Read Home by Nightfall Online

Authors: Charles Finch

Home by Nightfall

BOOK: Home by Nightfall
4.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

Begin Reading

Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page

 

Thank you for buying this

St. Martin's Press ebook.

 

To receive special offers, bonus content,

and info on new releases and other great reads,

sign up for our newsletters.

 

Or visit us online at

us.macmillan.com/newslettersignup

 

For email updates on the author, click
here
.

 

The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author's copyright, please notify the publisher at:

 

us.macmillanusa.com/piracy
.

 

This book is dedicated to Dennis Popp and Linda Bock, with love, gratitude, and affection.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

What do you say when a line in the acknowledgments isn't enough? I owe so much more than a simple thanks to my editor, Charlie Spicer, and my agent, Elisabeth Weed—two people who love and understand books, who work beautifully in concert, and who have supported me and this novel in innumerable crucial ways. Consider this a placeholder until I can buy each of them a private island.

Charlie's colleagues at St. Martin's have been typically sterling in their efforts on behalf of
Home by Nightfall
, inventive and perceptive: my deepest thanks to Sally Richardson, Andy Martin, Hector DeJean, Sarah Melnyk, April Osborn, Paul Hochman, and Melissa Hastings. The same goes for all of Elisabeth's colleagues at The Book Group, particularly Dana Murphy.

Friendship has never seemed more important to me, and I've been grateful for that of so many different people in the last year, including Rachel Brodhead, Matt McCarthy, John Phillips, and Ben Reiter; Hendrik and Alya Woods; Alexander Uihlein; June Kim and Daniel Hwang; my newest pals, Amelia, Madeleine, Henry, Nathan, and Jane; and so many others, who were probably thanked in the last book or will be in the next.

To Mom, Dad, Rosie, Julia, Henry, Isabelle, and Jamie, my unending affection and my ongoing feeling of wonder that I am lucky enough to be related to you.

Emily, Annabel, Lucy, thank you for being the sweetness of my life, in times that might otherwise have been hard. With you beside me even tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love.

 

CHAPTER ONE

It was a blustery London morning in the autumn of 1876, wind and rain heavy in the trees lining Chancery Lane, and here, damn it all, stood before Charles Lenox something that nobody should have to tolerate before breakfast: a beaming Frenchman.

“What is it, Pointilleux?” he asked.

“I have solve the case.”

“Oh?”

“I believe he has never enter the room at all.”

Lenox sighed. “Are those the papers you're holding? Could I see them?”

“Do you not observe the elegance of it, though! He has
never enter the room at all.

Pointilleux handed over the neat pile of newspapers, face expectant, and Lenox, tired and moody, felt an unbecoming glee at being allowed to dash his enthusiasm. “Three people saw him go into his dressing room. And the glass of wine that he always had waiting for him after a concert was drunk up, all but a few drops.”

Pointilleux's face fell. He was a tall, straight-backed, handsome young person of nineteen, very earnest, with large dark eyes and jet black hair. A late-summer attempt to grow side-whiskers had ended in ignominious defeat; his face was clean-shaven again.

“You are certain?”

“Yes. I had it from the detective inspector himself.”

“This information does not present itself in the newspapers.”

“They're holding back as much as they can to distinguish false tips from real ones. So you'd better keep mum.”

“Mum.” Pointilleux looked dissatisfied. “I was very sure.”

“Better luck next time,” said Lenox, tiredly. He was past forty-five now, and it took more of the day for him to overcome a late night. “And now you'd better get to your desk—I have a great deal to do, and not much time before my first appointment of is due.”

This was true. His professional life had rarely been better, more gratifying, more full of excitement; nor had it often been more exhausting, more burdened with care, more tedious.

Newby, his appointment, was a country fellow, a prosperous brewer of apple cider in Somerset. He arrived precisely at eight o'clock—but looking much battered, red in the face, with mud spattered three-quarters of the way up his trousers.

“You found your way easily enough?” asked Lenox.

Newby gave him a look of outrage. “I call it a pretty kettle of fish,” he said, settling his great bulk into the chair across Lenox's desk, “when a fellow in the prime of his life cannot walk down the streets of England's greatest city without getting trod on by a horse, or knocked about by a woman selling oysters, or pushed over by an omnibus!”

Lenox frowned. “Oh dear.”

“I am accustomed to a pretty hearty traffic in Bristol on market day, too, sir!” he said. “Pretty hearty traffic!”

“That's very bad,” said Lenox.

“These young women selling oysters ought to be in jail.”

“I can have a word with someone.”

“Would you? I think someone should, honestly.”

It was the usual story—London was a hellish place to walk if you weren't accustomed to it. There was a famous story about Charlotte and Anne Brontë coming from the country to visit their publisher; they'd stayed at a hotel not two hundred yards from his offices, but their morning walk to reach it had taken them more than an hour, including long periods for which they stood completely still, in something near blind despair, as foot traffic moved around them.

Lenox, used to it all, the children ducking under the heads of horses, the city men whose strides gulped great stretches of pavement, hadn't had such troubles in many years, but he was happy to spend five further minutes listening to Newby bemoan the impossibility of walking down Holborn Street in broad daylight without being knocked over like a spring flower every thirty seconds, what did they have an empire for at all, and in older days people hadn't been quite so busy and
they
had managed very well if you asked him, thank you, and really things had come to a fine pass—and all that kind of thing, the statement of which gradually lulled Newby into a better mood than Lenox had ever seen him in before. It occurred to Lenox that if he instituted the practice of spending the first ten minutes of every meeting listening to their thoughts on the state of the modern world, his clientele would be the most contented in London.

At last, Newby came to his business. “I'm convinced that our distributor in Bath, Jonathan Fotheringham, is skimming money from us.”

“Can you change distributors?”

“He's our best and only option there, unfortunately.”

Lenox frowned. “What makes you think he's stealing?”

Newby was provincial, but he was no fool. From his valise he pulled a sheaf of papers, which showed that in each of the last five quarters there had been an incremental decline in the revenue of Fotheringham's district, while everywhere else there had been a rise in revenue. Lenox asked a variety of questions—Was it possible there was a new competitor? How long had Fotheringham been a reliable partner?—before at last nodding, thoughtfully, and promising to send Atkinson to Bath.

“Is he good?”

“Our top man,” said Lenox, nodding. “He was at Scotland Yard until last year. First person we hired.”

“What about you, or Strickland, or Dallington? The fellows on the nameplate?”

“They're both on cases, and I'm working primarily in a supervisory capacity nowadays. Believe me, Atkinson is excellent. If I didn't take this seriously, I would send our new chap, Davidson. He's promising, but greener than one of your apples.”

Newby seemed satisfied by the answer. He accepted a fortifying glass of sherry, then rose and braced himself to wade back into the midden of London, with a grave final word before he left about the city's general decline, and what it portended for them all.

These were Lenox's days now. About ten months before, at the start of the year, he and three other people had started the first detective agency in England. After a difficult beginning, particularly for Lenox, who had spent the better part of the previous decade sitting in Parliament, falling hopelessly out of practice as a criminal investigator, they had made a success of it.

Well—something of a success. One of the partners, the Frenchman LeMaire, had left the firm during its initial wobbles, certain that it would never make a profit, and founded a competing agency of his own. Fortunately, just when LeMaire's pessimism seemed as if it might have been quite clear-eyed, the three remaining partners had found their feet. In part this was because the other two were superb: Lord John Dallington, an aristocrat of nearly thirty, and Polly Buchanan, an enterprising young widow who worked as “Miss Strickland” and was a specialist in all the small mysteries the middle class produced, stolen silver, vanished fiancées, that sort of thing.

An even greater percentage of their success came from Lenox, who had theretofore been far and away the least productive of them all. The difficulty had been some resistance in him, at first, to treating it as a
business—
a gentleman by birth, with a private fortune, in his previous life he had been an amateur detective, working from his town house in the West End, taking cases as it pleased him.

When he had finally realized—after those crushing first months, after LeMaire's departure—that he was actually in trade now, his attitude had changed. With systematic determination, he had set out with a new idea: that he would win clients from the City, the business world. Using all of his many contacts from Parliament and the social sphere in which he and his wife, Lady Jane, moved, he had amassed some two dozen regulars just like Newby, who kept Lenox, Strickland, and Dallington on retainer. They were the agency's prizes, their names and files kept in a small gray safe, secure from the snooping eyes of anyone who might be willing to offer them to LeMaire. The firm regularly checked in on each of these clients, and also remained on call should anything unusual occur—a work stoppage, the theft of materials or money, bookkeeping discrepancies. Lenox and his colleagues prided themselves on handling such issues much more quickly and adeptly than Scotland Yard could. That speed and discretion was where they made their fees worthwhile.

The triumph of this strategy—the agency had had to hire four additional detectives now, and several more clerks—had come at some cost to Lenox. It was the beginning of October now, and he hadn't personally handled a case since July. Instead he spent a great deal of his time managing men like Newby and delegating their problems to the firm's active detectives, Atkinson, Weld, Mayhew, and now Davidson. Polly had her small but lucrative cases to handle—“Miss Strickland” continued to advertise in the papers—and Dallington his own idiosyncratic custom, much of it criminal, which came in part from the close work with the Yard that Lenox had handed down to him upon taking up his political career.

BOOK: Home by Nightfall
4.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk
Snake by Kate Jennings
The Guardians (Book 2) by Dan O'Sullivan
The Way Home by Becky Citra
Perilous Pranks (Renaissance Faire Mystery) by Lavene, Joyce, Lavene, Jim
Ten Tales Tall and True by Alasdair Gray
Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines