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Authors: Andrew Pepper

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BOOK: Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery
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Just outside Ballyporeen Knox came across two men groping for eels in a river – they swore him to silence and offered him a meal of eel cooked over an open fire. The next day on the road to Clogheen, he came across a family who’d left the nearby village the day before. The woman told him that the sickness –
an droch-thinneas
– had killed three families. Close by the village of Ardfinnan he stumbled upon a corpse, maggots feasting on the flesh, and as he neared Cahir, Knox came across a dog, a large mongrel, carrying what looked like human flesh in its jaws. He noted these things without outrage or moral indignation: this was just the way it was. Some nights he slept rough, other nights he lodged with families. He spoke in Irish. No one attacked him; no one tried to rob him. As he neared Clonoulty, he found himself longing for the open road. What was the saying? Better to travel hopefully than to arrive. That was how he felt, but to reassure himself, he would lie awake at night, either under the stars or in strangers’ cabins, and remember the way James smiled, remember the laughter lines around Martha’s eyes, and in those moments he knew that, regardless of what he found at home, he would find the strength to endure.

THIRTY-THREE
TUESDAY, 2 FEBRUARY 1847
Dublin, Co. Dublin

P
yke stood by the window of his lodging-house room, looking down on to the street below, a solitary gas lamp illuminating the wet cobblestones.

Two days earlier, Benedict Pierce had come to this same address. Pyke had written to him to let him know where he was staying.

At that first meeting, Pierce had muttered threats about arresting Pyke and taking him back to London, but he had listened to Pyke’s proposal and in the end he had done what Pyke had asked him to: travel to a small town in Tipperary and convince the authorities there that he, Pyke, was dead; that the body discovered on the estate of Dundrum House was him. Pyke had done his best to lay the groundwork, and make it appear as if he, and not John Johns, had been killed – he’d even left his pistol and precious letters from Felix in the room he’d taken in Dundrum village and paid off the landlord there. Still, he needed Pierce’s help.

‘I wrote to you because I want you to help me disappear.’

Pierce had looked at him strangely. ‘Why would
I
want to help
you
?’

‘If you do, I’ll never return to London, never set foot in Scotland Yard again.’

That had been when Pierce understood. He had nodded once, and he might even have smiled.

Down on the street, Pyke watched as a young boy hurried to catch up with a woman dressed in fine clothes, his mother perhaps. For days now, it seemed, he had wandered the labyrinthine streets of this unfamiliar city, with only his memories to comfort him.

Returning his gaze to the street below, Pyke saw a dog trot past and
heard the wheels of another carriage, a hansom cab this time, grinding to a standstill under his window. Pierce emerged from the cab, told the driver to wait, and looked up at the shabby building. Instinctively, Pyke stepped back from the window; he didn’t want Pierce to see he’d been waiting for him. He listened as Pierce’s footsteps came up the staircase and waited for the knock on the door.

Pierce had taken off his hat and was cradling it in his arms.

‘It’s done,’ he said, removing a piece of paper from the pocket of his black frock-coat. ‘Coroner’s report. You died – wilful murder by a person or persons unknown – on the fourth of January 1847.’

Pyke took the piece of paper and inspected it. So that was it. He was a ghost, a non-person, which was exactly how he felt.

‘Any difficulties?’

‘The constable who investigated the murder looked like he might be getting close to the truth. He knew about Johns and talked about confronting the lord of the manor – Johns’ father, I discovered. I paid this man a visit – Lord Cornwallis. He was only too keen not to rock the boat. He promised to stop the constable from asking any more questions. The official story is that Johns killed you and then fled.’

So it was done. Arthur John Pyke, rest in peace. Pyke tried to summon up something approaching sadness.

‘Once my house is sold, you can keep half of the proceeds, and put my half into a bank. I’ll write to you once I know where I’ll be.’

That had been another part of their agreement. Pierce would never have turned down the chance to feather his nest. Their lives had paralleled each other for many years, Pyke thought, first as Bow Street Runners and latterly as policemen for the Metropolitan Police. Pierce had once been head of the Detective Branch, too. Perhaps, Pyke decided, they were more alike than he had ever cared to admit.

‘And where will you go?’

‘It’s probably too late for me to start over.’ Pyke shrugged. ‘But I can’t stay here and I can’t go back to England. Too many memories.’

Pierce nodded.

‘There are ships leaving every day for Canada and the United States. I fancy New York City.’

‘Where they used to transport convicts.’ Pierce managed a smile.

‘Appropriate, then.’

Pierce passed his hat from hand to hand. Pyke could see he didn’t want to be there. ‘I suppose I should go. My cab is waiting.’

Pyke opened the door and waited for Pierce to pass through. At the last moment, Pierce turned around. ‘I’m sorry about what happened, your son …’

Pyke nodded: there were no words. Instead he shook Pierce’s hand and then watched him disappear down the stairs.

Much later, Pyke lay on his bed and listened to the sounds from the street. It was an end, he thought, this place, this time. But perhaps in another country he would learn to live again.

AFTERWORD

T
hanks to the local history librarians at Merthyr Tydfil and Thurles and to Austin Crowe, owner of the Dundrum House Hotel, for giving me their time and advice and for pointing me in the right direction. I am sure they will be horrified at the liberties I have taken with their carefully arrived at notions of what happened in the 1840s but I am happy to offer a wholly fictionalised account of the past in order to get at some larger historical truths; about the famine in Ireland and the ways in which ironmasters in Wales exploited differences in order to keep their workforces divided and weak. Thanks also to the team at Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Orion, especially my editor Kirsty Dunseath, for helping to put this book together and promoting it and the rest of the Pyke novels. Particular thanks and much love to Debbie who has lived with Pyke at every moment of his journey and wielded her red pen with rigour and humour, and to Marcus and Sadie who have come into our lives and turned things upside down in the best way possible. This book is dedicated to them.

Copyright

A Weidenfeld & Nicolson ebook

First published in Great Britain in 2011 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

This ebook first published in 2011 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Copyright © 2011 Andrew Pepper

The right of Andrew Pepper to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor to be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN: 978 0 297 85625 2

The Orion Publishing Group Ltd

Orion House

5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane

London, WC2H 9EA

An Hachette UK Company

www.orionbooks.co.uk

BOOK: Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery
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