The Ten Year Project

 

It’s hard to believe, but next Spring it’ll be 10 years since my first book set in Leeds was published – The Broken Token, in case you’re curious. There will be a new Tom Harper novel appearing then, the eighth in the series, which will mean I’ve published a total of  22 novels and a collection of short stories set in Leeds in the last decade.

That’s not counting a couple of plays and involvement in the exhibition The Vote Before The Vote, where Annabelle Harper stepped into Leeds history.

annabellecard 200_2

Phew.

I’m going to celebrate it. 10 years is worth celebrating. It took a while to figure out how, though…

It has to be stories. After all, I’m a writer. So from November to next March I will have a short story with one of my Leeds characters each month. I’ll be starting with Dan Markham, taking him into the very beginning of the 1960s, then working my way back through time – Urban Raven, Lottie Armstrong, Tom Harper, Simon Westow, and finishing, quite rightly, with Richard Nottingham.

It’s going to be a challenge. I need to try and capture the essence of each of them, and in some cases it’s been a few years since we met. But I never like to make it easy for myself. I’ve even come up with a logo for everything 10th, just to warn you.

10 years

The Dan Markham story will appear in early November. I hope you’ll like in. In the meantime, you could read the new Simon Westow book, The Hocus Girl. It’s out in the UK in hardback now, and it’ll be available everywhere as an ebook from November 1.

Hocus Girl final

Advertisements

Cut Me And I Bleed Leeds

Cut me and I bleed Leeds. Not red, but blue and gold and white.

Maybe it’s true. The place is in my heart, my soul, my DNA, with all its soot and grime, its failings and its joys. Leeds is me and I’m bloody proud to be one tiny part of it. In my books (like The Hocus Girl, which was published in the UK on Monday, hint hint), I try to make Leeds itself as important as important as one of the people on the page.

For a long time it wasn’t that way. At 18 I was happy to move elsewhere and I ended up abroad for a long time. But eventually, with that twitch on the thread, Leeds called me home. I moved back six years ago last week and I’ve never felt as if I ever fitted anywhere quite so well.

I’ve been thinking about the first time I realised quite what Leeds meant, when it became more than home, school, the city centre and our neighbourhood. It was probably towards the end of winter in 1961, when the teenage son of my mother’s boss (poor lad) took me to my first match at Elland Road to watch Leeds United play. February or March, maybe. Certainly a grey, dank day, and I was all wrapped up in my dark blue gaberdine school raincoat. My school was very much rugby league – all the boys were taken to the park to play – but football in the playground. Boys and girls had separate playgrounds, covered in sharp gravel, and boys had to wear short every day, no natter the weather. It meant constant sabs on the knees.

I loved football back then, in the way that only a young boy can. So the trip was magical, to an area of town I’d never seen before. Far enough away that it might have been another country. Then into the schoolboys’ pen, and so many people. All the noise.

I don’t remember who we played or what the score was. But all these men singing and cheering for Leeds resonated in me. It stirred something, somewhere in the dirty, black and white world that was the start of the Sixties.

Of course, I didn’t understand what or where or why or how. Really, that didn’t come for decades, not until absence made my heart grow fonder.

Not everyone develops an attachment to their hometown. Not everyone feels the needs to know how it became the way it is, or to celebrate the nameless and forgotten who helped to form it. That’s fine. It’s why I write about the place, to understand it in it’s different eras, its different shapes, from small town to grand city to something in decline. I just happen to be someone who was touched by the madness.

It’s not a perfect place, God knows. I shout and criticise it with the best of them. My Leeds is one that welcomes people from everywhere. It started with the Irish, the Romany, the Jews, and now from every country on earth. To me, they all have someone to give. They’re all Leeds.

So yes, Leeds is me. Take a saw to me and there will be Leeds written right through the middle. I used to think that was funny. Now, though, I say it with pride.

But please don’t actually cut me or saw me open, okay?

