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Blood and Shadows

I don't usually post pieces from books that are in progress rather than finished, as so many things may change before they even see a publisher, but jansma asked me for a bit of one I mentioned in my last monthly update, a book I'm working on with Amy Griswold from the Legacy series. It's a historical fantasy/thriller set in New York in 1979, where a mysterious series of murders have attracted the attention of a very different lodge, the Mysterium. This is a flashback section from fairly early in the book with two of the main characters. I'd love to hear what you think!



A cold fog wreathed Piccadilly, turning the crescent of Georgian houses insubstantial in the mist, lighted windows hanging like the stern castles of ships above the damp streets. Freddie had waited for more than an hour, but it was not too long. Sooner or later the man would emerge. Perhaps he'd wait for a cab. Or perhaps a carriage would be brought around. But sooner or later he would come out.

The lights shone on, not penetrating the shadow of the area rail two houses down. Music drifted insubstantial as fairy beckonings from another house, but the one he watched was silent. Two windows upstairs were lit, as though it were simply another respectable house where the inhabitants were preparing to retire.

A carriage came around at five until midnight. That was the cue. It must have been directed to come for him at midnight. Freddie stepped out of the shadow, his hands away from his sides. It wouldn't do to be mistaken for a cutpurse. He began to walk purposefully up the street, a man on business of his own.

The front door opened. Two men stood there, one no doubt the host, as he was not dressed for outdoors, young and slight and handsome, his hair a little longer than the current fashion like an aesthete. And the other was his quarry.

The man put his top hat on over wavy dark hair, a pleasant clean-shaven face, turned to shake the host's hand and take his leave. Then he started down the steps.

Freddie stopped directly between him and the carriage. "Mr. Haines."

The gentleman drew himself up. "Inspector Abberline," he said without pleasure or surprise. "This is unexpected. Should I assume you investigate some new evil unleashed on our city?"

"Rather an old evil, Mr. Haines," Freddie said. He stood unmoving. "Very old, I think."

In the doorway the host moved.

Haines raised a hand. "It's all right, Percy," he said. "The inspector is an old friend." He smiled genially. "It's a devil of night. May I offer you a ride, Inspector?" He gestured to the carriage.

"Thank you," Freddie said. Of all times this wasn't the one to show fear. He turned his back and got into the carriage ahead of Haines, who waited until the carriage was in motion before he spoke.

"It's been ten years since the Ripper cases," Haines said. "Surely you don't want to talk to me about that? You haven't been reading that drivel in the illustrated papers about Masonic conspiracies, have you? Isn't it time to let that case lie?"

"And let the dead rest in peace?" Freddie glanced sideways at the man in the dark. "Those poor women will never rest in peace while their murderer goes free, and I don't intend to rest either."

"You think he goes free then?" Haines' voice was balanced, his face in shadow. The horse's hooves were muffled on the rainy cobbles.

"And you don't?"

"I merely alluded to the theories that blame that poor suicide, what was his name? Perhaps Jack the Ripper is dead." There was the sound of Haines shifting, and Freddie tensed. "And what man should be free, with such horrible things on his conscience?"

"His conscience is a matter for God," Freddie said. "Justice is a matter for the Crown, and by God I intend to see it served."

Light shifted in through the window as they passed a gas lamp, Haines' face smooth and pleasant. "An admirable sentiment, Inspector. But I don't see how I can help you. You interviewed me ten years ago, and I have no new information."

"Perhaps I have better questions," Freddie said. "Mr. Haines, where were you born and when?"

There was a momentary pause. "In Dorsetshire," he said. "On October 21, 1840."

"Really?" Freddie waited, his hands itching. This was the gamble, the fatal throw. "You're very well preserved for your age. Fifty-nine, are you?"

"I enjoy good health."

"Very good, for a man in his third century." Freddie waited.

There was a soft chuckle. "How amusing, Inspector Abberline."

"As amusing as using your own name in London, assuming that enough time has passed that surely everyone has forgotten Joseph Haines? Or that if they remember, it's that you share a name with a man long dead? A comic actor of some note, wasn't he? And you are quite the actor, Mr. Haines."

Silence, broken only by the sound of the hooves on the street. Another lamp, and light slid across Haines' face. He wasn't smiling. He was watching with an expression of keen interest entirely different from his usual persona. "And?"

"I think the Ripper is another like you," Freddie said, his hand still closed around the butt of the bulldog in his overcoat pocket. "I think you know who he is and where he is."

Haines sighed, and for a moment he looked old, at least as old as fifty-nine. "I wish I knew where he was." His eyes met Freddie's. "But I don't. I have been entirely straightforward with you about that. I have no idea where he is or what he is doing. I suspect that he has left England, but his destination is as much a mystery to me as to you. The only way I will know that is to wait."

"Until what?"

Haines didn't look away. "Until the news reports filter back of more killings." A chill crept down Freddie's back. "But they may not, not for a decade or more, until they happen in some civilized corner of the world where the police take dead doxies seriously. And when I hear that they have happened in Sydney or San Francisco, it will be too late. By the time the fastest steamer on Earth could reach there he would be gone again."

"There must be something…."

