to see me,’ Mullen replied after a moment.
‘I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s another American in Leeds at the moment. Someone called Louis Fess. He’s from New York, too. Maybe you know him.’
He’d dropped the name drop to see Mullen’s reaction. It was a pleasure to watch the way his face shifted: anger first, then worry, and finally a snapped-on grin of bravado. All in the course of a second or two. Interesting; he hadn’t known that Fess was here.
Mullen ran a hand down his jacket, smoothing the material. ‘No,’ he said, ‘it don’t mean anything.’
Maybe that worked on the American police, but it wouldn’t fool any copper in Leeds. He knew exactly who Fess was, and he wasn’t pleased to hear the name. No surprise, since he was from a rival gang.
‘A suggestion,’ Harper said as the man drained the rest of his pint in a single swallow. ‘Actually, it’s more like an order. You’re going to take out that gun very carefully and leave it with me.’
‘Why?’ The man’s body stiffened, as if he was preparing for a fight.
‘First of all, you spent a lot of money on that suit and it’s ruining the cut. It’s also illegal under the 1903 Pistols Act. Do you have a licence for the weapon?’
‘I didn’t know I needed one.’
It was a lie, it showed in his eyes. He wanted to be challenged.
‘If the barrel is shorter than nine inches, the law says that you do. Since you’re a visitor here, we’ll let that pass as long as you leave the weapon here.’
For a moment, Mullen didn’t move and Harper could feel the tension grow around him. Then he reached into his pocket, brought out the gun with the barrel between his fingers and placed it on the table.
‘For now. Thank you.’
The outside door opened and Mary entered, waving before she disappeared upstairs.
‘Is that your daughter? Mary, right?
Annabelle turned her head to stare into his eyes. ‘I tell you what, luv, now it’s my turn to make a suggestion.’ Her voice was iron. ‘Only mine’s an order, too. You’re going to forget you ever knew her name, or that you saw her. And if you show your face in here again, I’ll bounce you out on to Roundhay Road by the seat of your fancy trousers before you can say Jack Robinson.’ She stalked away.
Mullen glared but said nothing. Harper watched as the man stifled his anger. No one would dare talk to him like that in America; he’d tear them apart for the sport of it. But New York was half a world away. He was in Leeds now. The rules were different and he was powerless.
‘I think your wife has taken against me.’
‘Very perceptive, Mr Mullen. There are plenty of other places to drink in town. You’d do better in one of those. I’m sure you can find your way back to where you’re staying. The Metropole, isn’t it?’ He stood. ‘I’ll wish you goodnight.’
The constable following Mullen was standing outside the Victoria, watching his quarry stride furiously away. Harper stood next to him. ‘Make sure you don’t let him out of your sight.’
Brass Lives is published in hardback in the UK on June 24 (7 September in the US). You can pre-order it here (cheapest price and free postage). Prefer ebooks? Here’s the Kindle link (available worldwide August 1)
If you’re on NetGalley and authorised for Severn house releases, you can find it here.