 

Related to this, I’m part of a panel on Saturday October 12 at the Leeds Library on Commercial St, talking about locality in crime fiction. I’m sharing the session with France Brody, June Taylor, and the German writer Ursula Maria Wartmann. It will be chaired by another crime novelist, Ali Harper. All the details are here.

Hocus Girl final

Joanne Harris And The Storytime Band – A Pocketful Of Crows

Joanne Harris is, of course, a best-selling author in several genres. A couple of years ago, in her Joanne M. Harris guise, she published A Pocketful of Crows, based on Child Ballad 295 (the Child Ballads were collected in England and Scotland in the 19th century by Professor Francis Child). It was a powerful story of loss, revenge, realisation and empowerment, transformation -of many things.

Joanne Harris also has a very strong online presence, especially on Twitter, where she’s shown herself to be a wise woman indeed, and the instigator of #storytime, a form of digital storytelling that’s proved very incredibly popular. Out of that has come the Storytime Band, where she and three musicians bring those Twitter stories to the stage in a mix of tale, song, and instrumental work. They’ve played gigs for a while now, and already put out once CD with several of the short pieces.

Now Harris and band have brought several strands different strands of what she does together, offering a different take on A Pocketful of Crows as their new CD. It makes sense: the ballads are essentially stories, compressed into song form. They were intended to be sung in public, in the same manner that stories were told, and like stories, they changed a little with every performance. Story and ballads were both communal, much as #storytime is there for the digital community of Twitter. Harris is one of those rare writers who intuitively understands the power and history of ballads, oral storytelling and the folk tradition. The three are inextricably bound together. But something like this is a very different beast to putting words on a page, it’s an art, and sadly, so much of the English storytelling tradition vanished long ago (please, if you’re not familiar with oral storytelling, it’s not someone reading stories aloud in a library. It’s thrilling, dangerous, and subtly different every time If you want some names of storytellers, ask me).

It’s a different beast, and Harris hasn’t simply adapted the book or rehashed it. In transforming Crows from book to this medium she’s looked at the whole piece through entirely fresh eyes. And, as musicians and performers, the band have more experience under their belts now, as well as a better understanding of the studio. The production is outstanding here, fulling enhancing and showcasing the music as well as letting it integrate fully with the telling. The songs themselves are more developed and there’s more…quiet confidence about the whole thing.

The words are stripped to the nub, by necessity, yet the story remains, beautiful and angry in turns. The songs offer the depth of characters and scene, slipping naturally from the story and yet strong enough to stand alone (“Dance Of The Days” really is a twirling dance of love).

Musically, it’s prog rock, but that’s what the band does. It’s their forte and this time out they’ve use it so well, with moments the swell into epic grandeur. Everything flows and evolves quite beautifully. The title track makes for a superb climax – with its catchy chorus it veers close to being a pop song – before the slow, slow fade that’s filled with lovely, autumnal change.

This isn’t an add-on to the book. It uses the same story as a base, but this is a feast for other senses, and a very satisfying one (as well as being a chronicle of the leaps and bounds development of the Storytime Band, who’ve become a staggeringly powerful outfit). The best advice? Read A Pocketful of Crows, and hear the CD. It’s like experiencing the tale in surround sound for the mind.

crows

More From The Hocus Girl And Big News

A week and a half until The Hocus Girl is published in the UK.

Yes, I do believe it’s a good book, one of my very best (if you want to know, I feel it’s up there with Cold Cruel Winter, At The Dying of the Year, The Tin God, The Leaden Heart, and The Year of the Gun). It brings real depth to the characters, which you can never do with the first book in a series; at that point, you’re still getting to know them yourself. But Jane in this book…I knew from The Hanging Psalm that she was someone special, but in this she blooms…well, you’ll have to read the book and see, won’t you?