"Do you not think I have tried?" Haines demanded. "Do you think I have not tried these two hundred and some years? I might have caught him ten years ago if not for the invaluable assistance of the Metropolitan Police Department!" He snorted. "Rippermania! The public up in arms, forming vigilante patrol groups! How the devil is one supposed to bait the trap with you about? He was off again before we could close it."

Freddie nodded quietly, things clicking into place like gears. "The prostitute I saw you talking with that night in Whitehall…."

"Was an actress, Inspector," Haines said. "A very brave woman to set herself out as bait while we watched. But then you blew in with your men to her rescue! Ma'am don't you know these streets are dangerous?" He looked at Freddie, dawning comprehension in his face. "You thought I was the Ripper."

"I thought you might be," Freddie said. "Your behavior was suspicious enough."

Haines shook his head. "And so you investigated me, which accounted for my difficulty of every attempt at capturing the Ripper involving an army of Bobbies!" He looked at Freddie. "And so we both come up empty handed."

For a long moment the carriage wheels were the only sound.

Freddie closed his eyes. So close, and so many risks, only to find another dead end, just like every one that he'd found since he'd been ordered off the case ten years ago. Another dead end. Another blinded justice.

"I don't know where the Ripper is, Inspector Abberline," Haines said quietly. "Nor can I guess his next victim any better than you. The case is over. He won't return to London for decades, and by the time he does you will be long retired or at peace in your grave. Let it be, Inspector."

Freddie opened his eyes. "No," he said. "I can't, and I won't. I'm going to find him, and you are going to tell me everything you know that could be of help." His eyes met Haines' firmly. "So help me, I will do this if it takes the rest of my life. I will bring those women justice."

Something flickered, some tremor moving across Haines' face before it was stilled, but he said only, "Inspector, you have come in for the third act of a very long and tragic tale."

"Tragic?"

"Oh yes," Haines said. "Tragic for all concerned, though it began well enough. Tragedies always do. That's what makes them tragedies, not merely plays in which a multitude of distresses fall upon unsuspecting persons. They come as the results of fatal flaws that are within. The seeds of the tragedy must show in the first scene, so that the audience may see that no matter how each poor mortal struggles against the coils of the net it is his or her own qualities that only draw it tighter."

Freddie swallowed. "And this net?"

Haines seemed lost in thought, his glance straying to the gray streets outside as though he saw ghosts there, the shadows of what these streets had been in the era only he remembered. "Love, and the desire for knowledge. Two beautiful things, Abberline. And yet what cuts as sharp as love?"

Freddie took a long breath, but he did not have to ask Haines to continue.

"What binds more tightly than the desire to know? I imagine you're well acquainted with those emotions yourself. What would you give to know, to solve the mystery for once and all? Would it be worth your immortal soul?"

"Perhaps," Freddie said.

Haines met his eyes. "And what would it be worth to have your wife back? You see, I know a little bit about you too, Inspector Abberline."

Freddie said nothing, only waited in the dark.

"And there begins the play," Haines said. "Love and the desire for knowledge, and a time when everything seemed possible." His voice held a smile. "How can it not when one is young and beautiful and talented and certain that the world is reborn? From such arrogance are mortal transgressions made."

"And regretted?" Freddie spoke before he could help himself.

"Not entirely, Inspector." Haines glanced at him again. "It hasn't been all dark. I'd like to think we've made things of beauty and value too. We have preserved some things worth preserving, and perhaps the value of our achievements outweighs the price of our failures." He shrugged. "But those costs were not on our minds in the beginning. Not in the summer of sixteen hundred and sixty two."

"Tell me," Freddie said. He moistened his lips again. "Tell me who the Ripper is."

Haines leaned back in his seat, his face still. "Once," he said, "there was a young Flemish merchant named Johan Behn…."


(Yes, Freddie Abberline may seem familiar. He is a historical person who was played by Johnny Depp in the movie From Hell. Joseph Haines is likewise a historical person.)

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
geonncannon
Mar. 20th, 2013 07:57 pm (UTC)
I normally don't like reading works-in-progress, but this is making me all kinds of excited. "Can't even wait for the sneak peek you so graciously give me" excited. ;D
jo_graham
Mar. 20th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you think it looks good! (And a highly appropriate icon!) :D
geonncannon
Mar. 20th, 2013 08:09 pm (UTC)
I thought so! ;D
sockich
Mar. 20th, 2013 09:25 pm (UTC)
Oooh, shiny! Definitely can't wait to see more of this.
jo_graham
Mar. 21st, 2013 10:51 am (UTC)
Thank you! It's a work in progress!
amycat8733
Mar. 20th, 2013 10:53 pm (UTC)
I like. When does it come out?
jo_graham
Mar. 21st, 2013 10:52 am (UTC)
Thank you!

Not for a long time! This is the one we're working on now, just getting well started, so it will be very nearly forever! :)
jansma
Mar. 22nd, 2013 12:16 am (UTC)
*bounce* Thank you, thank you, and I can't wait to see more. Eventually, of course.
jo_graham
Mar. 22nd, 2013 05:20 pm (UTC)
Very eventually! :D We're in the early stages.

(I'm private messaging you -- just a heads up if you don't normally look for PMs)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )