The Kernel of Truth

For a long time I was jealous of my friend Thom Atkinson (read about him here). His short stories and plays, justly award-winning, hit a kernel of truth that I couldn’t seem to reach in my own writing (you really should read his work. He’s honestly that good). What I produced was readable, but it was all surface, it didn’t resonate deeply.

Maybe I hadn’t lived enough. Maybe I just hadn’t reached far enough inside. I don’t know.

I had a stack of unpublished novels, six or seven of them. Fair enough.

Finally, though, I did manage to touch that core and find that elusive truth when I wrote The Broken Token. I like to feel that the Richard Nottingham and Tom Harper books all manage that, to a greater or lesser degree. Some – At the Dying of the Year, for instance, or Gods of Gold and Skin Like Silver – have been very emotionally draining to write. When that happens, I feel fairly sure I’ve achieved work that’s the best I can do.

Some of my other books perhaps don’t delve quite as deep. But I hope that they each have their own truth that shines through.

This is a preface to saying I’ve just completed a book that was quite exhausting to write. Currently titled The Tin God, it’s the next in the Harper series, and Annabelle figures more largely than ever. Soon enough it will be with my agent and then, I hope, my publisher, who will give the thumbs up or down. If it’s success then I’ll let you know, of course. But the issues involved are timely. Women running for office – which they could in late Victorian Leeds, either for the School Board or as a Poor Law Guardian – and the problems they face from men.

My publisher will hopefully receive this new manuscript just after On Copper Street appears in hardback in the US, and everywhere as an ebook (obligatory ad!). I was a little stunned a couple of weeks ago when Booklist, an American publication, named it as one of the best crime novels of the last 12 months before its publication. That is heart-stopping and left me immensely proud.

Over lunch last week, a writer friend told me: ‘You own Leeds.’

I don’t (or if I do, where’s the rent?), but it’s lovely to be so associated with a city I care for so deeply, that’s helped me find the heart in my fiction.

I’ll be talking about that on June 8 with a great historical crime writer, Candace Robb, who feels about York the way I do about Leeds. Details are here – please come if you can.

A finally, I mentioned Richard Nottingham before. After four years away, he’s returning. Here’s a little teaser…

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A Journey Through The Past And Back Again

Sometimes life holds out a little magic, and all you have to do is grab it.

Looking back into my family history, I’d reached the late 1700s, and I seemed to be stuck there. Digging into a different family history site recently, I struck lucky. Suddenly I was tumbling back and back through time. All the way to 1545, in fact. 250 years in a day.  It felt like being the Doctor, but without the life-threatening adventures, Daleks, or sonic screwdriver.

I discovered that my family has in roots in Westow. I’d never heard of it before, but it’s a tiny village (current population 339) near Kirkham Priory, and five miles from Malton. 1545 was the first Nickson birth recorded there, but keeping births, marriages, and deaths in Parish Registers only became law in 1538; they could well have been there for centuries before that.

John Nickson was the first, then his son Thomas, born in 1587, and his son Thomas, who arrived in 1617. William came in 1660, Richard in 1692, another Richard in 1729, And then Isaac in 1752. One of his children – had had seven – was yet one more Isaac, who came squalling into the world in 1785, hanging around until 1857.

That Isaac is pivotal to the family tale. He certainly broke away from Westow. Around 1720 he ran an inn called the Golden Lion in Malton, five miles from home, and somewhere around the middle of the decade decided to try his luck in Leeds, taking his wife and children with him. That’s how we came to this town.

The descendants remained. Isaac himself went back to Westow to die in 1857, so the pull of the place and his forbears must have been strong. Or perhaps he’d simply had enough of life in a noisy, dirty town that was growing by the day, with its dark Satanic mills, industry, and crime.

On Saturday I visited Westow. A pilgrimage of sorts, if you like. I needed to see the place, to sense if there was any atavistic tug. It’s barely a village, really more a hamlet. There’s a pub, but no shop. Some old buildings along the main street, which is pretty much the only street. It’s peaceful, bucolic, surround by fields, deep in the heart of arable farming country.

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A number of the places look as if they were probably standing when Isaac struck out for Malton. Did he live in any of these houses? There’s no way to tell, and ultimately it doesn’t matter. Too many other generations of stories will have filled the stones since then.

And there’s an old hall, of course, as there should be in every village. Safe to say my family never lived there.

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The church is about a mile away, equidistant between the two villages it serves. The old Norman tower still stands, I’ve read, but the rest is newer, rebuilt from the original stones. It was locked, but what I wanted was outside: the graveyard.

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It was always hopeful thinking to imagine I’d see a Nickson headstone. Maybe Isaac’s after he returned to die. But no, not a single mention of Nickson. Yet, that was fine, I realised as we drove away. I’d seen the place, I’d walked some of the same earth they did all those centuries before. Now I knew.

From there, to Malton. The Golden Lion still stands in the marketplace. It’s been empty for a few years, apparently, but still in good condition. I stood across the street as I took a picture and looked up at the two floors above the bar, thinking that Isaac and his family lived and slept there. They had joy, they had pain there. That single upward glance seemed to cross 200 years in a heartbeat.

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That’s what I try to do as a writer. I try to bring the past alive, to make the people breathe in the here and now. It’s a way to try and commemorate people who would otherwise be unremembered. Many are fictional, of course, but some did live.

Like all writers, I love hearing from readers who enjoy the work, for whom the people who spring out of my head seem real (so please keep the emails coming). And good reviews are heartening. Two that arrived in the last week for On Copper Street, out in America as an ebook on June 1) made me happy. Booklist gave it a starred review and call the series “top-notch,” writing: “the story features meticulously researched period detail; a strong sense of the social, economic, and political situation at the time.” Publishers Weekly noted: “Nickson successfully creates an intimacy between the characters and the reader by showing, with each successive book, how his protagonists grow and change as they face life’s milestones: marriage, children, promotions at work, and the death of dear friends.” And past is place as well as people. The Fully Booked blog wrote: “When the sad time comes for Chris Nickson to shuffle off this mortal coil you will probably find the word ‘Leeds’ engraved on his heart. His knowledge of the city encompasses every nook and cranny, every church, chapel and graveyard, every legend, every tall tale, every dark hour and every moment of joy.” It’s not the first time someone has said I have Leeds in my core. But it’s probably true. I came back here after almost 40 years away. Isaac Nickson had his Westow, the place that called him home. I have Leeds.