And…BIG BIG NEWS…to put the icing on the week, the publisher has said they’ll be putting out the third book with Simon Westow and Jane at the end of September 2020 (hard to believe such a time exists!). It’s called To The Dark.

Meanwhile, have two more brief extracts from The Hocus Girl to push you to buy it/reserve from the library.

 

As he walked back towards Leeds, Simon sensed someone behind him. Trying to be quiet and doing a piss-poor job of it.

Close to Lady Bridge the path curved, the bushes at the side growing thick and wild. For a handful of seconds, he’d be out of sight. That was long enough. Simon slipped the knife from his sleeve.

By the time the man appeared, head moving from side to side in confusion, Simon was hidden from view. He loosened a second knife in his boot. Give it another few moments. Long enough for the follower to grow frustrated.

Screened behind the leaves, Simon held his breath. A broad, hulking man with a vicious expression was staring this way and that. A club dangled from his belt, next to his knife. Very likely another weapon or two hidden on his body.

The man turned, eyes searching, then stared at the road beyond the bridge. Lady Lodge stood alone, surrounded by a field and a hedge before the hill rose towards a row of half-built houses.

Simon eased himself out from the branches, tensed then dashed forward. Just five paces, but he was moving fast enough to send the man sprawling as he caught him behind his thighs.

The man tried to turn. Before he could struggle, Simon was on him, kneeling on his back, the edge of his blade against the side of his neck as he searched him. Two knives and the club. Simon tossed them into the beck. It had only taken three seconds, and the rush of it left his breathing ragged.

‘I don’t like people following me.’

No response.

‘Why are you doing it?’

‘Orders.’ The man’s voice was stifled in the dirt. Simon grabbed him by the hair.

‘Whose orders?’

‘Curzon.’

Now he knew who this man was. The magistrate’s bodyguard. Whittaker, the former government man.

‘And why does Mr Curzon care what I do?’

‘You’ve been asking questions about his case.’

‘Is that a crime now?’

‘It is if you try to stop justice.’

‘No, Mr Whittaker.’ He felt the man stir at the mention of his name. ‘I’m trying to stop an injustice. You’re going to go back and tell your master that.’

Whittaker snorted. ‘Do you reckon that’ll be the end of it? He’ll give up and apologize because you’re not happy? He’s more powerful than you’ll ever be.’

‘That doesn’t mean he’ll always win. You might want to remind him of that.’ He felt the man tense under him, ready to try and move. ‘Don’t,’ Simon warned. He pressed the steel hard against Whittaker’s neck. ‘I’ll have you dead before you even reach your knees.’

‘We’ll be seeing each other again.’

‘I daresay we will.’

‘Next time things be different.’

‘We’ll find out about that, won’t we?’ He rose swiftly, standing back with his knife ready. ‘Your weapons are in the water. The current won’t have carried them far.’

Simon walked away, alert, ready for Whittaker to chase after him. But he didn’t come.

Curzon had set his dog to warn Simon off. If his case was so strong, why would he need to do that?

 

She needed him to follow her to the churchyard. She’d be waiting there, waiting for him.

The man was twenty paces behind her, she judged. Even in the crowd she could pick out the rhythm of his feet as he followed her. She’d have plenty of time to prepare.

Jem was over by the wall, sitting and watching. He stirred as he saw her. Jane gave him a small sign: stay there, don’t move. Then she stood, as if she was slightly lost, waiting for someone. The knife was concealed in her hand.

Whittaker came up behind her. He probably thought he was quiet, but to her ears, he might as well have been an army on the move. He was close when she turned, and for the smallest moment his step faltered. Then he was on her, leering, his eyes hungry.

‘So you’re Westow’s little slut. People tell me you’re dangerous. There’s nothing to you.’

His hand moved, cupping her breast, fingers squeezing so hard that the pain shot through her. It shocked, it hurt, but Jane didn’t let her face betray a thing. One second, two and then three. Just long enough for him to think her had her cowed. The hilt of the knife rubbed against her gold ring as she let it slide in her fingers. Her right hand shot up and the blade carved a line down his cheek.

He jumped back as if he’d been burned, raising his hand to his face and bringing it down to stare in disbelief at the blood.

‘You bitch!’ he shouted.

Jane didn’t move. She stood with the knife in her hand. Her voice was quiet and calm, hardly more than a whisper.

‘I’m going to kill you,’ she told him. ‘For Henry.’

She took a step forward and Whittaker retreated, still pressing a hand to his face. Blood seeped through his fingers, dripping down his neck to stain the white of his shirt.

He kept moving, watching her until there was enough distance for him to turn his back and walk off.

She’d bested him. Humiliated him. He wouldn’t let this rest. He couldn’t; he was a man. Jane knew that before she began, but she didn’t care. The next time, though, he’d be cautious. He’d be slow. That didn’t matter. She’d do exactly as she promised.

‘Did he hurt you?’ Jem had run across as soon as it was safe.

‘He tried.’ She could still feel Whittaker’s touch on her body. Her breast ached. The mark of his fingers would show in a few hours. The hurt went deeper in her, to her core. She wouldn’t forget and she’d never forgive. ‘But I hurt him more.’ She turned to the boy. For now she’d put it out of her mind; there would be time to think about everything tonight. ‘Have you found the man with the limp?’

Hocus Girl final

A Taste Of The Hocus Girl

In a little more than a fortnight, The Hocus Girl will be out in the UK (Amazon is already sending copies to customers). If you’re a blogger or review, the book is available on NetGalley.

Yes, I really do want you to buy it. I’ll try to persuade you and twist your arm.

But perhaps a few short extracts might convince you. You can order from your local bookshop. Give them the business, keep them going. And if you can’t afford it, then please ask your local library to stock it. Libraries are vital to us all. We need to use them, to fight to keep them open.

I hope you enjoy this – please let me know.

 

Near the top of Kirkgate, Simon pushed open the heavy door of the gaol. The place was old now, mortar crumbling between the stones, cold even in the spring sun. The clerk at the desk raised his head.

‘Mr Westow,’ he said in surprise. ‘Have you brought someone for us?’

‘Davey Ashton. Do you have him in the cells?’

‘No, sir.’ The man frowned and pushed the spectacles up his nose. He put down his pen and rubbed the fingers of his right hand. ‘There’s no one by that name. When was he arrested?’

‘This morning.’

The clerk’s expression cleared and his mouth turned down. ‘Is this the sedition case?’

‘Yes.’

‘They’re questioning him at the Moot Hall. I’ll warn you now, though, they won’t let you in. It’s supposed to be secret, but I’ve heard there have been arrests all over the West Riding. Breaking up a rebellion, that’s what they’re saying.’

Simon felt a chill rise through his body. Rebellion was a capital crime. The death penalty. Hanging. In God’s name, what was going on?

‘Who’s the magistrate?’

‘Mr Curzon.’

He knew all about Curzon. A mill owner, a rich man who paid his workers as little as he dared and worked them as hard as he could. A man who’d honed away his compassion and conscience and replaced them with gold.

He’d be putting his questions, damning Davey to hell and threatening him with transportation for life or the noose. Simon felt the desperation clawing in his belly. He had to do something. But he wouldn’t even be able to see Davey until Curzon was done. And he didn’t know how he could save his friend.

‘I see. Thank you.’ A nod and he left. At least he knew his enemy now.

 

‘The government’s spying on Englishmen?’ For a moment, Simon wasn’t sure he’d heard properly.

‘You make it sound as if that’s something shocking,’ Miller snorted. ‘They’ve been doing it for centuries. They’re petrified, Simon. Terrified. With the price of food so high and wages low, they’re afraid we’re going to rebel like the French did thirty years ago and send them all to the guillotine.’

‘More Peterloos.’

