Turnbull House (BSB, 2014): London, 1891. The newest Ira Adler mystery. In order to save a youth shelter, Ira makes a deal with a devil from his past. Chaos ensues.
The Left Hand of Justice (BSB, 2013): Paris, 1828. Supernatural terror stalks the Paris streets, and the only one who can put out the fire is disgraced Detective Inspector Elise Corbeau…whose boss wants her dead.
The Trickster Codex (BSB, 2012) : Los Angeles, 1943. Flatfoot Amy Archer just wants to pay the rent. Unfortunately, fate, the Gods, and the FBI have other plans.
The Affair of the Porcelain Dog (BSB, 2011) : London, 1889. Former street tough Ira Adler has one job: find the porcelain dog. But everyone else is after it, too, and they’re playing for blood.
(c) 2013 Jess Faraday
November of 1891 was the autumn of my discontent. Melodramatic, yes. But if one is to understand the chain of foolish and self-destructive actions that I undertook over the course of that month, one must first understand the depths of that discontent, as well as its roots.
The past five years had taken me from furtive back-alley gropes in the shadows of Whitechapel to a life of luxurious indolence amid the lace curtains and aspidistras of York Street, then much of the way back down again. I’d spent a pleasant two years being spoilt by Cain Goddard, London’s best educated and possibly best-dressed crime lord. But ultimately, even a gilded cage begins to press in on a person—especially when one’s nascent conscience decides, in spite of one’s fondest wishes, to expand. How fortunate I was that, in his generosity—and in an effort to add realism to his claim that I was his live-in confidential secretary—Goddard had also taught me a trade.
And that was where I found myself that November: in a flat on Aldersgate Street, which, though squalid, was mine—paid for by the sweat of my brow or, more precisely, by the ink on my fingers—with no obligation to any man. The single room was drafty in winter, sweltering in the summer, and the landlord thought indoor plumbing was an idea best left to the fevered imagination of that Gallic popinjay, Verne. Still, it was preferable to sleeping on my feet, leaning against a rope with twenty other men in some Dorset Street doss house. And I had no interest in living off the generosity of some rich man until he grew bored with me. Until my situation changed, my present lodgings were the only palatable option.
And until Wilde paid me the outrageous sum he owed, my situation would not be changing any time soon.
That was another element of my discontent. I’d spent the summer revising and typewriting that masterpiece of fluff and fatuousness, The Picture of Dorian Gray, only to have Wilde flounce off to Paris with his entourage the week before he’d promised payment. The betrayal had surprised me. Up to that point, he’d been a singularly congenial employer, even after I’d turned down his advances. I had my theories regarding his sudden change in character, but theories don’t keep the tobacco tin filled, don’t subsidize evenings out, and don’t pay the rent.
If it wasn’t enough, my carnal needs had gone neglected for a very, very long time.
So when you ask me why in the name of Guy Fawkes and the Queen I would open the door to a newly unshackled felon, invite him inside, and plow him like a fertile field against the wall, you will understand not only how I would endanger myself and my meager possessions in such a careless manner, but also how I could fail to foresee how this one lapse in judgment would set in motion a cascade of events that would shake the very foundation of what I’d thought was my world.
You might also understand how even if I had foreseen it, I probably wouldn’t have given a fuck.
(c) 2012 Jess Faraday
The little boy’s voice at her door pulled Inspector Elise Corbeau back from warm, dreamless sleep–back into the biting bone-chill of the Paris night. The boy, Joseph, was her eyes and ears in the slums of the Montagne Ste. Geneviève. When things went bump in the night, he was the one who came to fetch her. And since the new Chief Inspector had shut down the Bureau of Supernatural Investigations, a lot of things had been going bump.
“Inspector, open up!”
“It’s still dark,” she muttered, throwing off the covers. Her head was thick with sleep. But at least she’d slept a good few hours since her bones had hit the mattress, and at least the night had sent Joseph and not another of Ugly Jacques’s men.
Joseph began to batter the door with the end of his wooden leg.
