An Extract From The Leaden Heart

It’s three weeks  (and two days) until The Leaden Heart is published in the UK. A month after that and it’ll be available everywhere on ebook.

Not long at all.

Of course I want you to feel full of anticipation. So here’s a snippet to whet your appetite. And remember, the cheapest places to pre-order are Hive and Speedy Hen, and both offer free postage.

Thank you…enjoy.

And don’t forget the book trailer..

 

Leeds, 1899

‘The Smiths,’ Reed began.

‘I’ve never come across them before,’ Harper said. ‘But I want a long talk with them now.’

This was Tom’s patch, Billy thought. He was supposed to know what was going on. That was his job.

‘Let’s talk to Hester,’ he said. ‘She might be able to tell us something.’

But the blind was down on the shop door. No notice to announce a closing. Reed peered through the window and drew in his breath.

‘What is it?’

‘The shop’s a mess. Things strewn all over the floor. I’ll go in the back way,’ Reed said.

Through the ginnel and into the yard. He tapped on the door. No answer, but the knob turned in his hand.

‘Hester?’ he said quietly. She wasn’t in the office; he climbed the stairs. The door to the flat was open. No one in the living room or kitchen. He heard a quiet cry and stiffened, waiting until it came again. The bedroom.

The curtains were closed, the room stifling in the heat. He could make out her shape, lying on the bed.

‘Hester, it’s Billy. What’s happened?’

She turned her head. There was just enough light to make out the bruises on her face.

‘What’s been going on?’ he asked, but she looked at him with empty eyes.

Downstairs, he unlocked the front door.

‘You’d better come in, Tom. This has become real police business.’

 

It took two cups of tea to draw out the story. Harper listened, letting Billy ask the questions. He was the brother-in-law. Even if she barely knew him, they were related.

‘Two men came in,’ she said. Her voice was shaky and frightened. ‘It was just after half-past nine, I remember the church bell ringing. One of them pulled down the blind on the door and locked it.’

‘What did you do?’ Reed asked quietly. He sat on the other side of the table, holding her hands.

‘I asked what they thought they were doing. They said they owned the place and wanted me out by Saturday. One of them started kicking things over. When I told him to stop, the other one hit me.’ She lifted her fingers to her face.

‘What else did they say?’

‘If anything of mine was still here on Saturday night, they’d put it out on the pavement.’ She lifted her head, looking from one of them to the other. ‘And if I tried to stop them, it would be worse for me. Then he hit me again and again, and they left. I…’ The words faded and she sobbed again. ‘I came up here. I didn’t want anyone to see. Not like this, right after the funeral.’

‘I’ll make sure the beat constable keeps a close eye on the shop,’ Harper promised. ‘What did the men look like?’

‘Big, the pair of them. They could have been brothers. Both had dark hair, parted in the middle.’ She closed her eyes. ‘I won’t ever be able to forget them.’

Could have been brothers. Billy looked at Harper. A small nod.

‘How old do you think they were?’ Reed tried to coax out the information gently.

‘I don’t know. Not very.’ Her voice wavered as she pictured them. ‘Thirty? Somewhere round there. The one who hit me was smiling when he did it.’

She looked drained. Her husband’s death had left her with nothing inside. No reserves. Now this. The men had picked their time well. Threats and a beating when she was at her lowest.

‘Is your rent paid?  Harper asked.

‘Until the end of the month. Charlie took care of it before he….’ She couldn’t bring herself to say it. Everything was too raw, just waiting beneath the surface ‘It’s in the rent book.’

‘We’ll make sure they can’t do anything.’

Billy could see Tom had more questions, dozens of them. He made a small gesture with his fingers: let them wait.

‘I’ll stay here,’ Reed told him. ‘Clean everything up and make sure she’s fine.’

 

51030754_281546519188662_3542984282714669056_n

The Leaden Heart On Tour (And A Video)

32 days…just over four weeks and The Leaden Heart will be leaping out of the publisher’s hands and into the shops.

It’s the seventh Tom Harper book. Over the course of the series he’s risen from Detective Inspector to Detective Superintendent, in charge of ‘A’ Division, Leeds City Police, based at Millgarth. It’s 1899, and that promotion happened four years earlier, but he’s still the same Tom. He and Annabelle still live at the Victoria public house in Sheepscar, which she owns. She’s two years into a term as Poor Law Guardian, very involved in her work.

But Tom’s life is about to undergo seismic changes, when his old colleague Billy Reed telephones from Whitby. His brother has died, he’s coming to Leeds and needs a place to stay for a few days.

Going through his brother’s papers, Billy discovers more than he wanted to know. And Tom Harper learns that crimes have been going on in Leeds that he never even knew about. As he tries to put an end to it, the violence becomes ever more brutal.

That’s the essence, and I’ve put together a video trailer. I think it gives some of the atmosphere of the novel and the time…

The Leaden Heart will be available for reviewers and bloggers on NetGalley from the beginning of March. If you’re on there, please request a copy (or drop me a line if you need help).

You can pre-order on Amazon, although both Speedy Hen and Hive are much cheaper and don’t charge postage. And the ebook will be available globally from May 1.

Finally…The Leaden Heart is going on tour over the next couple of months. These are the dates and it looks as if there may be more to come. If you can, why not come along? All the events are free….no tour tee shirts I’m afraid – but there will be merchandise (books!)