Yes, those reviews make me feel I’m doing something right in my writing.

As I said at the start, sometimes life holds out a little magic.

Looking for the Essence of Leeds

One of the questions I come back to time after time is what makes Leeds Leeds? What sets it apart, not just from the rest of Yorkshire, but the world? Why is it unique? I don’t ask if it’s unique; to me it is.

It doesn’t have the deep historical roots of York, perhaps. It only truly began to develop its proper character with the arrival industry in the late 18th century, not too long before my ancestors arrived here from Malton.

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Leeds is a fragmented place. Each neighbourhood has its own character, possibly largely moulder by the villages they once were before the town swallowed them. It was said that, a bit over a century ago, the dialect of each neighbourhood was slightly different, so an experienced ear could tell to within a quarter of a mile where someone lived.

That’s probably an exaggeration, of course, and yet there’s some truth in it. It was a place of tightly-wrapped communities, even if many of those arrived from elsewhere at the start of the 19th century, hoping factories would make them the fortunes they’d never see out in the countryside.

They came, and they keep on coming, often with the same dreams. They immigrants here, like my own family, like the Irish who began arriving in the 1820s and 30s, the Jews coming from Poland and Russia 50 years and more later, the Caribbean influx of the 1950s, followed quickly by Indian and Pakistani immigrants, and then, and then…you get the picture. They’ve been absorbed into the city without having to lose their own cultures.

Leeds is a mutable city.

Even much of its early population were lured in by the promise of no service to their Lord, and simply paying rent on their properties on the new street named Briggate in 1207. They were craftsmen looking for a better life.

But that doesn’t get to the heart of the character of Leeds, does it?

Well, in a way, maybe it does.

That first kickstart of Leeds’ growth as a village, the start of its slow change into a town – the planning of Briggate – was the result of financial desperation. The lord of the manor needed money. Rents. It was an opportunity. Benjamin Gott saw an opportunity with Bean Ing Mill in 1792. John Barran saw an opportunity is making tailoring into mass production, just as the people behind Trinity and Victoria Gate see opportunity. Money is a great motivator. Leeds isn’t a place where invention and innovation happen for their own sake. There has to be a commercial reason, money to be made. But as generations have found, that doesn’t trickle down.

Perhaps that’s why we’re Bolshie. It’s a trait that’s grown over the centuries. There have been riots of turnpikes, law, even dripping, and a strong sense of justice for the working man. Sometimes there are wins (the Leeds Gas Strike, for instance), enough to them to sustain the losses. But part of the Leeds character is to speak out, and to act. It was active very early on in the fight for women’s rights. It almost became home to the founding of the Independent Labour Party.

The city is changing. It’s never been sentimental about its past. Those grand Victorian buildings remain for a reason, in some cases because the council isn’t allowed to pull them down.

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The population of Leeds has altered a great deal, and the life expectancy is more than the 27 years it was for the poor in the middle of the 19th century. We still have the back-to-back houses Engels observed (described in the Artisan as: “An ordinary cottage, in Leeds, extends over no more than about five yards square, and consists usually of a cellar, a sitting-room, and a sleeping chamber. This small size of the houses crammed with human beings both day and night, is another point dangerous alike to the morals and the health of the inhabitants.”), because it’s cheaper to keep them. Never mind that they were only intended to last for 70 years. But alongside them we have luxurious student residences, because studying is big business now. Some part of this city will always cater to people with money.

But maybe the real essence of Leeds, at least to me, is knowing that the goose is laying the golden egg for someone else, not for you. And having the ability to laugh at the world that does that. If you want a modern example, talk to anyone who’s spent a lifetime supporting Leeds United. It’s right there. It’s the ability to chuckle at the very worst, say ‘Is that all you can do?’ and raise two fingers at the world.

I haven’t caught it completely, I know that. I’m not sure it’s even possible to define or capture. But in my books, I try. That essence of the Leeds character has changed very little from the 1730s to the 1890s to the 1950s, I believe.

But I’ll put the ball in your court: what do you think is the essence of Leeds?

New Tom Harper

It’s definitely spring out there. The kids are enjoying their holidays, the weather is growing balmier. I’ve been able to get things planted at my allotment, and it’s beginning to take shape for the season.

But life wouldn’t be right if I wasn’t writing, and I have my head deep into what I hope will become the sixth Tom Harper novel, although Annabelle proves to be a very big part of this one. Now I just have to hope that my publisher wants it.

This extract is fairly lengthy and is still in a fairly raw state, so I hope you’ll bear with me on that. More importantly, I hope you like it. Please, seriously, tell me what you think, okay?

 

Late September, 1897

 

Tom Harper stared in the mirror.

‘What do you think?’ he asked doubtfully.

He felt ridiculous in a swallowtail coat and stiff, starched shirt. But the invitation had made it clear: this was an official dinner, formal dress required. The fourth time this year and the suit wasn’t any more comfortable than the first time he’d worn it. He’d never expected that rank would include parading round like a butler.

‘Let’s have a gander at you.’ Annabelle said and he turned for inspection. ‘Like a real police superintendent,’ she told him with a nod. ‘Just one thing.’ A few deft movements and she adjusted the bow tie. ‘Never met a man who could do a dicky bow properly. Now you’re the real dog’s dinner.’

She brought her face close to his. For a moment he expected a kiss. But her eyes narrowed and she whispered, ‘I’ve had another letter. Came in the second post. May Bolland’s had one, too.’

His face hardened. He’d expected some outrage when Annabelle announced she was running to be elected to the Board of Poor Law Guardians. A few comments. Plenty of objections. He was even willing to dismiss one anonymous, rambling letter as the work of a crank. But two of them? He couldn’t ignore that.

‘What did it say?’

She turned her head away. ‘What you’d expect.’

‘The same person?’ he asked and she nodded. ‘What did you do with it?’

‘I burned it.’ Her voice was tight.

‘What?’ He pulled back in disbelief. ‘It’s evidence.’

‘Little eyes,’ she hissed. ‘You know Mary’s reading has come on leaps and bounds since she started school. Safer out of the way.’

He breathed slowly, pushing down his anger. For a long time he said nothing. What could he do? It was dust now. Maybe Mrs. Bolland had kept hers; he’d send Ash round to see her in the morning.

‘Button me up and we’d better get a move on.’ Deftly, she changed the subject. ‘That hackney’s already been waiting for five minutes.’

