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Authors: Sally Spencer

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Historical

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BOOK: Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness
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‘It’s a way of applying science in criminal investigations,’ Blackstone explained.

‘Then why haven’t I heard about it?’

‘Because it’s a very
new
science—so new that a lot of people don’t believe it’s a true science at all.’

‘Then if it’s—’

‘But true science or not, I’ve seen it produce some remarkable results.’

‘For example?’ Bullock asked, unconvinced.

‘Coppers like us can often learn something from looking at corpses—but nothing like as much as Ellie can. She’s helped me solve two cases that I’d never have cracked if I’d been working alone.’

Bullock smiled. ‘You keep called her “Ellie”,’ he said. ‘She’s not your bit of tottie, is she?’

‘No, sir,’ Blackstone said—though there’d been a time when he’d hoped she might be. ‘But even if she was, it wouldn’t alter the facts. Ellie’s bloody good at what she does—and one day they’ll be writing books about her.’

‘They’ll be writing books about me, if I don’t solve this case,’ Bullock said, dispiritedly. ‘“Superintendent Ernie Bullock—The Man Who Failed to Catch The Northern Slasher”.’ He paused for a moment. ‘All right, if you’re prepared to vouch for her, then I suppose I could send her a telegram.’

‘I’m not promising she’ll definitely get you a result,’ Blackstone said cautiously.

‘Of course you’re not,’ Bullock replied. ‘How could you? But after all, what do I stand to lose? Even if she turns out to be no more use than a broken umbrella in a thunderstorm, she can’t do any harm to an investigation that’s already in the doldrums.’

Blackstone ran his fingernail along the edge of the cheap envelope in his pocket again. It almost seemed to him to be vibrating with its writer’s urgency and desperation.

‘If there’s nothing more I can do here, sir, I’d like to go and book my ticket for the early-morning train to Cheshire now,’ he said.

‘Go ahead,’ Bullock replied, waving his hand in a gesture of abstracted dismissal.

It was only when Blackstone had reached the door that the Superintendent recalled himself enough to say, ‘Good luck with whatever it is you have to deal with, Sam.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ Blackstone said, over his shoulder.

And good luck was just what he was going to need, he thought. Because a man like Tom Yardley would never have thought of asking for help unless the situation he found himself facing had turned very nasty indeed.

 

 

One

 

As the train began to slow for its approach to the station, Blackstone took the letter out of his pocket and re-read it for perhaps the twelfth or thirteenth time.

Dear
Sergeant
Blackstone
(or
perhaps
I
may
be
permitted
to
call
you
Sam)
, the letter began.

That sounded just like the old Tom Yardley, Blackstone told himself. The man was modest to the point of diffidence, but in a tight situation there was no one better to have covering your back.

Through
the
newspapers
,
I
have
been
following
your
career
with
interest
.
You
seem
to
have
done
very
well
for
yourself.

Possibly I have, Blackstone conceded. But only as long as you’re willing to believe that owning two good second-hand suits, a few books—and very little else—was doing well.

In
fact
,
you
are
quickly
becoming
one
of
the
most
famous
men
our
regiment
has
ever
produced
.

There was no need to butter me up like that, old chap, Blackstone told the writer mentally. I’m in your debt already—and I always will be.

There
is
something
very
unpleasant
happening
in
Marston,
the
village
where
I
live
.
I
don’t
want
to
say
too
much
about
it
in
a
letter
,
but I’m sure
you
remember
Fuzzy
Dustman
,
and
will
quite
understand
what
I
mean
when
I
tell
you
he
would
have
felt quite
at
home
here
.

Blackstone nodded to himself. Yes, he
did
remember Faisal Dostam—or Fuzzy Dustman, as the enlisted men had called him. In the days when he and Tom Yardley had soldiered under General Roberts, Dostam had been responsible for running the biggest criminal network in Afghanistan. He had had his finger in a great many pies, but the most important one—the one that made him rich—had involved the smuggling of precious stones.

You’re
probably
wondering
why
I
don’t
go
to
the
local
police
,
instead
of
writing
to
you,
the letter continued.
Well
,
the
simple
fact
is
that
there’s
so
much
money
involved
that
they’ve
probably
been bought
off
and
once
they
know
that
I
know
what’s
going
on
,
my
life
won’t
be
worth
a
brass
farthing
.
But
for
the
sake
of
everything
you
and
I
believe
in
,
something
has to be done,
Sam
.
With
you
by
my
side
,
I
know
we
can
beat
them
,
but
if
you
can’t
come
,
then
I
don’t
see
I
have
any
choice
but
to
take
the
risk
and
go
it
alone
.
Please
reply
with
all
haste
,
old
comrade
.
Your
obedient
servant
,
Tom
Yardley
.

It must have been hard for a proud man like Tom to have written that letter, Blackstone thought. It must have taken almost as much courage as he had shown in the cave back in Afghanistan. And never once in the letter had he mentioned the debt he was owed—never once resorted to the sort of emotional blackmail that most men in his position would have drawn on.

It was an honest letter—an honourable letter—which asked an old comrade to do no more than guard his back. And that was just what Blackstone intended to do.