“Peace, child. I’m coming.”
Corbeau reached for the lamp on the wobbly bedside table and gave it a shake. Finding it nearly empty, she set it back down without lighting it. Her room was as spare as a monk’s, and less than eight long paces across. She’d save the oil for when she really needed it.
Gingerly, she pulled herself upright, cradling her head in her hands. Her skull felt like an eggshell. A woolen dress lay crumpled at the foot of the bed. She pulled it over her nightshirt and cinched a thick leather belt around her waist. Then she slid head and shoulder through the strap of a rectangular bag, which contained the tools that had been issued to every Bureau agent: bottles of iron filings, holy water, and salt–the dearest of the three and the lowest in supply. The bag also contained a rosary and a small, fat book of prayers in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. She pulled a box from under the bed and added half a dozen of the tablets she had compounded the week before. The original recipe, a mild sedative, had come from her mother, a healer. Over time Corbeau had used her own knowledge and experience to refine it into an invaluable tool for subduing the natural and supernatural alike.
She tied back her stringy blond hair and stretched her neck and shoulders. Her left arm ached where Ugly Jacques’s collector had tried to separate it from her body earlier that night. With any luck, the next one wouldn’t find her before she could collect her miserable pay at the beginning of the month. But just in case, she pulled her truncheon from its place between the bed and the wall, and tucked it into her belt as well.
She dragged herself across cold, bare wood to the door. Rattling open the locks, she blinked down at Joseph through bleary eyes. The darkness was so thick, she could only make out the edges of his shape. But, like the landscape of her apartment, she didn’t need flickering paraffin light to know what she would see: a pinched, white face with light brown eyes, brown hair the texture of straw sticking out from under a brown cloth cap, and some other child’s cast-off clothes hanging like rags from his birdlike limbs. As he shifted from side to side, she heard the unmistakable squeak of new boot-leather. She wondered who had bought him shoes.
“Another one?” she asked, pushing back a yawn.
“‘Fraid so, Inspector.”
“That makes three, then.”
Three supernatural disturbances in the slum that week. Michel Bertrand was the first–a stout young man with the whiff of the stables about him, half-insane from nightmares he insisted were coming true. Then there was Claudine Fournier, a surprisingly refined young woman given the broken-down rooming house where Corbeau had found her. Mademoiselle Fournier, too was troubled by nightmares. Only her nightmares were manifesting themselves in this world through spontaneous fires and glass objects bursting from no other cause than Mademoiselle looking at them. Corbeau had subdued the nightmares, but had left with singed hair and fingertips. Corbeau had managed to settle Bertrand and Fournier before the nouvellistes de bouche–the gossipmongers who made their living selling rumors to the scandal sheets–had caught wind of them, but if things kept going like this, it would only be a matter of time.
During her tenure with the now-defunct Bureau of Supernatural Investigations–before the new Chief Inspector had demoted her to fetching coffee and filing papers–Detective Inspector Elise Corbeau had answered such calls as a matter of course. Only a handful of incidents had necessitated actual spiritual intervention. But the recent incidents were different. Corbeau hadn’t been able to trace these disturbances to whistling wind or seeping damp. And she no longer had the support of the Bureau, her fellow agents, or their leader and mentor, Eugène Vidocq.
The floorboards felt like ice beneath her feet. Corbeau glanced longingly back at her narrow bed piled high with covers rapidly losing their warmth.
“It’s in our building this time,” Joseph said, no doubt sensing her hesitation. Ugly Jacques wasn’t the only one Corbeau owed. Joseph’s mother would be sending for Corbeau every time something went bump in her night for the rest of her life. And Corbeau would drop everything and go.
Corbeau sighed. “Let me get my coat.”
She pulled on stockings, laced up her boots, and ushered the boy back into the tight blackness of the hallway. She buttoned her coat as they felt their way down the hall. There were candle stubs and a tinderbox in her pocket, but she wouldn’t squander them on the stairwell that she knew better in darkness than in daylight. Seconds later she and Joseph had wound their way down three cramped and creaky flights of stairs, and stood shivering on the street in the weak light of an unreliably maintained street lamp.
