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Authors: Andrew Pepper

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Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery

BOOK: Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery
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Also by Andrew Pepper

The Last Days of Newgate

The Revenge of Captain Paine

Kill-Devil and Water

The Detective Branch

BLOODY
WINTER

ANDREW PEPPER

Weidenfeld & Nicolson
London

For Sadie and Marcus

Since then the smelters whose brick stacks stuck up tall against a gloomy mountain to the south had yellow-smoked everything into uniform dinginess. The result was an ugly city of forty thousand people, set in an ugly notch between two ugly mountains that had been all dirtied up by mining.

DASHIELL HAMMETT
,
Red Harvest

Contents

Also by Andrew Pepper

Part I: Dirty Town –

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Part II: Hinterland –

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Part III: Requiem –

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Afterword

Copyright

PART I
*
Dirty Town –
ONE
FRIDAY, 11 DECEMBER 1846
Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

S
nowflakes the size of half-shilling coins fell from inky skies, a few inches settling on frozen ground, the dirt and mud hidden beneath a dazzling layer of white. It made the town seem almost pleasant, lending it a magical quality it most definitely didn’t deserve. The snow, which would be gone by the morning, a lie upon a lie. Welcome to Merthyr. Welcome
back
to Merthyr. Welcome to the dirtiest town in the kingdom.

Pyke passed through the army checkpoint without arousing the suspicion of the bored soldiers, two rosy-cheeked men who made Pyke think of his son Felix. Pushing this thought to the back of his mind, he kept his eyes focused on the snow. If the men had been instructed to look for him, he decided, they seemed to have forgotten. Their rifles were slung lazily over their shoulders and they were more interested in a young woman on the other side of the street.

He had just crossed Jackson’s Bridge over the River Taff and continued now along Jackson Street towards the centre of the town. The icy weather had driven people indoors, leaving the streets nearly deserted. Perhaps, Pyke mused, the troops had also played their part. As he walked, he ruminated on the irony of it all. This was a situation he had conspired to bring about and yet, now it had come to pass, he did not welcome it with any enthusiasm.

With the snow and the eerie quiet, it felt like the end of the world; or perhaps just the end of
his
world. The shops in the town centre were still boarded up and the old courthouse was guarded by two soldiers. They stood on the steps, stamping their feet and blowing into their hands. Pyke checked the windows for any sign of light but
he saw nothing. As he stood there, he tried to take in the full horror of what had happened inside. The building seemed deserted, a fact confirmed by one of the soldiers when Pyke asked to see Sir Clancy Smyth.

Did either of them know where the magistrate was?

The soldiers looked at each other and shrugged.

Mostly to get out of the cold, Pyke headed for the nearest pub, the Falcon on High Street. At the counter in the taproom, he pointed at a cask of ale rather than opening his mouth to order – doing so would draw attention to his Englishness. But no one paid him any attention, and inevitably what little conversation there was turned to recent events. The two men nearest to him were speaking in English. Pyke heard everything he needed to know within a few minutes.

Benjamin Griffiths was dead.

John Wylde had been arrested for his murder and was languishing in the station-house.

The two ironmasters were trying in vain to shore up their operations. Josiah Webb’s Morlais works had temporarily been closed down and most of his family had departed for London. Jonah and Zephaniah Hancock, owners of the Caedraw ironworks, had retreated to their family pile in Hampshire.

The part of town known as China was under curfew and martial law, as were parts of Dowlais and Pennydarren and the areas bordering Caedraw’s ironworks. Scores of Irishmen, some Welshmen and a handful of policemen and soldiers had been injured or killed in the disturbances. Yynsgall chapel in Dowlais and a Welsh Wesleyan chapel on High Street had been burned to the ground, while much of Quarry Row lay in ruins.

None of this was unexpected.

Pyke had travelled for a day without stopping and he felt exhausted – tired down to his very bones. After one mug of ale he felt light-headed; he decided not to have another, even though the fire spitting in the grate had been the first welcome sight of the day. Lacing up his boots, Pyke stood up and pulled his greatcoat around his aching body. The wound where he’d been shot hurt each time he moved too quickly.

Ignoring the bruises on his feet and the icy wind, Pyke retraced his steps as far as Jackson’s Bridge. He passed through the same
checkpoint and scrambled down the bank of the river to the path that ran along the edge of the canal. Snow was falling but it had eased enough for him to see the glow of the nearest cinder tip. Everything was quiet except for the clanking of chains at Caedraw.
Short of a strike, nothing, not a snowstorm nor a drought, would bring the works to a standstill
. Jonah Hancock’s words.

Pyke walked in a southerly direction for the best part of an hour. He knew what was keeping him going but it remained something he wouldn’t –
couldn’t
– think about. Instead he focused on the next step and the one after that, his breath condensing on his woollen muffler then freezing. Eventually he came upon the house. Its name – Blenheim – a testament to the bloated ambition of its owner. It was just as he remembered it: not stately but smaller and more run down than it initially appeared. Approaching the house from the line of trees to the north, Pyke took care not to draw attention to himself, the snow muffling his footsteps as he made his way along the gravel path. Candlelight burned in what Pyke recalled was the window of the study. It told him that Smyth was at home.

At the front door, he paused for a few moments, readying himself, the tension in his stomach helping to restore the circulation to his feet. Then without warning, he lifted up his right boot and kicked the door open, the wooden frame splintering under the impact. Pyke crossed the threshold, the pistol already in his hand.

Alerted by the noise, the occupant of the study shuffled out to confront him, but it was the butler rather than the magistrate himself, a frail old man with arms like twigs. He saw Pyke’s expression and the gleaming metal in his hand and froze.

Even though the first words that tumbled from his pale lips were ‘He’s not here’, Pyke couldn’t, wouldn’t, allow himself to believe it. He had come too far and been subjected to too much.

Raising the pistol, Pyke pressed the end of the barrel against the man’s terrified face and, just for a second, the rush of anger within him was so intense, so unexpected, that he almost squeezed the trigger. Instead, he asked where Smyth was, and when the butler didn’t answer immediately, Pyke prised apart the man’s gums and pushed the barrel so deep into his mouth that the servant began to retch.

Disgusted, Pyke withdrew the pistol. Whatever had billowed up inside him suddenly ebbed away like the parting of the tide.

‘Where is he?’

The butler gave him a glassy stare. ‘Ireland.’

Pyke nodded. Smyth had once talked about his ancestral home there. ‘Tipperary?’

The old man’s stare drifted over Pyke’s shoulder. ‘That would be my guess.’

‘When did he leave?’

‘Been gone two or three weeks now.’

‘And did he say when he’d be back?’

‘He didn’t even tell me he was going.’ The butler shrugged. ‘If I had to guess, I wouldn’t say any time soon.’

Later, as he watched the house from the same line of trees he’d hidden in earlier, Pyke thought about how he’d humiliated a defenceless old man who’d done nothing more than obey his master’s wishes. He watched for an hour to make sure that Smyth wasn’t there, but no one apart from the butler appeared in any of the windows. Eventually the old man closed the curtains and there was nothing left for Pyke to do. It would take him another hour to walk back to Merthyr and as Pyke set off, the wind howling shrilly in his ears, he kept coming back to the same thought.

Nothing at all good had come of his time in Merthyr. And nothing good was likely to come of it, either.

TWO
TUESDAY, 5 JANUARY 1847
Dundrum, Co. Tipperary

M
ichael Knox trudged across the spongy ground a few paces behind the agent. It was the first time he had met the new man and his immediate impressions weren’t at all good. Knox had expected arrogance, of course, but given that the man’s predecessor had been shot and killed, he had expected the agent to betray at least some doubt and perhaps even a little humility. Yet Jonathan Maxwell treated Knox like one of his labourers, barking orders and expecting them to be followed. He had even berated Knox for his time-keeping.

‘Down here,’ Maxwell grunted. He turned off the flint track and clambered down the bank towards the murky water of the stream. Dead leaves crunched underfoot and a solitary blackbird called from the branch of a tree. ‘Nothing’s been touched,’ he added.

Knox had seen plenty of corpses, more in the last few weeks than he could count, but he had never led a murder inquiry. Already he felt the weight of responsibility. They walked around the body a few times, staring down at the stab wound in the middle of the dead man’s stomach. Reading Knox’s mind, Maxwell said, ‘We looked for the knife but couldn’t find it.’


His Lordship has specifically requested that you look into this matter
.’

Sub-inspector Hastings had gone to Knox’s cottage to deliver the order in person. No other explanation had been forthcoming.


This is not a good thing
,’ his wife, Martha, had said, as soon as the sub-inspector left. Knox was inclined to agree.

The corpse seemed untouched. It was a small miracle that a fox or rats hadn’t feasted on the dead flesh. From the tree, the blackbird watched them in silence. Knox took a closer look at the body,
watching his breath condense in the cold air. ‘Do you know who he is?’ he asked eventually.

Maxwell shook his head. ‘A couple of the boys said he wasn’t from around here.’ He sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. ‘I’d say he was a vagrant, a poacher looking to steal from his Lordship’s table.’

Just before Christmas, an unknown assassin had followed Maxwell’s predecessor home and shot him in the face. During the spring and summer, acting on behalf of Lord Cornwallis, the man had overseen the eviction of more than a hundred families from their land.

Knox crouched down next to the dead man, trying not to get his knees wet. The deceased’s lips were blue and swollen and his eyes were glassy. Knox put the man’s age at forty or thereabouts. He had thick, dark hair and Knox guessed he had been quite handsome. The man was fully clothed, apart from his frock-coat, which lay tangled in the bushes near by. Knox riffled through the pockets. The fancy label inside the frock-coat indicated it had been made by a tailor in London.

BOOK: Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery
3.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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