Annabelle was wearing a new gown, dark blue silk, no bustle, high at the neck with lace trim and full leg-of-mutton sleeves, the pale silk shawl he’d bought her over her shoulders. Her hair was elaborately swept up and pinned. She was every bit as lovely as the first day he’d seen her.

There were calls and whistles as they walked through the Victoria pub downstairs. Her pub. She laughed and twirled around the room. He was happy to keep in the background, to try and slink out without being noticed. People didn’t dress like this in Sheepscar. They owned work clothes and a good suit for funerals; that was it.

‘What is this do, anyway?’ she asked as the cab jounced along North Street.

‘The Lord Mayor’s Fund,’ he replied. ‘Charity.’

The Mayor’s office had finally become the Lord Mayor’s office that summer, Leeds honoured by Queen Victoria to mark her Diamond Jubilee. Sixty years on the throne, Harper thought, going back long before he was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, before his parents had even met. There had been parties and civic events around the city all summer, and hardly any problems, as if everyone just wanted to celebrate the occasion with plenty of joy.

The Chief Constable had been pleased, and even happier when the crime figures came out: down everywhere. The biggest drop was in Harper’s division. God only knew why; he didn’t have an explanation. He’d praised his men then held his tongue, not wanting to tempt fate.

Annabelle’s elbow poked him in the ribs.

‘You’re miles away.’

‘Sorry.’

‘Is it a sit-down affair tonight?

‘Three courses, then the speeches.’

She groaned and he turned to smile at her.

‘We’re in for plenty more of these once you’re elected.’

‘If I’m elected,’ she warned. ‘Don’t be cocky.’

Seven women were standing to become Poor Law Guardians, their election costs paid by the Suffrage Society and the Women’s Co-op Guild. The campaign was no more than three days old, but already the Tories and the Liberals were deriding the women for trying to rise above their natural station. The Independent Labour Party had its eye on the posts, too, as stepping stones for their ambitious young men. And the newspapers had their knives out, pointedly advising people to vote for the gentlemen. He’d arrived home two days to find her pacing furiously around the living room, ready to spit fire, with the editorial in her hand.

‘Listen to this,’ Annabelle told him. ‘Apparently they think men “don’t possess the domestic embarrassments of women.” What does that mean? I could swing for the lot of them.’

She threw the paper on to a chair. But he could hear the hurt behind her words. It wasn’t going to be a fair fight.

The first letter arrived the same day. Second post, franked at the main post office in town, no signature or return address. It was a screed about how women should be guided by their husbands, live modestly and look to the welfare of their own families. Religious and condescending, everything written in a neat, practised hand. Senseless, Harper judged when he read it, but no real threat. All the women running for the Board had received one. He’d placed it in his desk drawer at Millgarth and forgotten about it. But another…that demanded attention.

 

‘Take a look at that,’ Harper said and tossed the letter across the desk. Inspector Ash raised an eyebrow as he read, then passed it on to Detective Sergeant Fowler.

‘Looks like he’s halfway round the bend, if you ask me, sir,’ Ash said. ‘I see he didn’t bother to sign it. Anything on the envelope?’

‘Nothing helpful.’ He sat back in the chair. For more than two years this had been his office, but Kendall’s ghost still seemed to linger; sometimes he even believed he could smell the shag tobacco the man used to stuff in his pipe. ‘All the women candidates running to be on the Board of Guardians received one.’

‘I see. That was Mrs. Harper’s, I take it?’

‘There was another yesterday. She burned it.’

‘Whoever wrote this was educated,’ Fowler said. ‘All the lines are even, everything spelled properly.’ He grinned. ‘Of course, that’s doesn’t mean he’s not barmy.’

He pushed the spectacles back up his nose. The sergeant had been recommended by a copper from Wakefield. He was moving back to Leeds to be closer to his ill mother. Harper had taken a chance on the man. Over the last twelve months it had paid off handsomely.

Fowler didn’t look like a policeman, more like a distracted clerk or a young professor. Twenty-five, hair already receding, he barely made the height requirement and couldn’t have weighed more than eleven stone. But he had one of the quickest minds Harper had ever met. He and Ash had clicked immediately, turning into a very fruitful partnership. One big, one smaller, they seemed to work intuitively together, knowing what each one would do without needing to speak.

‘This woman’s had another letter, too.’ He gave them the address. ‘Go and see her. I doubt we’ll track down the sender, but at least we can put out the word that we’re looking into it. That might scare him off.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Ash stood. ‘How’s Mrs. Harper’s campaign going?’

‘Early days yet.’

She’d only held small one meeting so far, in a church hall just up Roundhay Road from the Victoria. Their bedroom was filled with piles of leaflets read to be delivered and posters to plastered on the walls all over Sheepscar Ward.

‘I’m sure she’ll win, sir.’

He smiled. ‘From your lips to God’s ears.’

Once they’d gone he turned back to the rota for October, trying to recall when he’d once believed that coppering meant solving crimes.

 

Billy Reed drew back the curtains, pushed up the window sash, and breathed in the sharp salt air. After so many years of soot and dirt in Leeds, every day of this seemed like a tonic. He heard Elizabeth moving around downstairs, cooking his breakfast.

They’d been in Whitby since July, all settled now into the terraced house on Silver Street. The pair of them, and her two youngest children, Edward and Victoria. The older ones had stayed in Leeds, both in lodgings, with work, friends, and lives of their own.

Moving had been a big decision, an upheaval. He’d come to love Whitby on his first visit. He’d left the army, just home from the wars in Afghanistan and troubled in his mind. The water, the beach, the quiet of the place had brought him some peace, and he’d always wanted to live there. But when he’d seen the job for inspector of police and fire in the town, he’d hesitated.

‘Why not write?’ Elizabeth urged him. ‘The worst they can say is no.’

‘We’re settled. I’m doing well the with fire brigade. And you have the bakeries.’

She stared at him. ‘Do you think we’d be happy there?’

‘Yes,’ Reed answered after a moment. ‘I do.’

‘Then sit down and write to them.’

It had taken time. First the application, then an interview, Elizabeth travelling with him on the train and inspecting the town while he was questioned by the watch committee. Another wait until the answer arrived, offering him the position. After that, it was a scramble of arrangements. In the end he’d gone on ahead while she finished up the up sale of the bakeries, packed the rest of their possessions, and said goodbye to all the friends they’d made.

He had no regrets. He liked his job, but it was time for a move, for something new. And this was certainly different. He could make out the shouts of the fishermen at mooring points as they unloaded their boats, and hear the gulls calling.

‘You’d better come and get it while it’s hot,’ Elizabeth shouted up the stairs.

The children were already eating, ready to scramble off to their jobs. Soon enough, Elizabeth would march down Flowergate, across the bridge, and along Church Street to the shop she’d leased, ready to open her tea room and confectioner’s in the spring. She’d made the bakeries in Leeds turn a fair profit, and she wasn’t one to be content as a lady of leisure. She relished work.

‘It’s right by the market,’ she pointed out to him. ‘And all those folk going to the abbey in holiday season will pass by the door.’

She’d developed a good eye, he knew that, and she’d already managed to cultivate a few friends in town, like Mrs. Botham, who ran her bakery and the Inglenook Tea Room on Skinner Street. A formidable woman, Reed thought, but she and Elizabeth could natter on for hours.

He’d quickly settled into the rhythm of his job. During the summer it was mostly dealing with complaints from holidaymakers and breaking up fights once the pub closed. There had only been one fire, and that was easily doused.

He strolled over to the police station on Spring Hill and went through the log with the uniformed sergeant before setting off in the pony and trap. Sandsend and Staithes today. Both of them poor fishing villages, and little trouble to the law, but he still needed to put in a monthly appearance. Show the flag. He covered a large area, going all the way down to Robin Hood’s Bay, but on a day like this, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze blowing off the water, nothing could be a better job.

No, Reed thought with a smile as the horse clopped along the road, no regrets at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Two

 

‘I saw Mrs. Bolland, sir.’ Ash settled on to the chair in the superintendent’s office. ‘She’d kept the letter.’ He ran his tongue round the inside of his mouth. ‘It left her scared.’

‘What does it say?’ Harper put down the pen and sat back.

‘Read it for yourself, sir.’ The inspector pulled a folded sheet of notepaper from his inside pocket.

A woman’s place is in the home, tending to her family and being a graceful loving presence. It’s not to shriek in the hustings like a harridan or to display herself in front of the public like a painted whore.

The Good Lord created His order for a purpose. Man has the reason, the wisdom, and the judgement. He’s intended to use it, to exercise his will over women, not to be challenged by them, the weaker element. Eve was persuaded to eat the apple and tempted Adam, and since that time it has been her duty to pay for the sin.

It is time for you to withdraw your candidacy. Should you fail to do so, if you continue to talk and challenge men for what rightly belongs to them, we shall feel justified in taking whatever means necessary to silence you for breaking God’s profound will.

‘A death threat. No wonder it frightened her.’

‘Yes, sir. Funny what these types come up with in the name of religion, isn’t it? It was all love thy neighbour when I was at Sunday school.’ Ash gave a wry smile.

Harper took out the first letter from his drawer and compared them.

‘The same handwriting. Twice means he’s more than a crank. We’re going to follow up on this and make sure nothing happens to her.’ He thought about Annabelle. ‘To any of the women. Where’s Fowler?’

‘I sent him off to talk to the others, to see if they’d had anything like this.’

‘Odds are that they have. That “we” in there makes me wonder, too.’

‘I noticed that, sir.’ Ash pursed his lips. ‘If I had to guess, thought, I’d say it’s a man on his own.’

‘I agree. Still…’

‘Better safe than sorry, sir.’

‘Exactly.’ He wondered why his wife had destroyed the letter. Not to keep it away from Mary; she could manage that by hiding it in a drawer or on the mantelpiece. Had it terrified her? She was so strong that it seemed hard to believe. But this election campaign was already putting a strain on her and it had hardly begun. ‘No signature again. Handy, isn’t it? He can just pop it in the post, then sit back and stay anonymous behind the paper.’

‘Any ideas for catching him, sir?’

‘No,’ Harper said with a sigh. ‘We’ll just stay on our guard.’

‘How was your dinner last night, by the way, sir?’ The inspector smiled slyly. ‘Big do, from all I hear.’

‘Big?’ Harper asked. ‘Pointless, more like. Tasteless food that was barely warm by the time it reached the table, followed by an hour of mumbled speeches.’

‘The perks of rank, eh, sir?’ Ash’s eyes twinkled with amusement.

‘You’d better be careful, or I’ll start sending you in my place.’

‘My Nancy would probably enjoy that.’ He grinned, slapped his hands down on his knees and stood. ‘I’ll go out and ask a few questions. Who knows, maybe we’ll be lucky and our gentleman writer isn’t as discreet as he should be.’

‘If you really believe that, I’ll look out of the window for a herd of pigs flying over the market,’ Harper told him.

‘Stranger things have probably happened, sir.’

‘Not in Leeds, they haven’t.’

 

‘Was your letter like this?’ he asked. Mary was tucked up in bed, exhausted by a day of school and an evening of telling them every scrap of learning that had gone into her head since morning. Harper was weary from concentrating, trying to make out all the words with his poor hearing.

Annabelle read it. ‘Word for word,’ she said, quickly folded it and handed it back to him.

‘Ash and Fowler are after him.’

‘Doesn’t help if you don’t know who you’re chasing,’ she said. They were in the bedroom. He sat by the dressing table while she counted election leaflets into rough bundles, ready to be delivered tomorrow. She raised her head. ‘I’m not a fool, Tom. There’s not enough in that for you to find him.’

‘We can ask around. And I’ll make sure there’s a copper at the meetings.’

Annabelle stopped her work and stared at him. ‘Would you do that for the men?’

‘Yes,’ he told her. ‘If I believed things could get rowdy,’

‘Don’t you think it’s wrong that women should need special protection? We’re in England, for God’s sake.’

‘Of course it’s wrong. But when there are men like this poison pen writer, it’s better than something bad happening.’ He let the idea hang in the air. ‘To any of you.’

Her stare gradually softened to a curling, twinkling smile.

‘Well, if you really want to look after me, Superintendent, perhaps you could offer me some very close guarding of my body.’

He grinned and bowed. ‘My pleasure, madam.’

 

‘They all received identical letters,’ Fowler said. He pushed the glasses back up his nose and produced the papers from his pocket. ‘Three had burned them. But it’s the same wording and the same handwriting as Mrs. Bolland’s.’

‘And the one my wife received,’ Harper confirmed. ‘What do you two have on your plates are the moment?’ he asked Ash.