Thursday, March 7, 2019, 1:10pm-1:50pm, Holy Trinity Church, Boar Lane, Leeds. Part of Leeds Literature Festival.

Saturday, May 11, Leeds Central Library, (time tbc) #foundfiction festival.

Thursday, May 16, 2019, the Leeds Library, Commercial St., Leeds, 6.30-8pm. In conversation with Candace Robb and Sara Porter (editor, Severn House)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019, De Grey Lecture Theatre, York St. John’s University 6-8pm. In conversation with Candace Robb and Kate Lyall Grant (publisher, Severn House)

Saturday, June 8, 2019, Yorkshire Archaelogical Society, Swarthmore  Education Centre, Clarendon Rd, Leeds, 11 am

large old paper or parchment background texture

Tales Within A Tale 1

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

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

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

youngjohnson

I try. But as God sees, at times it feel like an uphill battle to fight against sin.

Patrick Martin sat back and looked at his words in his diary. An admission of weakness, he thought. But the week had been long and seemed fruitless. He’d given out Bibles, stopped to pray and talking with some of the families around Quarry Hill. He’d done some good, held a woman’s hand into the night as the Lord took her, given a little to a couple to buy food for their daughter. Prayed with some, read verses from the Testament to others. But so many more paid no mind to religion, to their souls, to right or wrong.

A tap on the door roused him from his thoughts.

‘Your supper’s on the table, Mr. Martin.’

‘I’ll be there in a minute, Mrs. Townes.’ He stood and studied himself in the mirror. Hair thinning, a thin mouth, not the face of a man who took life lightly.

He’d been a serious child, drawn to religion but never a man for the cloth. Working for the Leeds Town Mission suited him to the ground. Not to proselytize but to evangelize. That was the motto; that was his creed. To be the agent, to visit again and again, to hope for that open door in the heart.

One all too often slammed as he approached.

He knew he was a prim man, not one to bend with the wind or changing tastes. But what kind of example would he be without steel in his spine? How could he tolerate the girls who made their livings as prostitutes instead of honest labour, or the ones who had their children out of wedlock? The Scriptures made their points on these, and he quoted them, although he tried to be gentle.

He’d looked at girls when he was young, even lusted, although he couldn’t have given it a name then. Always the free thinkers, the ones with gaiety in their eyes. Now, though, he had his calling. Maybe a wife sometime, if he ever found someone Godly.

But Leeds was becoming overrun with socialists and suffragists. Women who thought themselves the equal of men, when the truth was that they needed a man to guide them, to lead them to responsibility.

His notebook lay on the desk. He opened it and leafed through the first few pages to the report he’d made for his superintendent after the first half year he’d worked in Quarry Hill.

The prevailing vices are these – adultery, fornication, drunkenness, swearing and gossiping. Since I came to the district, eleven children have died of burning; and to me it is no wonder, when I find so many houses left with the children, and the mothers ‘throng’ gossiping with their neighbours, The Lord’s Day is awfully profaned – washing, baking, and sleeping in the afternoon, and in the evening, drinking…

And so little had changed. Each day he attempted to make some difference, to affect a life, to bring someone closer to God, to help someone see the Lord, to put a little light in them. Just that afternoon he’d called at one house to see a woman who lived with her daughter.

‘I’ve called to see your mother. How is the old woman?’

‘My mother is in hell,’ she answered, giving the sharp edge of her tongue, ‘where you will be shortly; begone, you bloody Methodist, or I’ll let my dog at you.’

What could he do but walk away, finding consolation in the Scriptures: I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee. Speak my word and be not afraid.

Patrick Martin closed the book. In the mirror he straightened his tie and the wings on his collar before smoothing down his hair. Saturday evening. Mrs. Townes would have a pork pie for his supper.

Two Bronze Pennies – A Short Extract

You know – don’t you? – that my second Tom Harper novel, Two Bronze Pennies, comes out in the UK at the end of April (August/September elsewhere). Much of it is set in the Leylands, that area just north of the city centre where most of the Jewish immigrants settled when they came to Leeds.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s the opening few pages. Tom, Annabelle, Billy Reed, the Victoria – a dead body and men speaking in Yiddish. Go on, you know you want to….

One

‘Have you heard a word I said, Tom Harper?’

‘Of course I have.’ He stirred and stretched in the chair beside the fireplace. ‘You were talking about visiting your sister.’

Annabelle’s face softened. ‘It’ll only be for an hour. We can go in the afternoon, after we’ve eaten.’

‘Of course,’ he told her with a smile. He was happy, finally at home and warm for the first time since morning.

He’d spent the day chasing around Leeds on the trail of a burglar, no closer to catching him than he’d been a month before. He’d gone from Burley to Hunslet, and never a sniff of the man. But it was better than being in uniform; half the constables had been on patrol in the outdoor market, cut by the December wind as they tried to nab the pickpockets and sneak thieves. It was still blowing out there, howling and rattling the window frames. As a police inspector, at least he could take hackney cabs and omnibuses and dodge the weather for a while.

Tomorrow he was off duty. Christmas Day. For the last five years he’d worked it. Not this time, though. Christmas 1890, the first together with his wife. He turned his head to look at her and the wedding ring that glinted in the light. Five months married. Annabelle Harper. The words still made him smile.