*

Archie Patterson stood in an unfamiliar office in Scotland Yard, looking across a desk at Inspector Maddox, whom he didn’t know—except by reputation—and was already deciding that he didn’t quite like.

‘You might do yourself a bit of good on this new case that we’ve been handed,’ Maddox told him.

‘Might I, sir?’ Patterson asked. ‘What does it involve?’

‘Prostitution,’ Maddox said, with some relish.

‘But that’s not illegal.’

‘Not in most cases, no. Tell me, Sergeant, have you ever heard of a Member of Parliament called Jack Hobsbourne?’

Sam Blackstone would never even have bothered to ask him that question, Patterson thought. What Blackstone
would
actually have said was something like, ‘Tell me all you can about Jack Hobsbourne, MP, Archie. And don’t hold back on any of the juicy titbits.’ Because Sam knew that his sergeant had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of people—both famous and obscure—and would have taken the opportunity to draw on it.

‘Well?’ Maddox asked impatiently.

‘Yes, I have heard of him,’ Patterson began. ‘As a matter of fact, Jack Hobsbourne’s a…’ He saw a look of displeasure starting to fill Maddox’s face, and he abruptly shut up.

He had the man’s measure now, he thought. This inspector didn’t
want
him to know things.
This
inspector—with his cardboard files stacked neatly on his desk in front of him—liked to be regarded as the fount of all wisdom.

‘Jack Hobsbourne’s a what?’ Maddox asked.

‘I don’t know,’ Patterson confessed. ‘I thought I’d heard of him, but it turns out that I haven’t.’

Maddox looked a lot happier now. ‘Then it’s a good thing that I
do
know something,’ he said. ‘It turns out that Hobsbourne is not Church of England, as any decent man would normally be. Oh no, the established church isn’t good enough for Master Jack, and he’s decided to be a Quaker instead.’

‘A Methodist,’ Patterson corrected him silently. ‘The man’s a strict Methodist.’

‘And this Quakerism,’ Maddox continued, making the word sound even more like an insult, ‘has given him some rather strange ideas. Now normally, that wouldn’t matter—he’s only one out of hundreds of MPs, and half of them are deranged, anyway.’ He paused, and a look of panic came to his face. ‘You’re not to quote me on that.’

‘I won’t,’ Patterson promised.

‘At any rate, for some strange reason, what this Hobsbourne chooses to say and do seems to worry the Home Secretary.’

Well, of course it does, Patterson thought. Every time he gives an open air speech, thousands of ordinary people flock to hear it.

‘And so if Hobsbourne happens to have a bee in his bonnet, it starts to acquire significance,’ Maddox continued. ‘And his particular “bee” at the moment is the “so-called” age of consent. What do you know about
that
, Sergeant?’

‘Very little, sir,’ Patterson said wisely.

‘Then I’ll instruct you in that, as well. When the Queen came to the throne, in 1837, the age at which a girl could consent to have sexual relations with a man was twelve, which, I must admit, seems like a pretty sensible age to me.’

You wouldn’t think that if it was your sister or your own daughter you were talking about, Patterson thought.

‘But throughout the Queen’s reign there have been no end of do-gooders whining that twelve was too young for a girl to make that kind of decision,’ Maddox continued, ‘and about fifteen years ago Parliament gave in to the baying of the self-righteous rabble, and set the age of consent at sixteen. Now, as you can well understand, this made life very difficult for brothels that cater for clients who have a preference for very young girls.’

‘Yes, it must have done,’ Patterson agreed, deadpan.

‘By and large, it’s been the policy of the Metropolitan Police to look the other way when that particular law’s been broken,’ Maddox said. ‘And quite right, too, in my personal opinion. Strict enforcement does no more than punish the girls themselves.’

‘I beg your pardon, sir?’ Patterson said.

Maddox looked at him as if he were an idiot. ‘A pretty girl from the slums can earn twenty-five pounds for surrendering her virginity, which is three or four times what a housemaid can earn in a whole year,’ he explained. ‘So doesn’t it seem right that she should be allowed to dispose of whatever assets she has, in whatever way she chooses?’

‘Always assuming that she’s willing to,’ Patterson said.

‘And why
shouldn’t
she be willing to? The lower orders attach far less value to virtue than we at the higher levels of society do.’

‘I didn’t know that.’

Maddox frowned. ‘Then you are a very poor student of human nature,’ he said censoriously. ‘In matters of morality, the lower orders are rather like the beasts of the fields.’

‘But having disposed of her “asset”, she doesn’t get her fair payment, does she?’ Patterson asked.

‘Well...’

‘It’s the brothel-keeper who takes the bulk of it, and all she’s left with is a few shillings.’

‘Which it would take her quite a while to earn in any other line of business,’ Maddox said, treating the collapse of the central pillar of his argument on assets and rewards as if it were still standing as solid as ever. ‘But that’s neither here nor there, from the point of view of this discussion. The simple fact of the matter is that the Home Secretary has asked us to investigate what our Quaker friend chooses to call—for some strange reason of his own—“child prostitution”. And whatever our personal feelings, it certainly won’t damage our prospects of promotion if we come up with the result he desires.’

I wish Sam Blackstone was back, Patterson thought. I wish he was the one I was working on this case with.

BOOK: Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness
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