‘Next to nothing, sir. We’ve been too successful, that’s the problem.’ He smiled. ‘They’re all too scared to commit crimes these days.’

‘Better not get over-confident,’ the superintendent warned. ‘We might be up to our ears tomorrow. While you have the chance, spend some time with this. Do you have a list of where and when these women are holding meetings?’

‘I do,’ Fowler said. ‘There are four tonight.’

‘Make sure there’s a uniform at every one of them. And I want him very visible.’

That should deter any trouble, he thought. If it didn’t, the weeks until the election were going to be difficult.

‘Mr. Ash and I have been talking, sir,’ the sergeant began. ‘We thought perhaps we could each go to a meeting. You know, stay quiet and keep an eye out for anything suspicious.’

‘A very good idea. Not my wife’s, though,’ he added. ‘I’ll take care of that.’

 

He’d grown used to the routine of running a division, of being responsible for everything from men on the beat to the number of pencils in the store cupboard. But it still chafed. So much of the work was empty details and routine; a competent clerk could have managed it in a couple of hours.

Meetings were the worst times; every month, all the division heads with the chief constable. So far they’d never managed to resolve a single thing. Then there was the annual questioning by the Watch Committee, the council members who oversaw the force. Several of them had no love for him, but he’d managed to fox them. The crime figures kept falling, and he stayed well within his budget. He hadn’t walked away with their praise, but he’d been pleased to see that his success galled them.

Small, worthless victories. Had he really been reduced to that? Sometimes two or three days passed with him barely leaving Millgarth. It felt as if an age had gone by since he’d been a real detective. It was one reason he was looking forward to tonight. Standing at the back of the hall, watching the faces and the bodies, thinking, alert for any danger. At least he could feel like he was doing some real work. That made him smile.

 

One the stroke of five, Harper pulled on his mackintosh and hat and glanced out of the window. Blue skies, a few high clouds, and a lemon sun; a perfect autumn afternoon. Saturday, and a little time away from this place. Not free, though: he’d spend it walking round Sheepscar, delivering leaflets for Annabelle’s campaign.

Ash was at his desk in the detectives’ office, writing up a report.

‘Did you find anything?’

‘Not a dicky bird, sir.’ He sighed and scratched his chin. ‘You weren’t banking on it, were you?’

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘If there’s anything tonight, make sure you let me know.’

‘I will, sir. Let’s hope it’s peaceful, eh?’

It was warm enough to walk back out to the Victoria. Even if the air was filled with all the soot and smoke of industry, so strong he could taste it on his tongue, it still felt good to breathe deep after a day in a stuffy office.

 

‘Do you think I look all right, Tom?’ Annabelle stood in front of the mirror. She was wearing a plain dress of dark blue wool. It was cut high, at the base of her throat, modest and serious. Her hair was up in some style he couldn’t name but had probably taken an hour to engineer so it looked nonchalant.

‘I think you look grand,’ he told her. ‘Like a member of the Poor Law Board.’ He nudged Mary, who was sitting on his lap, staring in awe at her mother.

‘Da’s right. You’re a bobby dazzler, mam,’ she said. ‘I’d vote for you if I could vote.’

‘That’ll do for me.’ Annabelle picked up her daughter and twirled in the air. ‘You’re absolutely sure?’

‘Positive,’ Harper replied. He pulled the watch from his waistcoat. ‘We’d better get going. That meeting starts in three-quarters of an hour.’ It wasn’t that far – the hall at the St. Clement’s just up Chapeltown Road– but he knew she’d want to arrive early, prepare herself, and put leaflets on all the chairs. Ellen would bring Mary shortly before the meeting started.

It was a fine evening for a stroll, still some sun and a note of warmth in the air. The factories had shut down until Monday morning, the constant hums and drones and bangs of the machinery all silenced. The chimneystacks stood like a forest, stretching off to the horizon, their dirt making its mark on every surface around Leeds.

Annabelle took his arm as they walked. He’d put on his best suit, the dove-grey one she’d had Moses Cohen tailor for him seven years before. It was still smart, but growing uncomfortably tight around the waist.

‘It’s going to be fine, isn’t it?’ she asked.

‘Of course it is.’ He glanced over at her. ‘It’s not like you to be so nervous. You usually dive right in.’

‘This is something new, that’s all. And if I fail, well, it’ll be obvious, won’t it? I’d be letting everyone down who’s helping.’ She nodded at the hall, just visible beyond the church, its low outline stark against the gasometers. ‘All of them who turn up tonight. If anyone does.’

‘You’ll be fine.’ He kissed her cheek. ‘That meeting two nights ago was packed.’ He grinned. ‘Trust me, I’m a policeman.’

‘I thought you lot were only good for telling the time.’

The words had hardly left her mouth when he heard the low roar. It grew louder, then a deep violent explosion ripped out of the ground. A column of smoke plumed up from the hall, throwing wood and roof and bricks high into the air.

‘Christ.’ They stared for a second, not knowing what to say. It was beyond words. ‘Stay here,’ he told her, then changed his mind. ‘No. Go home.’

Tom Harper was running towards the blast.

The Reeve and the Normans

1092 AD Ledes

 

He rarely dreamed now. In the beginning the night mare had ridden every time he closed his eyes, slipping through the blackness like a cutthroat and gripping him so close he could smell its graveyard stench. Then, slowly, almost without him knowing, it had faded to become no more than a memory.

But last night it had returned, more powerful for having been away so long. Screaming, growing louder and louder until it filled his head then stopped suddenly, dropping into dead, empty silence.

A welter of noise filled the space. Sounds he hadn’t noticed before. Shouting, hooves. The metal rasp of weapons drawn. The crackle as a roof caught fire and the night flamed.

He was hobbling through the darkness, moving quietly and trying to keep himself out of sight. But even when he was a mile away and more, he could still hear the soldiers shouting in their foreign tongue; no doubting the meaning and the hatred. Killing, rape, the devils in hell let loose to roam, all the order and the law gone from the earth. Blades hacking at flesh and tearing at souls.

Somewhere, someone must be alive. Or the world would all be blood.

When he woke, he was breathing so hard that his chest hurt, hands clenched tight into fists, tears tumbling down his cheeks.

Trembling, he’d had to ease himself out of the bed, careful not to wake Inga, then paced up and down on the packed earth floor, feeling its cold hardness, it realness, until the demons danced away. Even now, in the daylight, he could taste the smoke and death on his tongue, a poison no ale could take away.