‘What?’ she asked.

He shook his head. ‘Nothing.’

He often glanced at her when she was busy, working in the kitchen or at her desk, going through the figures for her businesses. Sometimes he could scarcely believe she’d married him. Annabelle had grown up in the slums of the Bank, another daughter in a poor Irish family. She’d started work here in the Victoria public house and eventually married the landlord. Six years later, after he died, everyone advised her to sell. But she’d held on and kept the place, trusting her instincts, and she’d built it into a healthy business. Then she’d seen an opportunity and opened bakeries in Sheepscar and Meanwood that were doing well. Annabelle Harper was a rich woman. Not that anyone round here called her Mrs Harper. To them she’d always be Mrs Atkinson, the name she’d carried for so long.

Whatever they called her, she was his.

‘You look all in,’ she told him.

Harper gave a contented sigh. Where they lived, in the rooms over the pub, felt perfectly comfortable, curtains drawn against the winter night, the fire in the hearth and the soft hiss of the gas lights. He didn’t want to move.

‘I’m cosy,’ he said. ‘Come and give me a cuddle.’

‘A cuddle? You’re lucky I put your supper on the table.’

She stuck out her tongue, her gown swishing as she came and settled in his arms. He could hear the voices in the bar downstairs. Laughter and a snatch of song from the music halls.

‘Don’t worry,’ she told him. ‘I’ll send them on their way early tonight. They all have homes to go to. Then we can have some peace and quiet.’

But only for a few hours. Annabelle would be up before dawn, the way she always was, working next to the servants, stuffing the goose that was waiting in the kitchen, baking the bread and preparing the Christmas dinner. Dan the barman, the girls who worked for her, and God knew who else would join them at the table. They’d light candles on the tree, sing, laugh, exchange gifts and drink their way through the barrel of beer she’d set aside.

Then, after their bellies were full, the two of them would walk over to visit her sister, taking presents for Annabelle’s nieces and nephews. For one day, at least, he could forget all the crime in Leeds. Billy Reed, his sergeant, would cover the holiday. Then Harper would  return on Boxing Day, back to track down the damned burglar.

Annabelle stirred.

‘Did you hear that?’ she asked.

‘What?’

He gazed at her. He hadn’t heard a thing. Six years before, while he was still a constable, he’d taken a blow on the ear that left him partially deaf. The best the doctor could offer was that his hearing might return in time. But in the last few months, since autumn began, it had grown a little worse. Sometimes he missed entire sentences, not just words. His ear simply shut off for a few seconds. He’d never told anyone about the problem, scared that it would go on his record.

‘On the stairs.’

He listened. Still nothing. Then someone was knocking on the door. Before he could move, she rose swiftly to answer it.

‘It’s for you.’ Her voice was dark.

He recognized the young constable from Millgarth station. One of the new intake, his uniform carefully pressed, cap pulled down smartly on his head and face eager with excitement. Had he ever looked as green as that?

‘I’m off duty—’ he began.

‘I know, sir.’ The man blushed. ‘But Superintendent Kendall told me to come and fetch you. There’s been a murder.’

Harper turned helplessly to Annabelle. There’d be no visit to her sister for him tomorrow.

‘You go, Tom.’ She kissed him on the cheek. ‘Just come home as soon as you can.’

Two

The cold clawed his breath away. Stars shone brilliantly in a clear sky. He huddled deeper into his overcoat and pulled the muffler tight around his neck.

‘What’s your name?’ Harper asked as they started down the road.

‘Stone, sir. Constable Stone. Started three month back.’

‘And where are we going, Mr Stone?’

‘The Leylands, sir.’

Harper frowned. ‘Whereabouts?’

‘Trafalgar Street.’

He knew the area very well. He’d grown up no more than a stone’s throw from there, up on Noble Street. All of it poverty-scented by the stink of malt and hops from the Brunswick Brewery up the road. Back-to-back houses as far as the eye could see. A place where the pawnbrokers did roaring business each Monday as housewives took anything valuable to exchange for the cash to last until Friday payday.

In the last few years the area had changed. It had filled with Jewish immigrants; almost every house was packed with them, from Russia and Poland and countries whose names he didn’t know, while the English moved out and scattered across the city. Yiddish had become the language of the Leylands. Only the smell of the brewery and the lack of money remained the same.

‘Step out,’ he told the constable. ‘We’ll freeze to the bloody spot if we stand still.’

Harper led the way, through the memory of the streets where he used to run as a boy. The gas lamps threw little circles of light but he hardly needed them; he could have found his way in pitch blackness. The streets were empty, curtains closed tight. People would be huddled together in their beds, trying to keep warm.

As they turned the corner into Trafalgar Street he caught the murmur of voices. Suddenly lights burned in the houses and figures gathered on their doorsteps. Harper raised his eyes questioningly at Stone.

‘The outhouses, sir. About halfway down.’

The cobbles were icy; Harper’s boots slipped as he walked. Conversation ended as they passed, men and women looking at them with fearful, suspicious eyes. They were goys. Worse, they were authority.

They passed two blocks of four houses before Stone turned and moved between a pair of coppers, their faces ruddy and chilled, keeping back a small press of people. Someone had placed a sheet over the body. Harper knelt and pulled it back for a moment. A young man, strangely serene in death. Straggly dark hair, white shirt without a collar, dark suit and overcoat. The inspector ran his hands over the clothes, feeling the blood crusted where the man had been stabbed. Slowly, he counted the wounds. Four of them. All on the chest. The corpse had been carefully arranged, he noticed. The body was straight, the arms out to the sides, making the shape of a cross. Two bronze pennies covered the dead man’s eyes, the face of Queen Victoria looking out.

Harper stood again and noticed Billy Reed talking to one of the uniforms and scribbling in his notebook. The sergeant nodded as he saw him.

‘Do we know who he was?’

‘Not yet.’ Reed rubbed his hands together and blew on them for warmth. ‘Best as I can make out, that one found him an hour ago. But I don’t speak the lingo.’ He nodded towards a middle-aged man in a dark coat, a black hat that was too large almost covering his eyes. ‘He started shouting and the beat bobby came along. They called me out.’ He shrugged. ‘I told the super I could take care of it but he wanted you.’ His voice was a mixture of apology and resentment.

‘It doesn’t matter.’

It did, of course. He didn’t want to be out here with a corpse in the bitter night. He’d rather be at home with his wife, in bed and feeling the warmth of her skin. But Kendall had given his orders.

The man who’d found the body stood apart from the others, head bowed, muttering to himself. He scarcely glanced up as Harper approached, lips moving in undertone of words.

‘Do you know who the dead man is?’ he asked.

Er iz toyt.’ He’s dead.

‘English?’ the inspector asked hopefully, but the man just shook his head. He kept his gaze on the ground, too fearful to look directly at a policeman.

Velz is dayn nomen?’ The Yiddish made the man’s head jerk up. What’s your name?

‘Israel Liebermann, mayn ir,’ the man replied nervously. Sir. Growing up here it had been impossible not to absorb a little of the language. It floated in the shops and all around the boys that played in the road.

Ikh bin Inspector Harper.’

A hand tapped him on the shoulder and he turned quickly to see a pair of dark eyes staring at him.

‘What?’ He had the sense that the man had spoken; for that moment he hadn’t heard a word. He swallowed and the world came back into both ears.

‘I said it was a good try, Inspector Harper. But your accent needs work.’ The voice was warm, filled with kindness. He extended his hand and Harper took it.

‘I’m Rabbi Feldman.’

The man was dressed for the weather in a heavy overcoat that extended almost to his feet, thick boots, leather gloves and a hat pulled down to his ears. A wiry grey beard flowed down to his chest.

A gust of wind blew hard. Harper shivered, feeling the chill deep in his marrow.

‘If you think this is cold, you never had a winter in Odessa.’ The rabbi grinned, then his face grew serious. ‘Can I help at all?’

‘Someone’s been murdered. This gentleman found him.’

Feldman nodded then began a conversation in Yiddish with Liebermann. A pause, another question and a long answer.

He’d heard of the rabbi. Everyone had. Around the Leylands he was almost a hero. He was one of them; his family had taken the long march west, all the way to England, when the pogroms began. He understood their sorrows and their dreams. In his sixties now, walking with the help of a silver-topped stick, he’d been head of the Belgrave Street Synagogue for over ten years. He taught in the Hebrew school on Gower Street and met with councillors from the Town Hall. He was man of mitzvahs, good deeds. Portly and gentle, with quiet dignity, he was someone in the community, a man everybody respected.

‘He says he needed the outhouse just before ten – he’d looked at his watch in the house so he knew what time it was. He put on his coat and came down.’ Feldman smiled. ‘You understand, it’s cold in these places. You try to finish as soon as possible. When he was done he noticed the shape and went to look. That’s when he began to yell.’

‘Thank you,’ Harper said, although it was no more than they already knew.

‘Murder is a terrible business, Inspector.’ The man hesitated. ‘Is there anything else I can do?’

‘We still don’t know the name of the dead man.’

‘May I?’ Feldman gestured at the corpse. Harper nodded and one of the constables drew back the sheet again.

Mine Got.’ He drew in his breath sharply.

‘Do you know him?’

It was a few seconds before the rabbi answered, staring intently at the face on the ground. Slowly he took off the hat and tugged a hand through his ragged white hair.

‘Yes, Inspector,’ he said, and there was the sadness of lost years in his voice. ‘I know him. I know him very well. I gave him his bris and his bar mitzvah. He’s my sister’s son.’

His nephew. God, Harper thought, what a way to find out.

‘I’m sorry, sir. Truly.’

The man’s shoulders slumped.

‘He was seventeen.’ The rabbi shook his head in disbelief. ‘Just a boychik. He was going to be the one.’ Feldman tapped a finger against the side of his head. ‘He had the smarts, Inspector. His father, he was already training him to run the business.’

‘What was his name, sir? I need to know.’

‘Abraham. Abraham Levy.’ The rabbi rummaged in a trouser pocket, brought out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. ‘Why?’ he asked quietly. ‘Why would someone kill anyone who was so young?’

And Two Bronze Pennies is now available to order ahead of its publication on April 30. Follow this link.