“Hard night?” Joseph asked.
“Hm? Oh…” Her hand went to her face, fingers probing the tender, swelling cheek that throbbed in the early November chill. No doubt the skin was already turning an impressive shade of purple. “Something like that.”
She threw him a rueful glance. No nine-year-old should know the name of Paris’s most notorious moneylender. Less still should he know about Corbeau’s own financial difficulties. The Saint Christopher medal she’d given him glinted from the band of his cap.
“A little excessive for two weeks’ pay,” she muttered, abandoning the pretense of protecting him. “Of course the way prices are rising, he probably wants to get his money while it’s still worth something.”
“I bet you taught his man a lesson, though,” Joseph said with a smirk.
Corbeau grinned. Then winced as pain shot through her head. She had left the bastard unconscious on the floor of Oubliette in a pool of broken glass and cheap wine. It had been a shameful waste of wine.
“Don’t suppose you’ve got cab fare, then,” Joseph said.
Corbeau’s eyes went to his wooden leg. She didn’t know how he’d gotten to her building, but he probably couldn’t walk all the way back home. Although he certainly seemed sprightly that night. She looked again. “Where’s your crutch?”
Joseph usually limped along on a wooden post strapped to his leg just below the knee. Having had the apparatus since he was four, he’d become adept enough to become a useful messenger, provided he could catch a ride now and then. Without the crutch, though, he had a slow, lurching gait, like a drunkard.
But just now he’d scrambled down the stairs in front of her, unassisted and as nimble as a goat. She peered closer at his new boots. Two of them.
“You’ve got a foot under there,” Corbeau said.
He grinned. “A proper one, with hinges on the ankle and toes.”
“You steal it?”
“Naw,” he said with mock offense. “It was payment for a job well done. The shoes, too.”
“What kind of job?”
“Now, Inspector, how could I get the kind of work that pays in shoes if I went around running my mouth to the police?”
(c) 2011 Jess Faraday
The infrequently patronized offices of Amelia Archer, Private Investigator–that is, me–sit on top of a squat brown brick building in downtown Los Angeles. It’s a dump. The water is unreliable and the wiring downright dangerous. But between the war and the fact that nobody hires the city’s only female dick with that bastard Philip Marlowe hanging around, I’m lucky to have it. My office is on the eighth floor, and the elevator is always broken. After a year and change, I had a caboose like a marble statue and I could run up the stairs in heels without breaking a sweat.
I like to look on the bright side.
That day, I’d barely had time to toss my hat on the rack, light up a smoke, and put my size nines up on my desk when she walked through the door. Now the dame hadn’t been waiting when I got there, and I sure as Shinola hadn’t heard anyone on the stairs behind me. But who was I to complain? My first walk-in in weeks, and she was five-and-a-half feet of gorgeous, with shoulders like a general, black hair and eyes, and skin like red desert clay. She held herself straight and proud, and though she was wearing a tailored jacket and skirt, when I looked at her, I saw her barefoot and in buckskin on some high desert plain, that black hair no longer restrained by pins and fedora, but whipping free around her shoulders in the wind.
“What’s up, Tiger Lily?” I asked.
Wednesday, July 3, 1889
Wednesday’s letter arrived in the evening post– a brief but pointed threat scrawled across ordinary white stationery in a startling lavender ink. But Goddard hadn’t filed this one neatly behind the gilded cigarette box on the mantel with its predecessors. Instead, he had cast it down like a gauntlet onto the table between our twin armchairs. Hours later it remained like an uninvited guest.
“‘I know what you are’,” Goddard picked it up and read aloud. “‘Soon, the police will know as well. Unless.'”
“Unless what?” I asked.
Not that it mattered. Cain Goddard, aka The Duke of Dorset Street, did not negotiate with blackmailers. At that moment, his entire network of spies, cracksmen, bludgers, urchins and whores were scouring London in search of the person who dared threaten a criminal of his stature. When they found him, his skin wouldn’t be worth a farthing.
