About the Author

Maureen Jennings

Maureen Jennings was born in the UK and now lives in Toronto. Best known for the Detective Murdoch books, which have been adapted into the long-running television series, Murdoch Mysteries, she is also the author of the Tom Tyler and Christine Morris books. Her books have been translated into other languages, including Polish, Korean, French, German, Italian, and Czech. Murdoch Mysteries has been aired in many countries, including the UK, the US, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czech, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Ukraine, and the Baltics. Jennings was awarded a Certificate of Commendation from Heritage Toronto in 1998 and the Grant Allen award for on-going contribution to the genre in 2011. She has received a total of eight nominations from the Crime Writers of Canada, for best novel and best short story of the year. Jennings lives in Toronto with her husband, photographer Iden Ford, and her dog, Murdoch.

Books by this Author
A Journeyman to Grief
Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
JULY 1858

She glanced over her shoulder to see if he was coming. What could he be doing? He’d been gone more than half an hour, and all he’d had to do was pick up the forgotten tobacco pouch from their hotel room and come right back. They had planned to take the steamer boat across the Falls, but they’d miss it if he didn’t hurry. She shaded her eyes against the sun, but the road was deserted except for a carriage that was approaching slowly, the horse’s head drooping wearily. She consulted the gold fob watch that had been her father’s wedding present to her. It was a beautiful and extravagant gift, but the giving of it was marred by her father being in his cups and barely able to utter his congratulation, so that when she did consult the watch, her pride in its richness was tainted by her disappointment in him.

She shifted back on the bench. To her left, she could see a rainbow arching over the high-flung spray of the cascading water. She had been excited to come here for her honeymoon, but the week so far had been less than happy. Initially, she had been self-conscious, sure that the other guests were staring at them in disapproval. When she confessed this to her husband, he was dismissive rather than kind, but she clung to his words: “You are the most beautiful woman in the room. The men covet you and the women are envious. Nobody knows. They think you are a Spanish countess.”

She longed for him to say more, but in the short time they had been married, she had learned not to press forward with any discussion he didn’t want to have. When he was courting her, he had been tender and solicitous, but nothing, not even her Aunt Hattie’s blunt warnings about “man’s nature,” had prepared her for the roughness of their conjugal relations. She couldn’t hide her discomfort, and he was impatient with her. “I wouldn’t have expected such coldness from you of all people.” She had cried so hard the first night that he had finally relented and teased and tickled her into a precarious laughter. This morning, she’d woken to find him sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at her. He had kissed her fiercely. “Today, I want you to wear your best blue silk gown, your largest crinoline, and your big hat with the peacock feathers. You will be the belle of the promenade.”

So she had, and laced herself with unnecessary tightness that she now regretted on this hot day. Another quick check of the watch. What could be keeping him?

She heard the soft jingle of a horse’s bridle and looked over her shoulder again. The carriage had halted and a man was coming across the grass toward her. He was heavy-set with a full untrimmed beard and moustache. His clothes and skin looked grubby. She fancied she could smell his stale sweat, but that impression might have been born only later, when he was on top of her. Somehow, from the first, her flesh knew who he was even though her mind would not accept it. Ever afterwards, she scourged herself for not immediately running toward the protection of the few visitors who were hanging over the railings watching the water. But then he was talking to her and she made the terrible mistake of listening.

“Ma’am, I must ask you to accompany me. I have bad news. Your husband has been taken ill. He’s in your hotel.”

She gasped. “What has happened to him?”

The man shrugged. “I can’t say. All I know is I was sent to find you and bring you to him at once. The doctor’s been summoned. You’re staying at the Grand, ain’t you?”

She nodded, not taking her eyes from his face, from the mouth that was smiling at her so falsely. Suddenly he stepped forward, and in one swift movement he pulled her from the bench. In a ghastly parody of an embrace, he crushed her against his chest so that her hat was almost knocked off her head, her nose and mouth were smothered, and she couldn’t breathe. She felt herself being carried to the carriage and thrust inside.

There was another man within whom she couldn’t see because she was shoved to the floor face down and at the same time something was stuffed in her mouth. It was vile-tasting and leathery, like a glove. The man pinned her with his knee, and in a moment he’d tied her hands behind her back. The carriage lurched forward.

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Christine Morris Mysteries 2-Book Bundle

Christine Morris Mysteries 2-Book Bundle

Does Your Mother Know? / The K Handshape
edition:eBook
tagged : suspense
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Does Your Mother Know?

Does Your Mother Know?

A Christine Morris Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Except the Dying
Excerpt

Chapter One
 
Saturday, February 9, 1895
The wind cut to the bone and Alice Black pulled her shawl tight about her head and throat. The hot gin was a fire in her stomach but no defence against the cold of the winter night. She grumbled to herself, trying to expose as little of her face as she could. She’d expected to do some business at the John O’Neil but none of the piss-makers wanted to pay for a bit of dock tonight. She wiped the back of her hand across her dripping nose. She hoped Ettie had fared better, else it was potato-peel soup for the next few days.
 
It was getting late. Although the hotel officially closed at the legal Saturday time of seven o’clock, there was a backroom where the regulars could go to top off, and for a cut of the dash, the proprietor, James McCay, usually allowed her and Ettie to stay on.
 
Alice edged closer to the houses. She was afeard to go past the churchyard where the bodies of the Irish immigrants were laid out in their eternity boxes. Even though the epidemic had happened almost fifty years earlier, for sure ghosts lingered in the area. Not so the cholera. She always held her nose as she scurried by. On this stretch of Queen Street the shops were interspersed with vacant buildings and the boarded-up windows were blinded eyes. The gas lights were few and far between and what with that and huddling into her shawl, she didn’t see the young woman walking in front of her until they almost collided.
 
“Mind where you’re goin’,” snapped Alice. She heard a muttered “Pardon” as the other one moved out of the way. She had a thick muff ler wrapped around her face, but Alice had an impression of youth, and she wondered where the girl was going by herself at this time of night. A country piece, by the look of that hat and valise.
 
Alice glanced over her shoulder. The girl was hovering on the sidewalk. She looked lost, and for a moment Alice considered stopping to offer help. But sod it, it was too cold. A gust of wind blew her skirts up about her knees and she struggled to hold them down. At that moment she heard the jingle of harness as a carriage came around the corner heading east onto Queen Street, going a good clip considering the state of the road. The iron-hard ruts had a light covering of snow and they were slippery and dangerous to the horses.
 
“Get out of the way, you bloody bint,” yelled the driver. Alice jumped back onto the sidewalk just in time. She lost her balance on the snowbank and fell backwards, landing on her tailbone. For a moment she remained sprawled on the hard ground, groaning, then angrily snatched up a handful of snow and threw it in the direction of the carriage. The wind tossed it back in her face. Sodding toady. She shook her fist and suddenly the driver pulled his horse up sharp, wheeled around and headed back in her direction. She shrank back, prepared for recriminations, but the carriage went right past her and halted beside the girl. The door opened and a gloved hand reached out. After a moment’s hesitation, the young woman accepted the help and climbed in. In the f lick ering yellow light of the gas lamp, Alice saw that the carriage was a smart burgundy colour with brass fittings, the high-stepping horse light-coloured, but the blinds at the windows were pulled down tight and she couldn’t see the occupant.
 
The driver cracked his whip, wheeled the horse around, and they set off again at a brisk canter back along Queen Street.
 
Alice got to her feet, rubbing at her rump. She brushed the snow off her skirt, rewrapped her shawl and started to walk. Her stomach was cramping badly and she needed to get home soon. She should’ve known better than to trust those snaggy sausages of McCay’s. If there was a morsel of real pork in there at all she’d be surprised. More like rotten horsemeat, by what it was doing to her stomach.
 
She was going by the Dominion Brewery now, the pleasurable part of her route. In spite of the increasing urgency of her indigestion, she paused in front of the entrance. The smell of hops hung heavy and sweet on the night air. She sniffed hungrily but the cold made her cough. Sod it. She headed up Sumach Street. Her toes had gone numb. Even though she’d stuffed newspaper into her boots, they were so split they were useless.
 
“Lucky for that little tit, whoever she is. Gettin’ a ride to some warm place. Why’d it never happen to Alice?”
 
 
Constable Second-Class Oliver Wicken was looking forward to the end of his shift, when he could warm his feet at the station woodstove. His thick serge uniform and cape kept his body warm enough but his feet were frozen and a chilblain itched painfully on his right heel. He stopped for a moment and stamped to restore his circulation. Since the early hours of the morning a steady snow, soft and pure, had been covering the grey detritus of the week. Now with dawn approaching the wind had got up again, burning his face, and tiny icicles had formed along the edge of his fine blond moustache.
 
At this hour the streets were empty. He hadn’t encountered another living soul during his entire beat except for a bread man in his dray rumbling down River Street. Privately, young Wicken always hoped for a little excitement he could relate to his sweetheart. She was a romantic girl and was always after him to tell her his adventures. Like he’d told her, the graveyard shift in the winter wasn’t going to be lively. The citizens were sealed up tight in their snug houses. Summer was different. Larceny, pickpockets on the increase, violations of Sunday bylaws. And, of course,the f lood of drunk and disorderly. Over three thousand cases of D-and-D charged in 1894. Made you want to take the Pledge. Almost.
 
This month his main task was to check the vacant houses to make sure no vagrants had broken in to get shelter for the night. Toronto was just climbing out of bad times and there were over a thousand properties standing empty throughout the city. The police were placed in charge of protecting them.
 
He turned north on Sumach Street. He badly needed to relieve himself and he wasn’t sure he could hold it until he got to the station. Just up a ways was a dark laneway, and he walked in for a few feet, intending to use one of the outside privies that served the row of houses along St. Luke Street. However, the pressure in his bladder became too urgent and he stopped by the tumbledown fence.
 
In a hurry to unbutton his trousers, he didn’t notice the body immediately, as the whiteness of it was blended into the snow. But two large rats were sniffing at the girl’s head, and at Wicken’s approach they scurried away like shadows and attracted his attention. He had placed his lantern beside him on the ground and it was only when he raised it aloft that he fully comprehended what he was seeing.
 
He went close enough to confirm the girl was dead and then spun around and ran as fast as he could to the telephone signal box that stood on the corner of Wilton and Sumach. Panting, he tugged free his key, opened the box and grabbed the receiver off the hook. He turned the crank and waited for what seemed endless moments until the police operator at central headquarters answered. Wicken could hardly hear him above the usual static and hiss of the telephone. He yelled, “Connect me with number-four station. It’s an emergency.”

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Let Loose the Dogs
Excerpt

Chapter One
 
 
He remembered the match vividly. After that – after he had fallen by the bridge – he had no recall and only knew what had happened from the statements of witnesses at his trial. The day had been oppressively hot, the sky heavy and dark with a threatening storm. Inside the barn it was stifling, the air thick with the smell of blood and the stink of the rats. The dogs were going wild. Tripper, the innkeeper’s black- and- tan bitch; the two white pugs that belonged to the Craigs; and a squat, brindle bulldog, who was there for the first time, were all tethered to the rings that ran along the wall. All of them were barking nonstop, their eyes dilated, saliva flooding from their mouths. He had shouted with the others all through the matches. They all had, even the Englishman who made such a point of being unruffled. Delaney had Flash in his arms and was having a hard time holding on to him, he was squirming so much, wanting to get back into the ring. Everybody knew this terrier had won unless Havoc got more kills. The stakes were high as they always were at Newcombe’s matches, and Harry had put down a lot of money, every dime of what he’d saved over the summer. He was glad he’d drawn the last run because the later dogs were always more ferocious.
 
“Havoc up! Last dog. Flash the one to beat with forty kills,” Lacey, the ring- keeper, called out. He released a cage of rats into the pit. They were dull brownish grey and fat from their summer feeding. At first they stayed close together, noses twitching, dazzled by the light. Lacey stirred them up with his crooked stick, then he shouted again.
 
NOW! LET LOOSE YOUR DOG.”
 
Harry dropped Havoc into the ring. Immediately the terrier pounced on three rats in succession, killing each one with a single bite and a violent shake that broke their necks. The rest started to run, circling the small walled pit. Some tried in vain to climb up the smooth sides. For the next, long ten minutes the dog pursued them, biting, shaking, and dropping one after the other. The men took up the count, calling out the number of hits.
 
TWENTY- TWO . . . TWENTY- THREE . . . TWENTY- FOUR . . .”
 
One of the rats twisted up and gripped the dog on the nose with its razor teeth, but Havoc wasn’t deterred, running on until finally he slammed against the wall crushing the creature and it dropped to the floor. Several of the other rats tried to huddle in a corner, but Lacey banged on the side of the pit wall to get them going. The terrier killed all of them. The chant got faster, driving him on. His muzzle was crimson, his coat flecked with blood and spittle.
 
THIRTY . . . THIRTY- ONE . . .”
 
Briefly, the little dog seized one of the corpses.
 
“Dead un! Leave it!” yelled Harry, and Havoc obeyed. The brown- and- white feist that belonged to White almost broke his leash in his attempts to get over to the ring. As if sensing what was at stake, all of the other dogs grew more frantic and shrill until it was hard to hear anything at all.
 
“. . . THIRTY- SIX . . .”
 
The dog captured another one, almost tossing it out of the ring.
 
“. . . THIRTY- SEVEN.”
 
Lacey was watching his big brass clock, which was on the ledge where everybody could see it. His hand was at the ready, clutching the rod to strike the gong beside him.
 
Suddenly the terrier stopped, panting hard. He looked toward the ring of spectators. Harry yelled.
 
Go on . . . Get ’em. Go on! ” But the dog didn’t move.
 
TIME! ” Lacey sounded the gong. The match was over.
 
“Pick up your dog,” he called out.
 
“It was a cheat. My dog was stopped. We could have won.”
 
“Please pick up your dog now, sir,” repeated Lacey.
 
“Don’t be a sore loser, Harry. It was fair and square,” said Delaney, who was across from him.
 
Harry turned on him in fury. “You’re a cheating liar. You did something, I know it. We could have won.”
 
He reached over into the pit and snatched up Havoc, who yelped at the roughness of his grip. Normally Harry would have felt bad at hurting the dog, but now he was too angry to care and he thrust him into the wooden carrying box.
 
Newcombe, who always had his eye out for trouble, who was always pouring oil on boiling water, came over to him. “Now then, don’t take on so. It was a fair match. Your dog got himself distracted. It’s happened to us all at some time or other.”
 
He tried to place an arm on Harry’s shoulder to placate him, but Harry would have none of it.
 
“It suits you to say that, Vince Newcombe.” He pointed accusingly at Lacey. “I had more time due to me. He cheated. I’ll wager he’s getting a cut of the take.”
 
The timekeeper shrugged but said nothing.
 
Again, Newcombe tried to soothe. “Walter’s honest as they come and never makes a mistake. Come on, let me stand you an ale. The match was won fair and square.”
 
“I don’t believe that. Those rats looked half asleep to me. You probably smoked them.”
 
The innkeeper wiped at his face. He was a living replica of the old- time monks, with his bald head and round belly. “Why would I do that? It’s all the same to me who wins.”
 
“Not if he gives you a cut, it isn’t.”
 
The man, Pugh, who had been running the bulldog, spoke up. He’d come on his wheel, dressed for it in a bicycle suit of brown tweed and matching cap. His beige leggings were stained with blood and dirt. His dog was useless, more afraid of the rats than they were of him. Pugh was as garrulous as a jackdaw.
 
“You lost, sir. Your dog balked. Nobody was cheating you. Take your lumps and stop whingeing.”
 
Delaney started to approach his opponent. “You’ve got a game little lad, there, Harry. It was a good match. Why don’t we shake on it like gentlemen.”
 
He held out his hand. However, Harry turned away and spat on the dirt floor. “Hell will freeze over before I kiss the arse of liars and cheats.”
 
For a moment, everything hung in the balance, and they all knew it. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw that Lacey’s hand was on the handle of the water bucket ready to douse them both if need be.
 
“Tell me how I cheated you,” said Delaney.
 
“You made some kind of sound. Something, I could tell the way he looked over. You’ve got a whistle I bet.”
 
Delaney abruptly turned out all of his pockets, jacket and trousers. Harry thought they hung down like hounds’ ears.
 
“Nothing, see. Will you be satisfied now?”
 
At this point, his son moved in closer. He was big like his father but smooth chinned and soft faced. For a moment, Harry thought he’d have to take on both of them, but then he saw that the boy was afraid and needed to take comfort from his father rather than defend him.
 
“He’s not going to buff down for you, Harry,” said Pugh. “Leave it now.”
 
There were three other competitors in the barn. The Englishman, Craig, was the oldest man present. He looked ridiculously out of place in his suit of fine grey tweed, as if he should be in church rather than in a barn spattered with blood. He spoke up in an English accent as impeccable as his clothes.
 
“Mr. Newcombe, this has been a most exciting evening, but it is damnably hot in here. I suggest we Corinthians settle our bets and all get on home before the storm breaks.”
 
Harry glared at him. “You’re so eager to finish up here, aren’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re not in on it as well.”
 
Even to his own ears, his words sounded slurred. He’d lost count of how many glasses of ale he’d tossed back, although he knew Lacey was keeping a close reckoning. Craig flicked at his moustache, which was waxed to such a thin point you’d think he’d be afraid of stabbing himself.
 
“It might be a good idea for you to cool off outside yourself, sir.”
 
Lacey made a slight movement, making it clear he was ready to assist if need be. James Craig stepped over, but unlike Philip Delaney, he was obviously ready to stand with his father. White wasn’t saying anything and didn’t look as if he would give any fight. Harry looked around at all of them, spat again, and picking up the box where he had put his dog, he left.
 
Outside the coming storm had overwhelmed any light still lingering. He saw the lightning flash, and from habit learned at sea, he counted until he heard a crack of thunder. The storm was nearly here. He hesitated but he was consumed with thoughts of revenge: all his money gone, stolen from him. He turned toward the end of the road and the path that led down into the ravine, Delaney’s path home.
 
It was darker as he descended, the trees thick and lush with leaves. He was about to cross the bridge at the bottom of the path, but he misjudged his step and tripped, striking his cheek hard against the railing. Cursing, he staggered further along, but he was too full of liquor and fell to the ground. Havoc barked at being jolted, but Harry had to find a place to rest. He crawled into the dense grass that was at the side of the path and lay down.
 
That was all he remembered.

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Night's Child

Night's Child

A Detective Murdoch Mystery
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Excerpt

Chapter One

Miss Amy Slade was seated at her desk, surveying her class. For the moment, the room was quiet, the only sound was of chalk moving on slate boards. By rights the children should have been writing in notebooks, but Miss Slade had taken spare slates from the lower standards and used them for rough work. “Then you ­don’t have to worry about perfection, which as we know ­doesn’t exist,” she told her pupils. She caught the eye of Emmanuel Hart and frowned at him.

“How many times must I remind you, Emmanuel? The mind is like a muscle and must be exercised else it grow flabby and inert.”