No one would ever forget the day when a Manchester magistrate sent the cavalry to break up a political meeting. Fifteen had died, hundreds were wounded.

‘Or worse,’ Miller continued. ‘They’re taking no chances. So they’re sending agents to spy on people.’ He shrugged and drank again.

A spy. Simon considered the idea.

‘What else do you know?’

The man shook his head as an answer. ‘That’s it, Simon. Little things I’ve heard and put together. It might not be true. But I’ll wager good money it is.’

It was. He could feel it in his bones. He took out another coin and slid it across the table.

‘I’d like to know more about this spy. If you can find anything. Anything at all…’

Miller rubbed the thumb and the stubs of two fingers together. Money. ‘I’ll let you know.’

 

 

With great care, Jane emptied the sack. Five pieces made from silver. Barstow had stolen eight. Simon had recovered the watch; two still missing, exactly as the man had said. She stacked everything in the corner, tucked out of sight behind the chair, wadded her shawl and pushed it deep into the sack. A moment later she emerged into the daylight, the fingers of her right hand curled tight around the knife.

Someone was behind her. She could hear him, the way the rhythm of footsteps matched her own. It wouldn’t be Barstow; he didn’t have the skill or the courage. Not that it mattered. Jane was going to lead him through the courts and yards and finish up behind him. Then she’d make him regret this.

She didn’t even need to think where she was going. Leeds was imprinted in her mind, in her feet. She’d walked every inch of the town time and again, she’d lived on its streets when she was a child. Sometimes knowing where to turn and how to hide could be the difference between staying alive and dying.

 

It only took five minutes before she came out of a tiny ginnel to see the figure ahead of her, gazing around, unsure which way to turn. Jane stopped, staring in disbelief. Not a man at all. A woman. Taller and heavier than her, several years older, with a tumble of thick dark hair that hung like a rat’s nest over her shoulders. She wore an old, patched cotton dress too short to reach her clogs, a threadbare shawl gathered on her shoulders.

For a second, Jane was too stunned to move. Then she breathed slowly. Man or woman, it didn’t matter. This was a threat.

The woman tensed as Jane pricked her back with the tip of her knife and whispered, ‘Why are you looking for me?’

‘He paid me. Two pennies.’ She opened her fist to show a pair of coins.

‘Who?’ Jane wanted to hear the name.

‘Him.’ That was her only response.

‘Why? What does he want?’

‘He said I had to see where you went then go back and tell him.’ Her voice shook. ‘Please… don’t hurt me.’

Jane took two steps back. Something was wrong. As soon as he heard her voice, Barstow would have known exactly who she was. Every crook in Leeds knew she worked with Simon, and the thief-taker didn’t hide his address. This woman came from someone else. Who?

‘Then you’d better tell him I managed to lose you.’

‘I can’t.’

Silently, Jane took another pace away from the woman, eyes fixed, knife ready for any movement.

The woman turned, lunging. Light glinted on the blade of a long dagger. But all she caught was air. Before she could recover, Jane was on her. A slash opened the girl’s arm and her knife clattered to the ground. Jane kicked it away.

‘Do you really want me to kill you?’

A shake of the head. The girl pressed the edge of her shawl down on the wound, trying to staunch the blood. Her face had turned pale.

‘Then don’t come after me again,’ Jane warned. ‘Ever.’

For a moment she stared, then turned and walked away. Even as she did it, Jane knew she was making a mistake. If this had been a man, she’d have killed him. She’d been too cautious. Too generous. Too stupid. Too weak. This wasn’t finished yet. As certain as morning, the woman would return.

Hocus Girl final

The Thief-Taker’s Tale

On September 27 my new book, The Hocus Girl, will be published in the UK. A month later it’ll be available everywhere as an ebook, and from January 1 in hardback in the US.

I think it’s one of the best books I’ve written, up there with four others. I hope you’ll find out. If you’re a blogger/reviewer, it’s now available on NetGalley. If you read it, well, I honestly hope you like it, and you’ll leave a review.

That’s for the end of the month. Right now, as something to whet your appetites, here are Simon Westow and Jane. But a warning: it’s not for the faint-hearted.

leeds 1830

Leeds, June 1822

 

‘Sir…sir!’

Simon Westow stopped suddenly and turned towards the voice. All around, people on Briggate pushed and jostled past him. The butchers’ shops at the bottom of the old Moot Hall were doing brisk business as servants began early errands for their mistresses.

The man who called out gathered his hat in his hands as he approached. He had the hangdog look of someone who’d been beaten down too many times, and thick, callused skin on his hands, fingernails rimed with grime, eyes looking down at the floor. Not starving, and his clothes weren’t in tatters. A machine operative, perhaps. Someone barely surviving.

‘What can I do for you?’ Simon asked.

‘I don’t mean to disturb you, sir, but are you the thief-taker?’

‘I am.’

He looked up, a helpless man with only slivers of hope left.

‘Then I hope you can help me, sir. Someone’s stolen my little girl.’

 

Simon sat at the long table in the kitchen.

‘His name’s William Wardell. His daughter’s name is Anne. He claims that someone snatched her from his lodgings the afternoon before last. He’s spent every waking moment since then looking for her. He doubts he has a job anymore, but this is more important.’

‘Was the girl on her own?’ Jane asked. She worked with Simon, somewhere close to fourteen years old now and a natural at the trade. With a shawl over her hair, she could follow without being seen, and she had a rare sense when someone was trailing her. She’d killed people, he knew that much. He’d never asked how many. But she’d survived five years on the street before she began working for him. That was no place to turn the other cheek like a Christian, not if you wanted to stay alive.

‘The girl was playing and her mother slipped out to the shop. It was just four doors away at the end of Copenhagen Street. I met her. She’s as distraught as her husband, she blames herself.’

‘How old is the girl?’ Simon’s wife, Rosie, asked.

‘She turned five last month.’ He frowned and stared at the table. ‘A thin child, very quiet. According to the mother, she’s pretty, everyone remarks on it, and her hair is so pale it’s almost white.’ He stared at them. ‘One of her eyes is blue and the other is violet.’

‘That should help,’ Jane said. She started to rise.

‘Where are you going?’

‘To ask questions.’

The door closed behind her. In the silence, Rosie said: ‘This Wardell man, do you believe him?’

‘Yes,’ Simon replied. ‘I do. Any man who’ll walk away from a job to try and find his daughter is telling the truth.

‘Can he afford to pay?’

‘No. But we’ve done well this spring. Perhaps we owe a good deed.’

 

Jane knew what happened to the little girls who were taken. So did Simon; there was no need to say it. Anne Wardell had been gone a day and a half. If they could find her quickly enough, they could bring her home before the damage took her somewhere beyond returning.

She knew. Her own father had raped her when she was eight and her mother had thrown her to the streets. Better to keep a man who could provide than a daughter who took and took, someone her husband preferred to her. Yes, she knew. Jane lifted the shawl over her hair. She’s be invisible now, just another figure in a tattered dress. Jane reached into her pocket and gripped her knife.

Anne’s father had been asking questions, but he didn’t know people who might have answers. She did. And she’d make sure they told her.

The man lived in one of the courts that ran of Wood Street, between Briggate and Vicar Lane. Inches of filth covered the flagstones, tossed out of windows every morning for years and never cleared.

His room stood near the top of the building, up three flights of stairs. Some of the treads were missing and the bannisters hung loose. It all needed to be torn down and rebuilt. But as long as people were willing to pay for a room in this place, nothing would happen. Not when there were profits to be made.

She knocked on the door, hearing the sound of feet on the floorboards and watching the handle turn. As it began to open, she threw her weight against it.