For the dream to come back…it had to mean something.

norman soldiers

The villagers always closed their doors as the soldiers passed. It was safer, like a cantrip made to keep evil at bay. There were ten men this time, churning up the mud as they marched rapidly along the road. Beyond the houses and the church, their feet clattered as they crossed the bridge over the beck until the hard beat of marching softened into the distance.

Every week it was the same, a patrol sent out, as if the Normans were fearful that people might flare up and oppose them again. But who was left to raise an army, to forge the weapons? Who had the will? The army had conquered, it had destroyed the land far and wide. The soldiers had used their iron and steel to choke away any hope.

The Harrying, that was what they called it.

But Death was the word. That was the truth of it.

All around, the manors had burned. Animals butchered in the fields and left to rot on the ground. Not only the stock: people were killed, hundreds, maybe thousands of them, dying unshriven and unburied. Those still alive fled, praying for safety, begging for deliverance. But God had turned His face away, unhearing, unforgiving. No food, no shelter. No hope. No life. They died beyond counting during the winter, children and parents withered to sacks of bone and heart and flesh until they barely made a meal for the wolves.

But Ledes…Ledes remained as it was, spared. A miracle, that was what the people here believed. God’s blessing had saved them. But he knew that the reality spoke far less of heaven and much more of might. It was a military decision, nothing more than that. A finger stabbed down on a rough-drawn map. Keep this place with the ford. We can have our men there.

Erik brushed the wood shavings from his lap and put the knife back in his belt. He’d whittled the end of the post to a sharp point that would go easily into the ground. Since Sunday, his wife had been reminding him that the gate between their toft and the pasture needed repair; the post had rotted.

It was there in his head, but every hour of daylight had been filled. He was the reeve, elected by the others when the manor became property of the monks. Each dispute about the size of a villager’s planting strips, who should do what, when they should do it, ended with him.

Anglo-Saxon_ploughmen

Erik sighed. With the start of spring ploughing and planting, it had been one task after another. Decide this, measure that, give an order, settle an argument. Finally, last night, the procession of people hammering on the door stopped.

The night mare had visited and ridden on, thank God. No one had needed him this morning. And now he had time to do something for himself. He hoisted the post on to his shoulder and limped to the end of the garden. When he was young he’d jumped from a tree and broken the bone. It was never set properly; every winter it still ached.

On the horizon, ravens swooped down on something, then scattered high into the air and a larger bird dived. Spring and the ground was beginning to soften after the long winter. Pray God for a warm summer and a good harvest.

A scent of life drifted on the air. Off in the distance he could see lambs, newborn and tentative, discovering the astonishment of movement. Every year it was the same, and every year it enchanted him and made his heart soar.

He loved this place. It was home, it was comfort. He cherished the people in Ledes, even when their voices and demand and questions wearied him. Erik had been surprised when they put him forward as reeve, grateful when they voted for him.

In return he took all his responsibilities seriously, sitting and making his judgements at the manor court, tallying harvests, making sure the priest received is tithe and the monks in York had all they were owed.

He’d been on God’s Earth for almost forty years, as close as he could guess; an old man now, with all the aches and pains and failings of age. But he tried to do his duty by everyone.

And he put them all in front of himself. That was what his wife told him. Inga was right. But what could he do? He couldn’t turn them away or make them wait. So jobs like this were tucked into odd, quiet hours when the chance came.

Erik used his knife to dig into the soil, making a hole for the tip of the wood. He’d set a rock aside, heavy enough to need two hands. Lifting it high, straining, he hammered at the post. The dull sound of stone on wood, again and again and again, until it was seated securely. Now the gate between his toft and the field would close properly; no animals would wander into the garden and eat what his wife grew. Inga would be happy.

The manor had improved since it became the property of the monks. They paid rents every quarter day now instead of giving their labour, and what man wouldn’t work harder for himself than for a lord? But the monks had also taken a tenth of the land to graze their sheep. The best pasture, of course, and the villagers had to tend them. That gave less for fallow or farming. A gain and a loss.

His eyes followed the line of low trees that grew by the stream marking the northern edge of the manor. The villagers were busy with ploughing and sowing and digging. At least if they were occupied, he’d have some time. And he still needed to get seed in his own strips.

He stretched, an ache of satisfaction in his arms, then turned towards the house. For a moment the clouds parted and the sun shone, the colour and brightness welcome against the grey. Erik smiled, then caught a glint of metal from the corner of his eye. Two of the soldiers were running back along the road to their palisade.

Suddenly every sense of pleasure vanished. He was alert, a prickle of fear running down his back.

Some of the villagers claimed that away from their fort and without their weapons, the Normans were fine. At times, they could even be good company in the alehouse as they drank and gambled. Exactly the same as they were, a few said, men with laughter and dreams and hopes. One or two had even tried to learn some English, a bridge of half-formed words and gestures that entertained some of the girls.

But Erik wasn’t convinced. He’d seen them at their worst, all those years before, and the memory stayed raw and bloody. He chose to keep a wary distance.

‘I heard them,’ Inga said as he entered the house. She looked up from the bobbin as she spun yarn, tilting her head towards the open shutters. ‘You’d have thought the devil was after them, the way they were going.’

‘People were stopping work in the fields to watch.’ The ploughmen had pulled up their oxen. Even the boy scaring the crows had halted, his mouth open wide.

‘Something bad must have happened.’

‘Yes,’ Erik agreed. Whatever it was, evil or good, as reeve he needed to know. ‘I’ll go and talk to the priest.’

She snorted. ‘He won’t know any more than you do.’

He smiled gently at her, this woman who’d borne him six children. Two had survived, a boy and a girl, both grown now, with their own lives. ‘No. But he’ll want to find out. We can walk down to the fort. You know how he is, he likes to ask questions. They’ll probably tell him.’

‘He does love his gossip,’ she sighed, and he laughed. It was true. Father Adolphe chased down every last snippet of rumour, worrying at it like a terrier. And once he’d collected it he’d pass it on as if it was a vital secret he’d uncovered. A villager’s drunkenness, some flaring argument that passed in an hour, they were all grist to his day.

‘I know one thing,’ Erik said into the silence. ‘Those soldiers weren’t carrying good news.’

The Real Richard Nottingham

I’ve been writing about Richard Nottingham for quite a few years now – he first appeared as a secondary character in an unpublished novel on mine written started in 2004 (the central character, as a curiosity, was a Leeds wool merchant named Tom Williamson).

In that time, I’ve been caught up in Richard Nottingham, the character. But he was a real person, the Constable of Leeds from 1717-1737. Now, with the seventh book about him due out later this year, I thought I was well past time I tried to find out a little about the man himself.

Sadly, there’s very little information. He became Constable and Gaoler of Leeds on May 18, 1717, and left that post on October 11, 1737. Richard took over the position from William Nottingham, who would seem to have been the first Constable to Leeds.

But the Nottingham family isn’t especially notable in the parish of Leeds. The Parish Register contains no mention of William, and Richard doesn’t come up until his marriage to Jane Wood on January 4, 1676, at Leeds Parish Church. At the point she was 21.

marriage

How old was he then? At the very least he’d be 16, which means that the latest he could have been born was 1660, the year of the Restoration of the Monarchy; very likely he was older than that, and older than his bride.

The couple, shown as living on Kirkgate, began having children the following year. Elizabeth first, born August 8, 1677, Hannah in July 1679, Richard in 1683, John in 1685, Mary in 1687, Jane in 1689 (died 1694), another Richard in 1691 (died 1694), Samuel in 1692, and finally another Jane, who apparently was born and died in a matter of days in 1694 – and that was an awful year for the family, losing several children in just a few months (a couple of decades later, two of Samuel’s children would die while still infants, something sadly common at the time). Was there an illness? Two more children seem to have followed, Jean in 1696, and Frances in 1697.

Although the family initially lived on Kirkgate, by 1692, with Samuel’s birth, they’d moved to Briggate (or Bridgegate, as it was written in the register), and they’re not listed in the assessment of July 1692 on Kirkgate to help pay for the war (records for Briggate need to be checked). Briggate would seem to be where they stayed for the rest of their lives, and he appears in the rates for 1726 on Briggate.

rates

It’s impossible to be certain  – this is in the days before real birth, marriage, and death certificates – but it appears that Jane Nottingham died in 1715, and was buried on March 28. Richard Nottingham himself died in 1740, buried at Leeds Parish Church on May 18. No cause of death listed; the only information is that he still lived on Briggate.

burial

Given that he only left his position as Constable three years before, he must have stayed in post until he was well into his seventies. Perhaps it’s just as well that the role was ceremonial, rather than being a working man. I’ve searched the churchyard, but no gravestone remains, which is no real surprise, given the upheavals there during the 19th century.

Yet Richard is a very elusive man. It’s impossible to gain any sense of how he might have been as a person, in spite of his very public role for two decades. And William only gains one mention in the records, in 1713, when he took part in a procession to celebrate the peace signed with France in Utrecht. There’s more to dig into, of course – wills, rates, and so on. But so far it seems to be a life that left few traces.

Richard, though, appears a number of times in the Quarter Sessions records. First in 1695, when he awarded money for pointing out men who are highway robbers. The amount was £20  – in today’s terms close to £2800.

1695

Three years later he’s there again. Interesting, this time he’s given the title of Deputy Constable, some nine years before appointed to position of Constable.

1698

When in office, it seems that things didn’t always run smoothly. In 1723 a warrant for his arrest by the bailiffs was issued, and he’d failed to execute an arrest warrant on someone. Sir William Lowther, the first Baronet of Swillington, was the member of Parliament for Pontefract and a former High Sheriff for Yorkshire.

1723

A year later he’s obviously back in good graces.

1724

 

1728

These are wonderful snippets. Did that first reward urge him towards becoming Deputy Constable? What was the reason he never made that arrest? We’ll never know, and an some ways, though, perhaps it good that the real Richard Nottingham remains so nebulous. It would seem that he had money: his oldest child, Elizabeth, married John Wombwell, the second son of Baron Wombwell, and one of their children became a consul. She died in 1745, at the age of 63. But the money might have drained away. In the 1760s Richard’s son Samuel lived in one of the backside houses off Briggate, in a property with low rateable value; just 20 years earlier, Samuel had occupied a house fronting on Briggate with a much higher value.

So far I haven’t managed to find a copy of the Leeds Mercury from May 1740 that might carry an obituary with more details. However, Leeds Libraries do have it on microfilm, so hopefully more details will be forthcoming next week!

Even if Richard never married a Mary or had Rose and Emily as daughters, he’s very much alive to me, at least the version who exists in my head. And as no portraits exist, he can only look the way we imagine him.

Richard Nottingham – the fictional one – will return in Free From All Danger, to be published in the UK on October 28, 2017.

Chance Encounter

Tomorrow, On Copper Street, the fifth of my Leeds Victorian novels, is published. Like the rest of the series – and like my Richard Nottingham books, set in Leeds 150 years earlier – the social conditions of the people, and the city itself are vital parts of the story. Yes, they’re mysteries, crime novels, but with a Dickensian social conscience. For me, it’s impossible to look at the past without seeing the dirt, smelling the stink, and hearing the pain of so many who lived there.

The books are, perhaps, a way to offer some sort of memorial to the unremembered, the ones who, like my own great-great grandparents, were buried in common graves.

But first, to whet your appetite for On Copper Street, how about a new Annabelle Harper short story?

Leeds, 1896

 

She’d gone five paces past the man before she stopped. There were beggars everywhere in Leeds, as common as shadows along the street. But something about this face flickered in her mind and lit up a memory. He was despondent, at his wits’ end, but unlike so many, he wasn’t trying to become invisible against the stones, to disappear into the fabric of the city. He might not like it, but the man was very much alive. She stopped abruptly, turned on her heel in a swish of crinoline and marched back until she was standing over him, shopping bags dangling from her hands. It was the last day February, a sun shining that almost felt like spring.

‘You, you’re Tommy Doohan, aren’t you?’

Very slowly, as if it was a great effort, he raised his head. He’d been staring down at the pavement between his legs.

‘I am,’ he answered. His voice was weary, a Leeds accent with just the smallest hint of Ireland, easy to miss unless you were familiar it. He stared up at her, baffled, with his one good eye, the other no more than a small, dark cavern above his cheek. ‘And who might you be? You don’t look familiar.’

‘Annabelle Harper,’ the woman replied. ‘Annabelle Feeney, when you knew me. Back on Leather Street.’

His smile was weak. He looked as if the entire weight of the city had pressed down on him and left him small, broken. It had dropped him in this spot

‘That was a long time ago.’

His suit had probably been reasonably smart once. Good, heavy wool, but the black colour had turned dusty and gritty from sitting so long. Cuffs and trouser hems frayed, threads hanging to the ground. Up close, she could see the grime on his shirt, no collar, no tie. The shine had long vanished from his shoes. He was bare-headed, his hair dark, growing wild and unruly. His cap sat upside-down between his thighs. In a rough, awkward attempt at copperplate, the cardboard sign propped against it read: But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.

‘Luke,’ she said. ‘Chapter eleven, verse forty-one.’ Annabelle grinned. They’d been in the same class at Mount St. Mary’s School. ‘The nuns must have rapped my knuckles a dozen times over that one. Sister Marguerite would be happy it finally stuck.’

‘Ah, me as well. Twenty times, at least. But they’d have a harder time doing that now.’ He held up his right arm, the hand missing two fingers and the thumb.

Annabelle took a slow, deep breath.

‘My God, Tommy, what happened?’

‘Just a little fight with a machine,’ he said wryly. ‘I think I won, though. You should have seen the machine when we finished.’

‘How can you-’ she began, then closed her mouth. She knew the answer deep in her bones. You laughed about it to stop the pain. You joked, because it you didn’t you’d fall off the world and never find your way back. ‘Come on, I’ll buy you a cup of tea.’

‘I can’t let a woman pay for me.’

She dropped the bags and stood, hands on her hips, face set.

‘You can and you will, Tommy Doohan. Get off your high horse. You’d have been happy enough if I’d put a tanner in your cap. Now, get on your feet.’ She looked up and down New Briggate. ‘There’s a place over there, across from the Grand. And I’m not taking no for an answer.’

For a moment he didn’t move. But her voice had a razor edge, and he pushed himself to his feet, scooping a couple of pennies and farthing from the cap before he jammed it on his head.

He was tall, towering a good nine inches above her. Close to, he smelt of dirt and decay, as if he might be dying from the inside.

‘I’d carry your bags for you, but one of the paws doesn’t work so well.’

‘Give over,’ she told him, and his mouth twitched into a real smile.

 

He cradled the mug, as if he was relishing the warmth, only letting go to eat the toasted teacake she’d ordered for him. When he was done, he wiped the butter from his mouth with the back of a grimy hand, then felt in his pocket for a tab end.

They’d been silent, but now Annabelle said: ‘Go on, Tommy, what happened to you?’

‘When I was sixteen, I headed over to Manchester to try my luck. Me and my brother Donald, do you remember him?’

She had the faint image of someone a little older, tousle-haired and laughing.

‘What could you do there that you couldn’t here?’

‘It was different, wasn’t it?’ he said bitterly. ‘I’d been a mechanic down at Black Dog Mill, I could fix things, and Don, well, he was jack of all trades.’ He smoked, then stubbed out the cigarette in quick jab. ‘We did all right, I suppose. One of the cotton mills there took him on, made him a foreman, earning fair money.’

‘What about you?’

‘Down at the docks. Long hours, but a decent wage. Lots of machines to look after. I met a lass, got wed, had ourselves a couple of kiddies.’

‘I’ve got one, too. A little girl.’

Doohan cocked his head.

‘What does your husband do? You look well off.’

‘You’ll never credit it.’ She laughed. ‘He’s a bobby. A detective. And I own a pub. The Victoria down in Sheepscar.’

He let out a low whistle.

‘You’ve turned into a rich woman.’

‘We get by,’ Annabelle said. ‘Anyway, what about your family?’

‘Gone,’ he told her bleakly. ‘About two years back I was working on this crane, you know, hauling stuff out of the boats. The mechanism has jammed. I almost had it fixed when the cable broke. It’s as thick as your arm, made from metal strands. Took the fingers before I even knew it, and a piece flew off into my eye.’ He shrugged. ‘I was in the hospital for a long time. Came out, no job. They told me that since I didn’t have two full hands, I wasn’t able to do the work any more. Goodbye, thank you, and slipped me two quid to see me on my way like I should be grateful.’

‘Where was your wife?’

‘Upped sticks and scarpered with my best mate as soon as someone told her I wasn’t going to be working. Took the children with her. I tried looking round for them for a long time, but I couldn’t find hide nor hair. Finally I thought I’d come back to Leeds. I might have a bit more luck here.’ He sighed. ‘You can see how that turned out. On me uppers on New Briggate. Begging to get a bed.’ He spat out the sentence.

‘Couldn’t you brother help?’ Annabelle asked.

‘Donald was married, and he and his brood had gone off to Liverpool. He has his own life, it wouldn’t be fair. Me mam and dad are dead, but there are a few relatives who slip me a little something.’

She stayed silent for a long time, twisting the wedding ring back and forth around her finger.

‘How long did you work at all this?’

‘Seventeen years,’ Doohan said with pride. ‘Ended up a supervisor before…’ He didn’t need to say more.

‘Do you know Hope Foundry? Down on Mabgate?’

‘I think I’ve seen it. Why?’

‘Fred Hope, one of the owners, he drinks in the pub. He was just saying the other day that he’s looking for engineering people. You know, to run things.’

Doohan raised his right arm with its missing fingers to his empty eye.

‘You’re forgetting these.’

‘No, I’m not. You’ve got a left hand. And your brain still works, doesn’t it?’

‘Course it does,’ he answered.

‘Then pop in and see him tomorrow. Tell him I suggested it.’

‘Are you serious about this?’

‘What do you think?’

‘He’ll say no. They always do.’

‘Happen he won’t. Fred has a good head on his shoulders. He can see more than a lot of people.’ Annabelle opened her purse and pulled out two one-pound notes. ‘Here. It’s a loan,’ she warned him. ‘Just so you can get yourself cleaned up and somewhere decent to sleep. Some food in you.’

‘I can’t.’

She pressed the money into his palm.

‘There’s no saintliness in being hungry and kipping on a bench,’ she hissed. ‘Take it.’

He closed his fingers around the paper.

‘I don’t know what to say. Thank you. I’ll pay you back.’

‘You will,’ she agreed. ‘I know where you’ll be working. And your boss. Now you’d better get a move on, before the shops shut.’

‘What about…?’ He gestured at the table.

‘Call it my treat. Now, go on. Off with you.’

At the door he turned back, grinning. He seemed very solid, filling the space.

‘Is this what they mean by the old school tie?’

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