The boy bent his head immediately to the task of long division. He was a big boy, too old to still be in the fourth standard, but he had missed a lot of school and his reading and writing was barely at the level of the younger children. In a different classroom he would have been either the bully or the butt of ridicule. Not here. Miss Slade, without ever resorting to the cane, ran a tight, disciplined ship. She was strict about what she called the rules of order, which she’d established on the first day of the term. No talking when there was work to be done; only one voice at a time when there was a question-­and-­answer period; absolutely no tormenting of other children. Any infraction of these rules and the offending child, almost always one of the boys, was sent to the Desk of Thoughtfulness, which was right under her nose. Here he had to sit and reflect on his behaviour while all around him the class enjoyed the games and competitions that Miss Slade used to liven up her lessons. “Learning should be the most fun you ever have,” she told her pupils. And so she made it. On her desk was a large jar full of brightly coloured boiled sweets. The winner of the competition could choose one. But it was not just the succulent bribery of raspberry drops that won the children’s devotion, even though that helped a great deal. What they came to respect most was Miss Slade’s justice. She dispensed praise and occasional scoldings with an absolutely even hand whether it was to a hopeless case like Emmanuel Hart or to Mary, the clever, exquisitely dressed daughter of Councillor Blong. One or two of the girls, already too prissy to be saved, disliked and mistrusted her, but the others loved her.

This was Miss Slade’s third year of teaching at Sackville Street School and her fourth placement. Although her pupils ­didn’t know it, her contract was precarious. She was far too radical a teacher for the board’s taste, and if she ­hadn’t consistently produced such excellent results, she would have been dismissed long ago.

She waited a moment longer, enjoying the put, put sound of the chalk on the slates. Then she clapped her hands.

"Excellent. There is nothing quite as fine as the silence of the intelligent mind at work. What is it that makes so much noise? Hands up if you know the answer.”

Every arm shot up, hands waving like fronds.

“Good. I would expect you to know the answer to that as I have said it innumerable times. Who ­hasn’t answered a question lately? Benjamin Fisher, you.”

The skinny boy’s face lit up. “The most noise in the brain comes from the rattle of empty thoughts, Miss Slade.”

“Yes, of course. You can get a sweet later. Now, wipe off your slates, everybody, and put them in your desks.”

There was a little flurry of activity, desk lids lifted, as the children did as she asked.

“Monitors, open the windows wide, if you please.”

Florence Birrell and Emmanuel Hart got up promptly and went to push up the window sashes. Cold air poured into the classroom, which was hot and stuffy. The large oil heater in the centre of the room dried out the air. The girls who were sitting closest to the windows wrapped their arms in their pinafores for warmth while the boys remained stoic.

“Good! Stand beside your desks, everybody, and assume your positions for cultivation of the chest.”

The children stood in the aisles, their heels pressed together, toes turned out at an angle.

“Remember now, your weight must be forward on the balls of your feet. Let me see. Rise up.”

One or two of the boys deliberately lost their balance, which gave them an excuse to flail their arms and grab on to the desk beside them.

“George Strongithorn, stop that. You will sit out the exercise in the Desk of Thoughtfulness if you misbehave again. You are quite capable of standing on your toes. All right, children, you may assume your correct position once more.”

Miss Slade began to walk up and down, inspecting her pupils. She had her cane pointer in her hand but not to whack at any child, merely to correct.

Benjamin’s older sister, Agnes Fisher, who was directly in front of the open window, shivered violently. She was wearing only a thin cotton jersey underneath her pinafore.

“Agnes, come to the front. It’s warmer out of the air.”

Miss Slade faced the class. “Now, all together. Inhale . . . and exhale as you say the word far. Whispers please. Farrr.”

There was a soft sighing throughout the room.

“Twice more. Joseph, for goodness sake, your mouth should be closed, not catching flies.”

A giggle ran through the ranks.

Miss Slade, whose chest was well cultivated, lead the way. “Inhale through the right nostril only. And exhale through the left nostril.”

Henry Woolway had a bad cold and blew out some snot as he exhaled. He wiped it away with his sleeve. Without comment Miss Slade handed him a clean handkerchief from her pocket.

The children continued to breathe, first through one nostril then the other, puny chests thrust out and upward.

“All right, we will pause for a moment. Isaiah, you are still prone to making your shoulders do all the work. That is wrong. It is the lower chest that must rise.”

“Sorry, Miss Slade. My chest bone hurts if I breathe in too deep.”

Isaiah had a persistent dry cough.

She tapped hard on her own chest with her two fingers. “This is what you must do every day without fail, Isaiah. Firm percussion for five minutes. Then splash cold water on your neck and chest, followed by a dry warm towel. Within three weeks, we should see some improvement.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

There were four younger children in Isaiah’s family and the closest he got to water in the morning was a damp rag that his mother made him whisk around the face and ears of the two next down. She ­didn’t seem to notice whether he did the same to himself. Miss Slade read his face correctly.

“On second thoughts, Isaiah, we’ll do the exercise when you come to school and I will be able to supervise.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

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Poor Tom Is Cold
Excerpt

Chapter One
 
 
It was still dark out, not yet dawn, and the flickering street lamps made little dint in the sodden November darkness. Acting Detective William Murdoch pulled his astrakhan hat tighter over his ears, thrust his bare hands deep into his pockets, and shoulders hunched against the cold driving rain, plodded up Ontario Street toward the police station. Pain from an infected tooth had sent him from his bed, and in an attempt to distract himself, he had dressed and set out for work well ahead of his duty time.
 
He turned onto Wilton just as a cab was going by and stepped back to avoid being splashed. The cabbie slowed his horse in case Murdoch was a potential fare, realised he wasn’t, and tipped his whip in acknowledgment as he passed by. He was wrapped in a voluminous black oiled slicker, the high collar masking his lower face and the hood pulled down so low over his forehead that only his eyes were visible. The horse had no such protection and its coat was dark from the rain. Like a lot of cab horses, the beast looked underfed, as if it had barely a trot left in it, but the driver snapped the reins and they heaved into a faster clip. Murdoch watched the rear lamp swaying, warm and bright in the gloom, until the carriage turned south on Parliament, leaving him alone on the dark street.
 
What if I am the last man on the earth? he thought. What if I’m really dead and in purgatory? Is this what it is? Physical pain and loneliness melding together until he couldn’t separate one from the other. Suddenly, somebody, probably a servant, lit a lamp in the upstairs room of one of the houses he was passing and the light winked out through a crack in the curtain. Murdoch was somewhat embarrassed at the relief he felt and he grinned at his own nonsense. He shook his head to clear out the morbid thoughts and was rewarded by a current of white-hot pain along his jaw, so severe he yelped. Trying to move cautiously to avoid aggravating matters, he continued on his way. He was heartily glad to reach the steps of the station. The outside lamp was burning and the windows were bright.
 
He pushed open the door, greeted by the familiar smell of woodstove, sawdust, and a lingering sourness from the old clothes and unwashed bodies of the local constituents. The fourth division served Toronto from the working-class streets of River and Sackville in the east, to the nobs who lived in grand houses on Jarvis and Church streets in the west. The east-siders were the ones whose backsides polished the wooden benches in the station hall.
 
The night-duty sergeant, Gardiner, was seated on a high stool behind the counter, entering his report in the register. He glanced up in surprise to see Murdoch.
 
“Gawdelpus, you’re the early bird.”
 
The detective grunted, not feeling up to a long-winded explanation. His tooth had started hurting about a week ago, but he’d managed to ignore it until yesterday, when the pain had worsened. His landlady, Mrs. Kitchen, sent him to bed with a brown paper and vinegar poultice to hold to his face and had padded his gum with some cotton wool soaked in carbolic. That had helped for a while, but at five o’clock he had been dragged to consciousness with the sensation that every nerve in his body had gathered at a point on his lower jaw and was pulsing there.
 
He took off his fur hat and shook the rain out of it.
 
“What’s up?” asked the sergeant.
 
Gardiner was regarding him curiously and Murdoch knew he must look like a pauper’s pal.
 
“Got a toothache,” he mumbled. He tried to talk without moving his mouth very much.
 
“Awful things them toothaches. Keep you up, don’t they?”
 
Murdoch blinked in agreement.
 
“Better get yourself into the dentist. There’s a fellow right at the corner. You could drop in on him.”
 
Murdoch grunted. Not if he could help it. George Crabtree had been forced to visit Dr. Brodie last year and, big and tough as a moose though he might be, the constable had almost fainted when he staggered out of the chair. His face was swollen for weeks.
 
“My landlady’s good,” said Murdoch. “Knows a lot . . . carbolic . . . ”
 
“Wondered what it was I could smell. Helped, did it?”
 
“Hm.”
 
The sergeant sniffed. “Or is it fish? Did the cat bring something in?”
 
Murdoch shrugged. The smell was from his sealskin coat, which developed a distinctive odour when it was wet. He’d got it from an old lag a couple of years ago, in exchange for some tobacco, and he considered it a good bargain in spite of the pong.
 
He started to head for the sanctuary of his office, which was a tiny cubicle across from the cells.
 
“While you’re over there, put some more coal in, will you?” called out Gardiner.
 
Murdoch opened the stove door, picked up a pair of tongs, seized a large piece of coal and dropped it into the red maw. The action hurt.
 
There was a waft of chill air as the hall door opened and Ed Hales, the patrol sergeant, came in. He hung
 
“Perishing cold out there.”
 
“It’s nothing to what it will be,” said Gardiner. “Wait till we get winter.”
 
“You’re early this morning, Will.”
 
“He’s got toothache,” Gardiner answered for him. “Kept him up. He’s going to have to have it pulled.”
 
“Hey, I don’t know that yet,” protested Murdoch.
 
The sergeant grinned at him. “That kind of pain means abscess. If you don’t look after it you could be in bad trouble. Second cousin of the wife’s nearly died from an abscess. Poison got into her blood. She was bad for months after, still not right. It affected her mentally. She cries all the time.”
 
“Glad to know that, Gardiner. Lifted my spirits no end did that little tale.”
 
The duty sergeant shrugged, undaunted. “It’s the truth, I tell you.”
 
“How about I brew up a pot of tea, Will?” interjected Hales. “Cheer us both up. Come on.”
 
Murdoch was about to refuse but Hales, out of sight of the duty sergeant, nodded warningly. He had something to say.
 
“I wouldn’t mind a mug myself,” Gardiner called after them. “I’m parched.”
 
Murdoch followed Hales through to the small back room where the officers ate their meals. The morning shift hadn’t arrived yet and the fire was low in the grate, the room chilly.
 
“Why don’t I look after the pot and you see to the fire; you’re better at it than me,” he said.
 
“All right,” said Hales but he didn’t move. He pulled at the ends of his moustache. He was a tall man, ruddy-faced. He was invariably pleasant and even-tempered, qualities that made him popular in the station, but this morning he was visibly distressed.
 
“Need your ear a minute, Will . . . I didn’t want to say anything in front of Gardiner, he’s got a sniffer for trouble like a rat on offal but,” he hesitated, reluctant to admit the bad news, “fact is, young Wicken seems to have gone missing.”
 
“Missing?”
 
“Well, he don’t seem to be on his beat.” He rubbed at his moustache. “I did my first check on him at twenty-five minutes past eight. All correct. Did the second at a quarter past ten like normal. Again all correct. But when I went to check in on him at a quarter past two, he was nowhere to be seen. Supposed to be up at River and Gerrard. I thought maybe he’d stepped into a laneway to have a piss, even though he shouldn’t, and I waited a bit. No sign of him. I walked back along Gerrard. Not a whisker. I put pebbles on the doorknobs. You know that little trick.”
 
Murdoch nodded. The constable on the beat was supposed to check the doors of the vacant houses to make sure they were secure, no vagrants camping out. The patrol sergeant sometimes tested the officers with a small stone or piece of dirt. If it was still there at the next round, heaven help the constable on duty.
 
“When he wasn’t at the four o’clock checkpoint, I walked his entire beat in reverse but he was nowhere to be seen. All of the pebbles were still there.”
 
Murdoch frowned. “That’s bloody strange. Is he playing up, d’you think? Hiding?”
 
The younger constables sometimes teased the good-natured patrol sergeant by hiding out until he went by, then innocently meeting him on the return route. It was childish but it relieved the boredom. Murdoch had done it himself when he was on the beat.
 
Hales shook his head. “He’s never done it before and it’s past a joke by now. If he isn’t here at changeover he could be put on a charge.”
 
“Ill then? Could he have been taken ill? Gone home?”
 
Even as he said it, Murdoch knew how unlikely that was. Wicken would have gone to the closest alarm box and telephoned in to headquarters.
 
“He looked healthy as a doctor when I saw him last. He wasn’t drunk neither.”
 
The two men looked at each other, mirroring each other’s uneasiness.
 
Murdoch reached for his hat. “I’ll go and have another gander. You’ve got your report to do.”
 
“Thanks, Will. If he is just acting batchy, I’ll overlook it as long as he’s back on the beat when the next shift comes in. But if he’s not there without a damn good reason, it’ll be dire.”
 
“Where should he be right now?”
 
“Coming down River Street from Gerrard. Maybe you could try going the reverse way.”
 
Murdoch stood up. “Save me some tea.”
 
“The whole pot if you find him safe,” said Hales. “And you’d better take my lamp. But don’t let Gardiner see you if you can help it.”
 
Murdoch went back to the hall. He managed to whip the lantern off the hook while the duty sergeant was turned away, getting a file from the cabinet. However, Gardiner saw him at the door.
 
“Where’s my tea? What are you doing, growing it?”
 
“Hales’s doing it,” muttered Murdoch. “Got-tuh go.”
 
The sergeant called after him. “Have them all pulled out. You’ll be better off in the long run.”
 
Murdoch waved his hand.
 
Outside, dawn was coming in begrudgingly and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. He set off at as fast a pace as he could manage, heading east along Wilton to River Street. Even though moving quickly caused the pain to pulse through to his eye socket, he felt the need to hurry. He couldn’t imagine why the young constable wasn’t on his beat. No one with a brain in his head would take a joke this far and risk losing his job. That left the possibility that something had happened to him and that wasn’t good either.
 
River Street wasn’t as heavily populated as the other streets in the division and there were several vacant lots. They reminded him of missing teeth, a gap between molars. Quickly, he checked the doors of the houses that were boarded up. On each knob was balanced a small pebble. Wicken’s beat started at the corner of Parliament Street and Gerrard and would have taken him in an easterly direction toward River Street, where he turned south to Queen, back west, then north again up Parliament. During the long night, he walked this square many times, making sure all the God-fearing were safe in their beds. If he had the bad luck to miss any criminal occurrence, such as a break-in, he was held accountable. As far as the chief constable, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Grasett, was concerned, a crime meant the constable on the beat was remiss in his duty and he was always reprimanded.
 
Murdoch turned left onto Gerrard and paused, looking down the deserted street. More lamps were showing in the houses now, welcome smudges of light. If the constable had run into any kind of trouble, it had been silent. No one had raised an alarm.
 
He continued to Parliament Street, past Toronto General and the Burnside lying-in hospital on the north side of Gerrard. Even as I’m going by, an infant might be squawling its first cry. His mind skittered away from the thought because that led straight to Liza, and what they had hoped for. Four children, Will, and then we’ll see. I’m not going to be one of those women whose job in life is to be a breeding mare. Murdoch sighed. Fat lot of good all that nattering did us. There won’t be any at all now. The memory of her sudden death from typhoid fever, two years ago, was still a cause for anguish.
 
He forced himself to focus on what he was doing. Across from the hospital grounds was the medical school. Quite a lot of lights burning there. It took him about fifteen minutes to reach Parliament Street but there was absolutely no sign of Wicken. He stopped for a moment until the throbbing in his jaw subsided. On the southeast corner there was another vacant house. It had once been quite grand, but now the windows were boarded up and the front fence was protecting only weeds, colourless and drooping. He squeezed by the stiff iron gate and walked down the path to the front door. Shrubs, heavy with raindrops, brushed against him as he went up a short flight of steps into a deeply recessed porch. Hales’s pebble was where he’d put it. Murdoch knocked it off, turned the doorknob and shoved. The door had lost much of its paint but was solid wood and it didn’t yield. He stepped back, fished out a box of matches from his pocket, and lit the dark lantern. The bull’s-eye beam was bright and strong and he directed it at the windows. They too looked intact, no sign of breakage.
 
There was a flagged path that branched off to the rear of the house and, pushing his way through the long grass that had overgrown it, Murdoch tramped around to a high gate that opened into a walled garden. This was neglected and overgrown, but like the house, suggested a former grandeur. To his right was a patio with a fancy design of yellow and red brick. He walked over to the back door. Around the lintel there was a climbing rosebush, two or three frostbitten buds still on their stems. An image of the church window, Christ’s blood on the thorns, jumped into his mind, taking him by surprise with its intensity.
 
He turned the handle and the door opened easily. He stepped inside.
 
The light shone on Wicken’s body.
 
He was lying on his left side, facing the door; his head was uncovered and surrounded by a halo of blood, which had soaked much of his blond hair. His legs were crossed at the ankles and between his thighs was wedged his revolver, barrel uppermost, stiff and protruding like a grotesque symbol of manhood.

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Season of Darkness

Season of Darkness

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In spite of the fact that she’d got only a few hours sleep, Elsie Bates was in great spirits. Nothing like a nice bit of dock to make a girl smile. When he’d told her this was his first time, she’d expected him to be clumsy and done too fast, but he wasn’t. She’d helped him out here and there but mostly he’d learned all by himself. Of course, like any man born to Eve, he’d started to show a bit of possessiveness right off the bat, and she’d had to make it clear that nobody owned her. Elsie grinned at the memory, then impulsively pushed down on the accelerator as far as she dared. The sun wasn’t yet up and the road, which was hemmed in on either side by tall hedgerows, was pitch black. She had her headlights on, inadequate as they were with the strips of blackout tape across them, and she was driving as close to the middle of the road as she could, the lorry rattling and shaking on the rough surface.
 
She started to sing to the tune of the “Colonel Bogey March.”
 
Hitler has only got one ball,
Goering has two but they are small
 
Wait ’til she told Rose about last night. Rosie kept saying she was saving herself, but as Elsie reminded her, “There’s a war on, my pet. Butter’s rationed but that don’t mean we have to be.”
 
Himmler has something sim’lar,
But poor old Goebbels has no balls at all.
 
Elsie fingered the strap of her dungarees and smiled at the feel of the two bank notes she’d sewn in there. Two quid would go a long way. When she’d told Rose the story, her friend had been nervous.
 
“Oo, Elsie, be careful. People don’t like to be blackmailed.”
 
“Who said anything about blackmail? I didn’t say nothing. Nothing at all except to mention what I’d seen, and out it popped: ’Ow much to keep that to yourself? Didn’t come from me first.” She’d pinched Rose’s thin cheek. “We won’t be greedy. The occasional quid will do nicely. Stroke of luck, weren’ it? Me being there at that moment. Next leave we get, we’re going to Birmingham for a few larks. Nobody’ll wonder where the dosh is coming from. If asked, we’ll say it’s our wages saved up, which is a joke.”
 
“You’re as cunning as an old cat,” said Rose. “I just hope you’ve got as many lives.”
 
Elsie had taken the remark as a compliment. She’d learned at too early an age to be that way. You had to if you were going to get out of that bleeding hellhole of a slum in any way intact. She made the sign of the cross over her chest. “May God see fit to drop a bomb on all of them.”
 
Hitler has only got one ball,
The other is on the kitchen wall.
His mother, the dirty bugger,
Cut it off when he was small.
 
The lorry went over a bump, gave a short cough, a splutter or two, then went silent and began to roll to a stop.
 
“Sod it, not again.”
 
It was the third time this month the bloody thing had acted up. Elsie managed to steer over to the side, as close to the hedgerow as possible, before the momentum died. The road was barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, and she’d bring a lot of aggravation onto herself if she blocked the way completely. She tried turning the ignition key but the lorry was dead as a doornail. Sod, sod, and more sod. She was on a tight schedule. She had to pick up the girls at the hostel on time. Miss Stillwell, the warden, could be a bloody tartar. “Late again, Miss Bates? Do pull up your socks, or I shall have to put you on report.” Toffee- nosed old cow. If ever a woman acted like a dried- up spinster, it was her.
 
Well, no sense in sitting here on her arse. Good thing she’d brought her bike. She climbed down from the lorry. Somewhere along the way her back light had been knocked out, but the front lamp was working. Not that it was a lot of use, with the obligatory taped strips across it.
 
The woods pressed in close here, narrowing the road even more. Elsie didn’t like the country in the dark. She was used to paved streets and houses crammed together; a sense of the surrounding humanity. You could go for miles out here and not meet a soul. The rooks were putting up a God- awful clamour. Old Morgan had told them that sometimes birds can be as good as a watch dog, giving off warnings that there’s danger near.
 
She almost wished she’d brought the gun with her. As she pedalled, she began to sing again to the tune of “Land of Hope and Glory.”
 
Land of soap and water
Hitler’s having a bath
Churchill’s looking through the keyhole
Having a jolly good laugh
Be . . . e . . . e . . . e . . . cause,
Hitler has only one small ball . . .
 
She was glad for her overcoat. The pre-dawn air was chill and damp, just a bit of a hint that summer was ending. Fresh though, very fresh; one good thing you could say for the country. Since she’d been here, she gained some weight and a good colour, which they had all admitted when she went home last time. After she’d signed up with the Land Army, her dad, the miserable bugger, had said she wouldn’t last a week, which only made her determined to show him. It hadn’t been easy. When she’d first arrived in Shropshire, she’d never even seen a live cow before, let alone the bloody huge bull with the ring in its wet nose and its enormous goolies hanging down. The work in the fields was backbreaking, the hours appallingly long, and at first many of the farmers had been contemptuous of the girls, not willing to take into account their inexperience. Now the Land girls had earned their grudging respect. They worked as hard as men and learned fast. Elsie, herself, had been promoted to forewoman after only two months. When she’d written to tell Ma and Dad and the others, nobody’d bothered to answer. Sod them anyway.
 
 
Dawn was starting to seep through the trees and the exercise was getting her blood flowing. She kicked her feet off the pedals and did a little swoop from side to side just for fun. Whoopee! There was something to be said about this war. She’d never have had this experience stuck in the filthy London back- to- back housing where she’d grown up. She kicked out again. Whoopee! There was a dance in the village tonight and she’d be there, new frock, new sweetheart.
 
Hold on, was that a car? Maybe she could cadge a lift. She glanced over her shoulder. She heard the roar of the car as it emerged out of the darkness, the slitted headlights gleaming like cat’s eyes. It was travelling fast. Too fast. Elsie swerved out of the way.
 
“Hey, slow down,” she yelled.
 
But in a moment the car was upon her.

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The K Handshape

The K Handshape

A Christine Morris Mystery
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Under the Dragon's Tail
Excerpt

Chapter One

Sunshine was streaming through the kitchen window, making the flies sluggish as they crawled across the pine table. Irritably, Dolly Merishaw swatted a few of them, brushing the carcasses onto the floor. Even that slight effort caused a stabbing pain behind her eyes. She tried to wet her lips but her tongue was thick as cloth. She picked up the beer jug from the sideboard, but there were only dregs left and a bluebottle had drowned itself in the bottom.

She knew the two boys were out scavenging along the Don River and that Lily was delivering laundry to her customers on Gerrard Street, but she resented the fact they ­weren’t here to look after her, to bring her a pot of tea the way she liked.

“Useless slags,” she said out loud.

Not that she ever uttered a word of appreciation when her daughter waited on her. In Dolly’s opinion, Lily had forfeited the right to thanks.

She pushed up the window sash and stuck her head out. The air was warm and soft, the sun caressing. Early July was the best time of the summer, before the August heat roasted the city like a cut of beef.

Even for Dolly, the sight of the trees dappling the street was appealing, and she leaned her arms on the windowsill for a moment. Two women bicyclists rode by, both of them sitting straight and rigid at the high handle­bars. One was wearing knickerbockers and leggings, and Dolly noticed a passerby turn and glare. Many people were offended by these new bicycling outfits, Rational Dress, as they were called, but Dolly approved. She was happy to see women upset male tempers.

She retreated back to the kitchen, wondering if she was well enough to go out. She decided she was. She fancied some calf’s liver for her breakfast, and Cosgrove’s, the butcher, ­wasn’t too far. And she could go to the Dominion Brewery on Queen Street. They sold stale beer at a cheap price.

Her felt slippers loose on her feet, she shuffled off to the parlour to get dressed. Ever since they had moved to Toronto, Dolly had been essentially living in this one room, as she was usually too full to climb the stairs to her bedroom. She slept on a Turkish couch, and Lily brought her meals on a tray. It was not uncommon for Dolly to throw the food at her daughter if she was displeased and Lily screamed back, raw, wordless cries. In the kitchen the boys listened, ears pricked, wary as fox kits.

It took Dolly almost an hour to make the journey, but when she returned to the house, neither her daughter nor her foster sons had returned.

“Where is the slut?”

She poured herself some of the flat, bitter ale and took a long swallow. Her parched throat was eased at once. She put the package of meat on the table and opened it up, smoothing out the newspaper that the butcher had used to wrap the liver. Her glance was idle at first, but suddenly she paused, bent closer, and squinted at a photograph on the inside page.

“My, my, look who it ­isn’t.”

A smear of blood partly obscured the picture but the caption confirmed her. She plopped the liver on the table and carefully tore the piece out of the newspaper. She read the notice again. What luck. Good for her, but bad for the other one. Clutching the strip of paper, she trotted off to the parlour, moving with more vigour than she had in a long time.

The room was hot and buzzed with flies feeding off the remains of last night’s stew. The curtains were still closed but she ­didn’t open them. She could see well enough and she wanted privacy. Beneath the window was her prized desk. She went over to it, pulling out a leather thong that hung around her neck. The key was never anywhere else, and it was warm and greasy from nestling between her breasts. She unlocked the desk, rolled back the top, and sat down. There ­wasn’t much inside. A blotter, a tarnished silver inkwell and steel pen, a jar of her special herbs, the tin where she kept her money. Usually she enjoyed counting the coins and the bills, but today she shoved the tin aside and pulled open the drawer at the back of the desk. Reverently, she took out a vellum autograph album. One of her clients had left it behind years ago, and Dolly had appropriated it for use as her record book. The cover was soft and supple, royal blue with the word Friends embossed in gold letters. The paper was thick and creamy. She placed the piece of newspaper on the blotter, wiped her fingers on her skirt, and opened the album.

It ­didn’t take her long to find the entry she wanted. In the eight years that had passed since then, her business had lessened considerably, and over the last three years there were no birth entries at all. Carefully, she tore out one of the unused pages and placed it on the blotter. She picked up the pen. The nib was crusty with dried ink but usable, and the inkwell ­hadn’t dried out. She stroked, “Dear —” Bugger! There was a blob of ink on the paper. Perhaps she’d better practise first.

“I’m sure you remember the occasion of our first meeting.”

The only way a person would forget that was if they was dead and she knew that ­wasn’t the case.

“I have had some family troubles which has forced me into changing my name for reasons of privacy as I am sure you of all people can understand.”

Even writing that down made Dolly flush with anger. She’d been ruined through no fault of her own.

“I did as good by you as I could. Times are hard, my business has fallen off. A small gratuity would be kindly received. Or else . . .”

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Vices of My Blood

Vices of My Blood

A Detective Murdoch Mystery
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CHAPTER ONE
William Murdoch had recently been promoted from acting to full detective and given a raise in wages of three dollars a month. But his new status was not reflected by a better office, and from his desk he was contemplating the same old furnishings of a battered metal filing cabinet and a visitor’s chair that the rag-­and-­bones man would have rejected. The walls, he noticed, would benefit greatly from a fresh coat of paint, as he was wont to use the one wall as a blackboard and the chalk marks never quite rubbed off. He needed a new lamp, or at least some better oil, as the one on his desk was smoking badly.

Having made this gloomy assessment, he took a gulp of the hot strong tea that he’d brought in from the duty room and got back to his task. He dipped his pen into the inkwell. He had a fine working fountain pen in his pocket, but he ­couldn’t bring himself to write a letter to his absent mistress with a pen his beloved deceased fiancée had given him.
Dear Enid. I ­haven’t yet received a letter from you, but I hope that is only because of the bad weather and not because you ­don’t want to write to me. How is your father faring?

He paused. That last line seemed ridiculously stiff. But he’d have to leave it. This was the third draft he’d started. Oh just cross out faring, for Christ’s sake.
How is your father? I do hope his health is improving.

Of course, the reason she had not written could be because her father had died. If that was the case he wondered if she would return to Canada. And then he wondered how he would feel about that if she did. It had been almost two months since she had been summoned back to Wales to take care of her ailing parent. This had been the primary and acknowledged reason for her departure, but they both knew that sitting just behind it was Murdoch’s inability to make up his mind to marry her.

Another dip in the ink and he made a large blot on the page. Damn. These pens were police issue and leaked badly. His fingers were stained already.
Tell Alwyn I am thinking of him. I have still got his sled and . . .

He’d been going to write and I look forward to the time when he returns, but that was implying a promise he ­didn’t know if he could keep.

He looked at the letter. It was a mess with two crossing-­outs and three blots. He crumpled it up and threw it into the basket with the others. He’d write later at home, not here at the police station where there were distractions. He’d heard the clack of the telegram machine in the front hall and decided to get up and see if anything interesting had come over the wire. It had been a quiet day so far.

He swallowed the rest of his tea and went out into the main hall.

There were no miscreants or supplicants gracing the wooden bench that ran around the room and it ­wasn’t time for the shifts to change so the only two officers present were the stenographer, Callahan, and the duty sergeant, Gardiner, who was sitting at his high stool behind the desk. He grinned when he saw Murdoch and waved a piece of paper.

“We’ve got a telegram from Hamilton. Callahan just typed it up. You might want to have a look at it.” He handed Murdoch the wire.

be advised stop watch for queer plungers stop we suspect a supposed family of three stop woman mid age stop younger man stop one boy about eight to ten years old stop could be related to either stop probably in toronto and working the king street area stop aliases given as mrs wright and son bobbie stop no name for man stop very convincing stop

Murdoch saw that Callahan was watching him curiously, but he averted his eyes immediately when Murdoch glanced his way. The constable was almost obsequious in his dealings with the detective, whom he feared. With good reason. Murdoch ­couldn’t stand the fellow.

He walked over to him. “You’re no doubt wondering, young Liam, what a queer plunger is.”

Callahan nodded, apparently unsure how he was supposed to reply. Murdoch perched on the edge of the desk.

“Never be afraid to admit you ­don’t know something, young Liam. You ­don’t want to be a constable third class forever, do you?”

Callahan flushed. “No, sir.”

“Thought not. Our lad is ambitious, sergeant. ­Don’t let that fresh-­faced, just-­off-­the-­boat look fool you. Right, Liam?”

Murdoch was goading him to the point of eruption, but the stenographer swallowed hard. He smiled a snake smile but his eyes were dark with anger, and Murdoch could see that thoughts of revenge were churning in his mind. He ­didn’t care. He knew very well that Callahan was as two-­faced as the month of January.

He gestured at Gardiner, who looked puzzled by Murdoch’s uncharacteristic incivility. “Explain to the lad, sergeant.”

Gardiner pursed his lips, going along with it.

“Queer plungers is a cant term for folks who commit fraudulent acts upon the public. Typically, they work in groups of three or more. For instance, a favourite trick is for one of the group to pretend to be despondent, and in full view of a crowd, he will plunge into some water, the lake or a river like the Don. The second member of the gang will then effect a rescue. The half-­drowned one will be taken to the closest house. They always make sure it’s a tavern or failing that a church just emptying of the congregation. Then there is some cock-­and-­bull story about why the poor man wanted to commit self-­murder in the first place. Debts of honour, most like. A go-­around is suggested so he can redeem himself. Another go-­around for the rescuer. Get the picture?”

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