Yes, it’s Victorian

I always said I’d never write anything set in Victorian times. More fool me; I should know better than to use the word never. But that was before I started reading more about the Leeds Gas Strike of 1890. It’s one of those rare occasions when the strikers prevailed and that alone is enough to make it inspirational. And then, long taken with a picture by Leeds artist Atkinson Grimshaw, a story named Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw appeared from nowhere. I liked Annaballe; she installed herself in my head and wouldn’t go away. Then I began seeing a man running down Victorian Briggate, with its horse-drawn trams and Hansom cabs. And a new tale began nagging at me. This is the beginning of it – I’ve only completed 16,000 words so far, but all you’re getting is a snippet. What I’d like is your opinion, please…

ONE

 

Tom Harper pounded down Briggate, the hobnails from his boots scattering sparks behind him. He pushed between people, not even hearing their complaints as he ran on, eyes fixed on the man he was pursuing.

            “Police!” he yelled. “Stop him!”

            They didn’t, of course they didn’t, but at least they parted for him. At Duncan Street he slid between a cart and a tram that was turning the corner. His foot slipped on a pile of horse dung and he drew in his breath sharply. Then the sole gripped again.

            Harper ducked in front of a Hansom cab, steadying himself with a hand on the horse’s neck, feeling its breath hot against his ear for a second, then plunged on. He was fast but the man in front was even faster, stretching the distance between them.

            His lungs were burning. Without thinking, he glanced across at the clock on the Ball-Dyson building. Half past eleven. He forced his feet down harder, arms pumping like a harrier.

            As they reached the bridge the man leapt into the road, weaving between the traffic. Harper followed him, squeezing sideways between a pair of omnibuses, seeing the passengers stare at him in astonishment. Then he was free again, rushing past the row of small shops and watching the man disappear round the corner onto Dock Street.

            By the time he arrived the street was empty. He stood, panting heavily, unable to believe his eyes. The man had vanished. Nothing, not even the sound of footsteps. To his left, a cluster of warehouses ran down to the river. Across the road the chimneys of the paper mill belched its stink into the air. Where had the bugger gone?

 

He’d had been up at Hope Brothers, barely listening as the manager described a shoplifter, his mouth frowning prissily as he talked. Outside, the shop boy was lowering the awning against the May sun.

            He scribbled a word or two in his notebook. It should be the beat copper doing this, he thought. He was a Detective Inspector; he should be doing something worthwhile. But one of the Hopes lived next door to the new Chief Constable. A word or two and the Superintendent had sent him down here with an apologetic shrug of his shoulders.

            Then Harper heard the shout and dashed out eagerly, the bell tinkling as he threw the door wide. Further up Briggate a man was gesturing and yelled,

            “He stole my wallet!”

            That was all he needed. Inspector Harper began to run.

 

He tipped the hat back and wiped the sweat off his forehead. Where was the sod? He could be hiding just a few yards away or off beyond a wall and clear away in Hunslet by now. One thing was certain, he wasn’t going to find him. Harper straightened his jacket and turned around. What a bloody waste of a morning.

            He paused on the bridge, lighting a Woodbine and looking down at the river. Barges stood three deep against the wharves, men moving quickly and surely along the gangplanks, their backs bent under heavy loads. It was a hard way to earn a day’s pay, but what wasn’t?

            On either side of the Aire the factories were busy, smoke rising to cloud the sun. A trace of deep blue floated on the water from the indigo works upstream, bright against the dull grey. The bloated corpse of a dead dog sailed past it, carried by the current. He watched it until it passed from sight.

            Briggate was busy with Saturday couples, in from the suburbs and parading in their best. The men were shaved so close their cheeks looked pink and prosperous, their wives showing off their bright summer dresses, freshly laundered by a servant at home in Headingley or Roundhay or wherever they lived.

            He wasn’t in a mood to see any more smug faces. Instead he cut through Queen’s Court, where washing was strung out between the crumbling old houses to dry, hopeful of a glint of sunlight. A barefoot boy threw a ball against the wall, concentrating furiously on catching it. The ball slipped from his hand and rolled towards Harper. He picked it up and tossed it back, the boy grinning as he pulled it out of the air.

            He cut through the ginnels, someone singing a song beyond a door, and came out by the Corn Exchange., strode quickly across the market with a wave and a wink to the girls working behind the stall at Mr. Marks’ Penny Bazaar and across to Millgarth police station.

            “Had a productive morning, sir?” the desk sergeant smirked. For a moment he was tempted to reply, then shut his mouth. Whatever he said, George Tollman would have heard it scores of times before. The man had stood behind that counter since God was a lad. He’d been there twelve years earlier when Harper had nervously reported for his first day as a young constable and he’d likely remained until they carried him out in a coffin. Instead Harper just shook his head and pushed his way through to the office. He tossed his hat onto the desk and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes for a moment.

            “Bad morning?”

            “One of those when you wonder why you even bother.”

            He glanced up at the man leaning against the wall. Billy Reed had been promoted to Detective Sergeant six months before. In his early forties, he’d joined the force after ten years in the West Yorkshire Regiment. When he’d started out in plain clothes he still thought like a soldier, obeying every order without question or hesitation. Harper had pushed and prodded at him until he’d learnt to think for himself. The black dog still nudged the man at times, leaving him, his temper like quicksilver, but Reed seemed cheerier than he’d once been. He’d even gone out to Hepworth’s and bought a new suit to replace the old, fraying jacket and trousers he’d worn so often.

            “Never mind,” Reed told him, “it’ll be busy soon enough now the gas workers are on strike.”

            “They didn’t have much choice, did they?” Harper observed angrily. “The council sacked half the stokers at the gasworks and said they were going to pay the rest less and take one of their holidays. For God’s sake, Bill, how would you like that?”

            “You’d better not say that when the chief’s; you’ll give him an apoplexy. By the way, one of the constables was in here earlier asking for you.”

            “Who?”

            “Ash.”

            That was interesting. Ash covered the beat that had once been his, the area between the Head Row and Boar Lane, west from Briggate over to Lands Lane. It was the old, poor yards and courts, the part of Leeds that had barely changed in a century or more, where folk counted themselves rich if they had threepence left come payday. It had been his for six years, until he’d become a detective. He’d known the faces there, the people, all the crime and the promises that end up as nothing. He’d carried men home to their wives on a Saturday night after they’d drunk away their money, tended wounds, and laid a sheet over the old who’d died of hunger.

            Ash was still new, just a year as an officer, but he seemed conscientious enough. If he had something it might be worth hearing. He stood and picked up his hat.

            “I’ll go and find him.”

            Reed leaned close, his eyes twinkling. “I hear congratulations are in order, too.”

            Harper laughed. There was never much chance of it remaining a secret for long.

 

TWO

 

He found Ash outside the Theatre Royal, gently moving on a match girl. Once he’d watched her go reluctantly down the street, the constable turned to him. He was tall, a good hand’s breath over six feet, the cap making him taller still. His uniform was crisp and pressed, buttons shining and pressed, just as the regulations ordered, hair gleaming with pomade, the moustache neatly clipped.

            “You were looking for me?” Harper said.

            “Yes, sir.” He glanced around. “Maybe we’d better walk a while. Just in case the sergeant comes around.” He led the way up the street before ducking into a court, his wide shoulders brushing against the sides of the opening. The few people outside their doors melted away at the sight of the police.

            “What is it?” He was curious now, wondering why Ash needed to talk out of sight of prying eyes.

            The man chewed his lip for a moment before answering, his face dark and serious in the shadow.

            “It might be summat or nowt, really, but I thought I’d better pass it on. Do you remember Col Parkinson?”

            Harper nodded. Parkinson had never done a day’s work more than he was forced to do, always some little scheme going on that usually paid out to nothing. A thin, ferrety face, most of his teeth gone, those left in shades of black and brown. His wife was almost as bad as him; the only good thing he could say about Betty Parkinson was that she doted on their daughter. Martha must be about eight now, he guessed. Soon enough she’d be done with school and out working if Col had anything to say about it.

            “What’s he done now? It shouldn’t be anything you need me for.”

            “It’s not him, sir.” Ash hesitated. “Well, not quite. It’s that little lass of his. She’s not been around for a week. He says she’s gone to stay with his sister in Halifax.”

            “Does he have a sister there?” He couldn’t recall.

            “The neighbours say that the first time he mentioned her is after the girl was gone.”

            “What about Betty? What did she tell you?”

            “She’s in Armley jail, sir. Three months for receiving. Not out until the end of July.”

            Harper snorted. It was hardly a surprise. If one of them wasn’t in jail usually the other was. “You want me to talk to him?”

            Ash nodded. “He’s sticking to his tale but there’s summat in there I just don’t believe. And I don’t want anything happening to Martha. She’s a grand little girl, always happy. You wouldn’t credit it with parents like hers. I just didn’t want everyone knowing.”

            “I’ll go and have a word. Where does he drink these days?”

            “At home with a jug unless he has a bob or two. That’s the other thing, sir. He seems to have a little money.”

            Harper jerked his head up.

            “What are you trying to tell me?”

            “I don’t know, sir.” Ash frowned. “I honestly don’t know.”

 

Around here he didn’t even need to think of the way. He’d walked it every day for so long that he knew every twist and turn, each ginnel and gap. At one time he’d could have said how many lived behind each door, what they did and whether he needed to watch them. Many would be strangers now but there would still be plenty of faces he’d recognise.

            He slipped through to Fidelity Yard. The place was even worse than he remembered it, cobbles broken, half the flagstones pulled up, the windows of the cottages so grimy they could barely let through any light. A dog barked as he passed one of the houses. A sign in a window advertised Smiley’s Barber Shop, a dirty red and white pole hanging at an angle. But the chair inside was empty and the barber gone. He smiled. Johnny Smiley would be out at the Rose and Crown, supping what money he’d earned during the morning.

            Harper stopped outside the black door, paint peeling away from the wood in long strips. This wasn’t a place where the houses needed numbers; no one back here received letters. He brought his fist down hard, knocking long and loud then rattling the door handle.

            “You can stop now. He’s not there.”

            The woman’s voice made him turn.

            “You know where he is, Mrs.Dempsey?”

            She blinked twice until she placed him, arms folded across her broad chest. Virginia Dempsey was sixteen stone if she weighed an ounce and not much more than five feet tall. If anything, she was bigger than ever.

            “Well, if it in’t Mr. Harper. Looking reet flash these days, you are, Constable.”

            “You’d better get it right, Ginny. It’s Inspector Harper now. And the suit’s one of Mr. Barran’s specials, five bob discount to a bobby. Nowt flash about it, love. Do you know where I can find Col?”

            “Got business with him do you?” she asked suspiciously.

            “What do you think? He’s not on my social list.”

            She sniffed.

            “Happen you’ll find him at the Leopard Hotel. Spends a lot of time there these last few days, what with his missus in Armley and Martha up in Halifax.”

            “Halifax?” he asked as if he’d heard nothing about it. “What’s she doing up there?”

            “Gone to stay with his sister.”

            “I didn’t even know Col had a sister.”

            “Oh aye.” She lowered her voice. “That’s what he says, leastways. I’ve never seen her meself.”

            “Martha was just a nipper when I saw her last.”

            “I bet she’d still know you, Mr. Harper. Dun’t forget anything, that lass. Sharp as owt and twice as bright. Betty even had a picture took of her when they were flush. Up on their wall, it is.”

            He nodded slowly.

            “Up at the Leopard, you said?”

            “Reet enough.” Her laugh came out like a cackle. “Don’t know who he’s been robbing but he’s not been short lately. But mebbe you’d know more about that.”

            He smiled.

            “Aye, maybe I would, Ginny.” Let her think that for now. If he needed more he could always come back.

 

Hotel was a grand word for it. He wouldn’t have stayed there for love nor money. He passed by the archway leading through to the cobbled yard and pushed open the door to the saloon bar. The wood was ancient and dark, the white ceiling long stained shades of brown and yellow by smoke.

            A few men were drinking, sitting at tables in the cramped room, some glancing up as he entered. They all had beaten-down faces, the tired look of the weary and the worn. Harper spotted Parkinson in the corner, his head drooping, an empty glass of gin in front of him.

            He sat down noisily, dragging the chair over the flagstone floor. Parkinson raised his eyes, squinting at him questioningly.

            “I know you, don’t I?” His gaze was blurry, the words faintly slurred. Not drunk yet, Harper decided, but he’d taken the first few steps on the road. The man would still be able to think. And lie.

            “Aye, you do, Col.” He knew the man was barely older than him but he already looked old and faded, cheeks sunk where so many teeth had been pulled, the hair thinned away to nothing on his scalp. “It’s Inspector Harper. Constable Harper as was.”

            Parkinson nodded his slow understanding as Harper stared around the bar, not surprised to see it had quietly emptied. It always happened. Some of those would have known him, the rest would have smelled him for a rozzer.

            “You been staying out of trouble?” he asked.

            “Course I have,” the man answered.

            “I hear your Betty’s in Armley again. What do they do, keep a cell for her up there?”

            “Not her fault,” Parkinson told him. The Inspector almost chuckled. If he had a penny for everyone time someone had said that, he’d be a rich man. It was never their fault.

            “And how’s Martha? She was no more than a bairn when I saw her last.”

            “A good lass,” Col said, nodding his head for emphasis. “A very good lass.” He patted the pockets of his tattered old jacket. “Do you have a cigarette?”

            Harper pulled out the packet of Woodbines. Parkinson’s gaze slowly followed his movements. He handed one to the man and lit it.

            “Martha,” he prompted.

            “She’s with me sister.”

            “I didn’t know you had one, Col. I never heard you talk about her.”

            “In Halifax.”

            “Oh aye? How long’s Martha up there for?”

            “Till…” He hesitated. “Till my Betty’s out. Better that way.”

            She should have been at school but he doubted Parkinson would worry about something like that.

            “Better for you, you mean. If she’s not here you don’t have to look after her. So what’s your sister’s name, Col?” Harper asked idly.

            For a few seconds Harper didn’t answer.

            “Sarah,” he said finally. “She’s married, got little ‘uns of her own, too.” He took a deep draw on the cigarette.

            “Where does she live in Halifax, then?”

            “I don’t remember”

            “You don’t, Col? Your own kin? You sent Martha up there and don’t even know where she’s going?”

            “I put her on the train. Sarah was meeting her at the station.”

            “How would she know what train? Good at guessing is she, this sister of yours?”

            “I sent her a letter.”

            Harper laughed.

            “Come on, Col. You can’t write and you don’t know where she lives. How are you going to send her a letter?”

            “I had her address at home, on a piece of paper up on the mantel. And my Martha writes a reet good hand. I had her do it.”

            “How long’s she been gone?”

            “A week.” Parkinson shrugged. “Day or two longe, mebbe. I don’t know.” He started to rise. “I need to be going.”

            Harper clamped his had tight around the man’s wrist.

            “Not yet, Col,” he said quietly. “Not when we’re having a good little natter.”

            Parkinson sat down again, shoulders slumping.

            “What Betty think about all this?”

            “I’ve not told her yet. I will.”

            Ash had been right, Harper thought. There was something going on here.

            “I think you’d best give me your sister’s address. Just so I can get in touch and make sure everything’s all right.”

            Parkinson shook his head. “In’t got it, do I? I threw it out after we’d sent the letter. Don’t need bits of paper cluttering up the place.”  Harper kept hold of the man’s arm, fingers digging hard into the flesh. Parkinson’s eyes were starting to water, his look almost pleading.

            “I’m off to Armley on Monday to see Betty, so you’d better be telling me the truth.” He squeezed a little harder, feeling the man flinch. “You understand?”

            “Yes.” He let go. Parkinson cradled his wrist, rubbing it lightly, his look a mix of wounded pride and anger.

            “You’ve got money for a drink, too,” Harper noted. “That’s not like you.”

