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Authors: Sally Spencer

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

Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness (21 page)

BOOK: Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness
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‘You can’t blame yourself,’ Bullock said.

‘But I do,’ the boy told him.

‘How often have you seen her since you gave up your job in London and came back here?’

‘Most days. She would manage to find some excuse to slip away, so that we could we have a few precious minutes together.’ Jamie paused. ‘Did her mother and father know I’d come back?’

‘Her mother did. She saw you from her carriage window, when she was driving through the town. But her father had no idea you’d returned.’

‘Then Lucy must have been wrong.’

‘About what?’

‘For the last two or three days she thought that there was somebody watching her.’

‘Did she have any idea who it might have been?’

‘She thought it might have been a private detective, hired by her father. But if her father didn’t know, it couldn’t have been that.’

‘Perhaps her mother...’


Mrs
Stanford would never have had her watched.’

‘Did Lucy happen to catch sight of this person she thought was watching her?’

Jamie shook his head. ‘No, she didn’t
see
anybody. It was just a feeling that she had, and she must have been wrong.’ A look of sudden horror appeared on the boy’s face. ‘Unless...’ he gasped.

‘Unless what?’

‘Unless the man who was watching her was her killer! Do you think that’s possible?’

Bullock nodded gravely. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I think that’s
more
than possible.’

*

The man walking towards the Number One Pan was wearing a suit that had been the latest fashion among the gentry four or five years earlier, and had a bowler hat—rather than a flat cap—perched on his head. When he reached the pan, he opened the door and stepped inside.

A foreman, doing his routine daily rounds, Blackstone assumed, from his hiding place behind the ash cans.

It took less than a minute for the inspector’s assumption to be proved false. The foreman emerged again, and he was not alone. Following at his heel were the wallers and lump-men who had been working on Number One Pan. They looked ill at ease, but not guilty—as if they were about to be accused of something they hadn’t done but thought it likely they would be convicted anyway.

The procession made its way towards the manager’s office. The pan they had been working on—the pan that Bickersdale had visited only a few minutes earlier—was now completely deserted.

This was the kind of lucky break he had been hoping for, but never expected to get, Blackstone told himself, as he broke cover and walked quickly towards the double doors of Number One Pan.

*

Mick Huggins was hiding behind a wall of salt blocks in the store room just beyond the Number One Pan, and when he heard the doors to the pan swing open, he began to suspect that the moment for which he had been waiting for over two hours had finally arrived.

Huggins shifted position. Earlier he had shaved the corner off one of the blocks of salt and, looking through the gap he had created, he could see a tall, thin figure shrouded by steam.

So Blackstone really had come! Just as Mr Bickersdale had always maintained that he would!

Huggins shook his head in silent admiration of his boss. Bickersdale was the smartest man he had ever met, he thought, and this racket was the smartest one he had ever heard of. Nobody but Mr Bickersdale could have come up with the idea. Nobody but he could have supervised it with such ruthless efficiency. He didn’t think twice about killing when he felt that killing was required. The man had ice in his veins and Huggins had come to regard him as an almost godlike figure.

The tall thin man shrouded in the steam looked briefly at the pan itself, then turned his attention to the salt moulds that had just been filled. Soon he would widen his search. Soon he would come into the salt store, with not the slightest idea of what was waiting for him there.

Mick Huggins smiled. He remembered how exuberant he’d felt after raping the young girl he had met quite by chance, and how he’d thought that beating up a hapless stranger in the Hanging Tree would be a perfect way to round off a very pleasurable morning.

It had been a mistake to pick Blackstone as his target. Blackstone had spoiled it all by fighting back, and now he had to pay the price.

But this encounter would be different from the last one. This time, when he struck, Blackstone would not even see it coming—would know nothing at all until he started to feel a pain worse than anything he could ever have possibly imagined.

 

 

Two

 

Blackstone stood next to the steaming brine pan. His eyes were closed and his mind was firmly fixed on reconstructing the sequence of events that had probably occurred in the pan some fifteen minutes before he had entered it himself:

Bickersdale
arrives
with
a
packet
of
stolen
jewels

possibly
already
wrapped
in
oil
-
cloth

in
his
jacket
pocket
.

He
probably
invents
some
reason
for
being
there
,
but
he
has
no
real
need
to
,
because
he
is
a
shareholder
,
and
he
can
go
where
he
likes
.

He
finds
an
excuse
to
detach
one
of
the
men
—his
man
on
the
inside

from
the
rest
of
the
workers
,
and
.
when
he
is
sure
they
are
not
being
observed
,
he
slips
the
package
to
him
.

And
what
does
the
man
do
with
it?

Slips
it
straight
into
a
mould
of
hardening
salt?

No!
The
risk
is
too
great
.
Bickersdale’s
unexpected
visit
will
have
set
the
other
workers
on
edge
,
and
nervous
men
notice
things
.
Far
better
then
to
wait
until
later,
when
all
the
other
men
have
relaxed
again
,
or
else
are
distracted
by
something
else.

So
what
is
Bickersdale’s
man
to
do
with
the
contraband
until
the
right
opportunity
arises
?

He
will
have
to
hide
it
.
And
where
else
would
he
hide
it
but
in
the
salt
store
next
to
the
pan

a
store
which
is
already
crammed
full with
thousands
of
.
blocks
of
salt
,
and
where
,
unless
you
were
actually
looking
for
it
,
a
small
package
will
go
unnoticed?

Blackstone opened his eyes again, smiled triumphantly to himself, and headed in the direction of the salt store.

He should have stopped and asked himself why it had all been
so
easy...should have wondered why Bickersdale had delivered the jewels himself, when he could just as easily have sent one of his underlings to do it...should have questioned the fact that the men had left the pan just at the right moment for him, even though the brine needed their attention.

He
should
have asked all this, but he was so pleased to have got a lucky break that he didn’t.

And when the blow fell, he never even saw it coming.

*

The phone that had been sitting silently at the corner of Archie Patterson’s desk suddenly began to ring, and Patterson felt his heart miss a beat, because this was the special phone—the one that connected him with the madam of the brothel, and
only
with the madam of the brothel.

‘Yes?’ he said, answering the phone in a slightly effeminate squeak, very different from his normal rich, nasal tone.

‘I have a message for that fat friend of yours, the one who dotes on his sister,’ said a harsh female voice on the other end of the line.

‘What is it?’

‘You’re to tell him that the dress he ordered for his darling sister has finally arrived, and that he should pick it up some time today.’

‘Good. I’m sure he’ll be very pleased.’

‘I’ll bet he will!’ The madam laughed, lasciviously. ‘I’ll bet he’s just
bursting
to see it—if you know what I mean!’

‘No,’ Patterson said, ‘I’m afraid I
don’t
know what you mean.’

‘Well, ain’t you the little innocent?’ the madam said scornfully. ‘Anyway, make sure you tell him that dresses like this one are very much in demand, and if he
doesn’t
pick it up today, I’ll sell it to somebody else, and he’ll lose his deposit. Have you got that?’

‘I’ve got it.’

‘That’s what he’s hoping—to get it!’ the madam cackled, and then the line went dead.

Patterson hung up the phone. So she’d procured the girl for him, just as she’d promised. Then it was about time that he paid Gabriel Moore another visit.

*

Blackstone’s head was pounding like a bass drum, but he knew he couldn’t afford to waste any time thinking about that now, because there were other, more urgent matters he had to worry about. He was sure he was moving, but equally sure that he was not doing it of his own volition.

His trunk was pressed up against something hard and muscular, but his head seemed to be upside down and lolling from side to side. His legs, too, seemed to be floating—and there was a hand holding those legs in place that did not belong to him.

‘It’s a pity you’re asleep, you bastard,’ he heard a rough voice say from somewhere close to his ear. ‘I’d have been happier to have you awake when you took your hot bath—so you could have appreciated it more.’

He was being carried, he told himself. He was on somebody’s shoulders and he was being
carried
.

He was glad he’d worked that out, but now he found himself wondering why the air was so steamy. What were you doing just before you blacked out? he asked himself Concentrate! Try to remember!

He’d been in the Number One Pan—
that
was where the steam was coming from!—and he’d been about to enter the salt store. And then what had happened?

‘A
lovely
hot bath!’ crooned the voice.

Blackstone opened his eyes and—because his head was still hanging down—found himself looking at the floor of the salt pan. And beyond that, he saw the edge of the pan itself.

The man who was carrying him came to a halt. And suddenly Blackstone was being lifted clear of the shoulders and held high in the air.

‘You’re heavier than you look, copper,’ Mick Huggins said. ‘Still, I reckon I can hurl you to near the middle of the pan.’

He let his arms slope backwards slightly, to give his throw more momentum. As he tensed himself, Blackstone came to life, twisting violently and propelling himself away from the pan. Blackstone hit the wall with a sickening thud, then slid down on to the floor. He was completely winded, and for the next few seconds he knew that he would be out of action, however much he fought against it.

If Mick Huggins came at him again, he realized, he was finished. But Huggins was having problems of his own. The force that Blackstone had used to throw himself clear had knocked the narrowboat man completely off balance, and he stood teetering at the edge of the pan. For a moment it looked as if he might be able to right himself; then he stumbled and fell head first into the bubbling brine.

Blackstone struggled to his feet and hobbled over to the pan. Huggins had somehow managed to turn himself over so that he was on his back, but the excruciating pain had quickly overcome him, and now he could do no more than scream in agony.

Blackstone reached into the pan, grabbed hold of Huggins’s jacket, and pulled him towards the edge.

Huggins didn’t try to fight him, but he wasn’t helping either. He probably didn’t even know where he was. The pain was all he could think about. The pain was all that existed in the whole world.

Now that Huggins was close to the side, Blackstone could get a double-handed grip on the jacket. Spots of brine splashed on to his hands as he pulled. It hurt like hell, but it was nothing to what Huggins must be feeling.

He heaved the man who had just tried to kill him out of the pan and lowered him to the floor.

Huggins was in a frightful state. There was not an inch of his visible skin which was not blistered, and though his eyes were open, they were sightless. Yet from somewhere deep inside himself he was still finding the strength to continue to roar in agony.

BOOK: Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness
5.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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