Jane was slight, but it was still enough to send the man crashing back and catching him off guard. Before he could recover she held the blade against the side of his neck.

Simon had never killed anyone. It went against all he believed. He’d wound if he was attacked, but nothing more. Jane didn’t have those boundaries. She’d had to learn so she could stay alive.

And Ezekiel Harrison knew it.

‘Who’s taking young girls?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know.’

‘You’re lying.’ She could see it. He was desperate, but he’d still try and hide the truth from her. She pricked his skin with the knife, just enough to let a few drops of blood trickle down into his shirt collar and stain the cotton. The shirt was dirty. Nothing in the room was clean. ‘Who?’

He squirmed and tried to stay quiet. But the longer he looked into her eyes, the more he realized what would happen. No mercy for silence.

‘Marjorie Wilson and Elizabeth Wallace.’

‘Those names had better be right. If not, I’ll be back.’

She left him cowering on the floor.

 

‘I was given two names,’ she said.

‘Who?’ Simon asked. They stood by the old market cross at the top of Briggate, staring down the street towards the bridge and long slope down to the river. Two coaches set out within seconds of each other, one from the Talbot, another from the Rose and Crown, scattering people and barely avoiding a cart and its driver.

The air hung heavy, stinking of oil and soot, poisoned by the smoke that rose every day from the factory chimneys all around Leeds.

Jane told him.

‘I heard that Marjorie Wilson has been ill,’ he said.

‘I’ll go and find out,’ she said, but there was no trace of sympathy in her voice. ‘She might have recovered.’

 

Elizabeth Wallace. Simon had known her once. She’d been a matron at the workhouse when he grew up there. Not an ounce of kindness or compassion in her. She seemed to relish beating the girls for any little thing. Shutting them away in dark rooms, depriving them of food for the smallest offence. All to temper their wilfulness and wildness, she claimed. Finally the governors could take no more and she’d been dismissed.

She had a small house off York Street, quite new, not even ten years old. A young girl answered the door, wearing a dress made for someone older. There was fear in her eyes as she asked his name. She looked thoroughly cowed.

When she returned, she gave a small curtsey.

‘I’m sorry, sir, but Miss Wallace says she can’t see you right now.’

She tried to close the door, but Simon leaned against it.

‘I’m sorry. I know what she told you, but I’m afraid Miss Wallace will be disappointed today. I need to talk to her.’

She was in the parlour, working on a piece of embroidery. The woman looked up in annoyance as he entered with the servant trailing helplessly behind.

‘I told you not to let him in,’ she said to the girl.

Simon came close, towering over her. He was tall, broad, so different from the small child who’d entered the workhouse after his parents died.

‘I have a question for you.’

‘Run for the watch, girl,’ Miss Wallace shouted. ‘Tell them I’m being attacked.’

He heard the door to the parlour slam, then the front door.

‘It’s just you and me in here,’ he told her.

‘I know who you are. I’ll swear out a complaint against you for trespass.’

Simon bared his teeth in a smile. ‘You do that and the judge will hear how you snatch girls and sell them to the brothels,’ he said.

‘Prove it.’ But there was a tremor of fear in her voice.

‘That’s easily done,’ he warned. ‘But I still have to ask my question. I suggest you tell me the truth.

‘Why-’

His voice rose over hers.

‘You took a girl. One eye blue, the other violet. Don’t say it’s a lie, we both know it’s not. Who bought her?’

 

The room smelled of decay and death. Marjorie Wilson was just clinging to life. A neighbour fed her soup, changed her linen and the sheets on the bed. But the woman couldn’t even speak, let alone do anything more. It was an effort for her to even open her eyes.

 

She’s at Johnson’s,’ Simon said. ‘Elizabeth Wallace admitted it.’

They’d gathered round the kitchen table of the house in Swinegate. Simon, Rosie, and Jane.

‘Then we’ll go there,’ Jane said. She started to rise, but he shook his head.

‘He has two guards. I’ve seen them. They’re the type who kill. We’re going to need a plan to get inside.’

‘Two guards?’ Rosie said. ‘I have an idea.’

 

Rosie dressed in her best gown. Expensive deep-blue silk with a high waist, cut low and trimmed with a froth of lace. A small hat, sky blue and decorated with plumes. People turned to stare as she walked. Jane was beside her, uncomfortably aware of everyone looking, and making sure no one was following.

Out to Long Balk Lane. This had been a place for men with deviant tastes until two years before, when the woman who owned it had been murdered. Now a man named Johnson had opened it once more, drawing the same clientele. Men with deep purses and twisted mind.

It was a large house, a darker shadow in the deep night, its stones blackened by the years. It stood alone, set back from the street. At the top of the drive, Rosie took a deep breath.

‘Ready?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ Jane answered.

 

The brick wall at the back had tumbled. He could walk over it and move quietly through the overgrown garden. Two years of neglect. So much the better, Simon thought.

Light leaked from the shutters, enough for him to find rocks the right size to throw. He was ready, in place. Now he just needed to wait for to right time.

 

‘Sir?’

The guard answered the door. A big man, his hair cropped short and a face filled with prize fighter’s scars. Heavily muscled in his black suit, neckcloth tied tight.

‘What is it?’ He was ready to dismiss them and close the door.

‘I hear the owner wants girls,’ Rosie said quickly. ‘My servant has been ill-behaved. She needs to learn her lesson in a place like this.’

His eyes moved to Jane, sliding away from Rosie. Suddenly he froze, the tip of a knife pressing into the flesh under his chin.

‘Move back,’ Rosie told him. ‘Very carefully.’

Jane closed the door and searched him. Two knives and a cudgel. He tried to stop her. Her knife flashed, slicing through the flesh of his palm. So sharp he didn’t know what had happened until he saw the blood flow.

After that he was docile, bound hand and foot and left in the hall.

Rosie put her fingers in her mouth at let out a long shriek of a whistle.

‘You know what to do.’

 

As soon as he heard, Simon threw one rock, then a second. The satisfaction of shattering glass. He brought his boot down hard against the lock on the back door. Once, twice, three time before it gave and swung wide.

The guard stood, smiling and waiting for him.

Simon had a knife in his hand. He took a second from his sleeve.

‘I’m giving you one chance to run. Once I’m done here, there won’t be anything left.’

The guard laughed.

‘Look behind you,’ Simon told him.

The man just shook his head. ‘Do you really think I’m that stupid?’

The next second he was on the floor, clutching at his leg. Jane stood over him, wiping the blood from her knife on his coat.

‘You’ll live,’ Simon told him. ‘But she’s cut the tendons. You’ll never walk properly again. Now you can crawl out of her.’ He kicked the man’s knife away and strode on.

They searched in every room, emptying girls and men from each as they went.

Jane spotted the small staircase. She crept up and eased open the door at the top. The room was lit by a single candle in a dresser. A girl lay on the bed in a nightgown, paralysed with fear. Hair so pale it glowed white. One eye blue, the other violet.

A man sat in the chair.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’

‘I’m taking her home. And all the others who’ve been stolen.’ She looked at the girl. ‘Your name’s Anne, isn’t it?’

No words, just a nod.

‘Hurry down the stairs. You’ll see a woman. She’ll look after you.’

The smallest hesitation, then the girl hurried off.

‘I know who you are. You work with Simon Westow. I have friends in Leeds. Important men. We’ll destroy you.’

 

The men had all vanished into the night, hiding their faces. Rosie gathered the girls around her, shepherding them back into town.

The blaze had begun at the top of the house. It had quickly taken hold, lighting up the night sky.

‘No one was left inside, were they?’ Simon asked.

‘No,’ Jane said. ‘There was no one alive inside.’

She turned away and began to walk.