            “I won it. A bet on the rugby.”

            “Frist time for everything, eh, Col?” He waited a heartbeat. “If you have something to tell me, find me at the station.” Harper stood slowly then bent down, his mouth close to the man’s ear. “I hope you haven’t been lying to me, Col. If anything’s happened to Martha I’ll make you wish you were dead.”

 

Parkinson was hiding something, that was obvious. But as he strolled back to Millgarth in the sunshine he couldn’t imagine what. He could see Col sending the girl somewhere so he didn’t have to look after her, but the tale of a sister was all lies. The big question was why; what was he hiding?

            As soon as he entered the station he could hear the buzz of talk all around and the dark undercurrent of complaints. Something had happened. In the office he looked at Reed.

            “The Superintendent wants you,” he said, glancing up from a report.

            “What is it?”

            “All leave cancelled from Monday.”

            “The gasworks?”

“What else would it be?”

            He knocked on the door and Superintendent Kendall waved him in.

            “Sit down, Tom,” he said. Kendall was in his fifties, grey hair cut short. When Harper became a detective Kendall was already an inspector; he’d the young man in hand and passed on what he’d learnt. Now he was in charge of A Division, a solid policeman, utterly honest and loyal to the force. The only thing he lacked was imagination. “When did you get back?”

            “About two minutes ago.”

            “Long enough to have heard, I suppose.” He picked his pipe out of the ashtray, tamped down the tobacco with a nicotine-stained fingertip and struck a match. “There was trouble at the Wortley works last night.”

            “Trouble?”

            “Nothing bad. Not yet, anyway. That’s going to start on Monday. They’re bringing in the replacement workers then.”

            “The blacklegs, you mean, sir,” Harper said coldly.

            Kendall ignored the words. “It’s our job to keep everyone safe. We’re not playing at politics with this, Tom. All we’re going to make sure no one breaks the law.”

            “And if they do?”

            “We arrest them. Whoever they are.”

            Harper nodded.

            “The train with the replacements is coming on Monday night. And I expect you to keep that quiet,” Kendall said pointedly. “They’re bringing them into the Midland goods station so they can just march the men over to the Meadow Lane works.”

            It made sense, he thought. The gasworks was just across the road, no more than a hundred yards away.

            “What do you want me to do, sir?”

            “I want you down there when they arrive.”

            “In uniform?” He hoped not; he’d been grateful to leave the blue suit behind. He had no wish to wear it again.

            Kendall shook his head.

            “You and Reed will stay in plain clothes. There’ll be a crowd wait. Bound to be. Mingle with them. You know what to do if there’s a problem.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            The Superintendent sighed.

            “It’s going to be an ugly business, Tom. Probably violent.”

            “Probably?” He could feel himself start to bristle.“It’s certain to be. The gas committee’s getting rid of men just to save a few pennies. Of course they’re angry.”

            “I know where your sympathies lie,” Kendall said. “You’ve never made a secret of them. But I’m relying on you to do your job properly.”

            “I will, sir.”

            “After Monday night you’ll be on duty until all this is over. I’ll have some camp beds set up.” He hesitated. “You’ve been a bit of a dark horse.”

            “Sir?”

            “A little bid tells me you’re engaged.”

            Harper smiled. He hadn’t allowed himself to think about Annabelle during the day; he’d wanted to concentrate on the job.

            “I proposed last night.”

            “Well, you’d best tell her she won’t be seeing you for a few days.” Kendall’s face relaxed into a smile. “Getting married might be the best thing to happen to you, Tom. It steadies a man. I’ve been married almost thirty years now and I’ve never regretted a day.” He grinned. “Well, not many of them, anyway.”

            “Thank you, sir.”

            “Are you working on anything special at the moment?”

            Harper thought about Martha Parkinson.

            “Something odd. I’m not sure what it is yet.”

            “You’ll need to put it aside until all this is over.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “No need to report before Monday evening. I won’t need you before then.”

            “Thank you, sir.”

            Back in the office he pulled the watch from his waistcoat pocket. Half past four. Plenty of time yet. Reed had gone, his desk neat, the small piles of paper carefully squared off, the pens lined up. That’s what happens when you hire a military man, he thought. Everything in order.

            He looked over at his own desk. Documents everywhere, scrawled notes, a nib that had dripped ink on some paper. But then he’d never had army discipline. He’d left school at nine to work at Brunswick’s brewery. Twelve hours a day of rolling barrels around had given him muscle, and he’d spent his free hours reading, borrowing everything he could from the library. Novels, politics, history, he’d roared through them all. He’d laboured at his writing until he had a fair, legible hand. Then, the day he turned nineteen, he’d applied to join the force, certain they wouldn’t turn him down.

            He found Ash in the changing room, sitting on a bench, painstakingly updating his notebook.

            “You were right about Col. Something’s going on there.”

            “Any idea what it is, sir?”

            “Not yet,” Harper said with a quick shake of his head. “But I want people keeping an eye on him in case he tries to do a flit.”

            “And if he does?”

            “Bring him in.”

            The constable nodded, then said,

            “Sounds like this strike’s going to keep us busy for a few days.”

            “Aye. Just make sure you don’t end up with your head broken.”

            Ash laughed. “Cast iron skull, that’s what me ma always says. More likely they’ll be the ones who are hurting.”