But what if they didn’t find him?
I imagined being led away in shackles, never again to put my feet up on the mahogany desk before the window, run my fingers over the leather-bound volumes lining the walls, or drape myself across the olive-colored velvet divan where Goddard had taken my hand and asked me to stay. At that time, I swore I would never return to Whitechapel. But even Whitechapel would be preferable to prison–and prison it would surely be, should the police learn the nature of Goddard’s and my domestic arrangement.
The grandfather clock in the entryway struck eleven. Goddard fingered his mustache thoughtfully then shrugged.
“To convict us of criminal sodomy, dear boy,” he said, patting my cheek on his way to the drink cart, “would require evidence that simply does not exist. Whiskey?”
I relaxed as the liquor burned its way toward my stomach. We’d been discreet. Only Goddard’s manservant had any inkling I was anything but a confidential secretary. Though the man had never liked me, Goddard paid too well for him to go telling tales.
“To convict me, on the other hand—” he continued.
How he could laugh when the cold fingers of panic were reaching for my throat was anyone’s guess. Thus far, no one outside of Goddard’s tight coterie connected Dr. Cain Goddard, the self-effacing night lecturer at King’s College, with the hated, feared Duke of Dorset Street. But once the police had him for buggery, it would all come out. Even if I did manage to slip away into the night, I’d be back on the streets—two years older, broke, and far too spoilt to go back to selling my arse.
“Ah, the mistakes of youth,” Goddard said. “I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but now that it has, how fortunate I am to have a nimble-fingered young protégé to set things right.”
He glanced at me over the cut crystal glasses.
“You can’t mean me,” I said.
“Come now. I need you, Ira. Not to warm my bed this time or run messages on the wrong side of town. I need you to retrieve something for me, something I’d feared lost, but which has now been found. My freedom, and, I daresay yours, depends on it. Can I depend on you?”
I looked around our beloved morning room. The armchairs in front of the fireplace, the rack of expensive, unused rifles over the doorway, the dearth of gewgaws and knick-knacks with which most people felt the need to litter their living spaces—after two years ensconced in this unspeakable luxury, how could I go back to doorways and doss-houses?
“I–I suppose,” I stammered.
“Excellent. My carriage is waiting outside. The driver will take you to a pawnshop on Dorset Street, where you will find a black porcelain hound of unusual repugnancy. Bring it back, and our blackmailer won’t have a wooden leg to stand on.”
I laughed. A simple burglary in my home territory. With my talent for locks, it should be easy. Goddard smiled. It was a rare expression, but it transformed his purposefully bland face into something beautiful.
“Do this, and you’ll have roast beef and Islay malt for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of your days, and all the books of Greek art your delicate arms can carry.”
The tightening in my chest eased. It’s sad how easily I can be convinced. But being a mere two years off the streets, the simple promise of even these small luxuries was enough to fortify me for the task.
“But who’s sending the letters?” I called as he stepped out into the entryway to fetch my coat. “What does he want?”
What he came back with was not my coat, but he draped it around my shoulders anyway.
“Never mind that, dear boy,” he said, buttoning the ratty tweed across my chest. “Just get the dog.”
In addition to its shabby condition, the so-called coat was much too large and stank of another man’s tobacco. Moreover, it was July and anything heavier than linen was going to be hotter than hell. Goddard likes to dress me up sometimes, but never in second-hand rubbish ten years out of fashion.
And never in tweed.
Ignoring me, Goddard tucked his Trinity scarf beneath the collar, and the lavender letter into my trouser pocket with a satisfied nod.
“The pockets are deep, and have more give than a whore’s bedsprings. Besides,” he said with a smirk, “it’ll make you look like Andrew St. Andrews.”
“St. Andrews!” I sputtered.
That meddling popinjay of a detective had never rolled up his sleeves to pick a lock, or hiked up his coat-hems to keep from tripping across a doorstep. Being the third son of an earl, he’d never had the need to burgle. And if he were to do it for kicks, he’d no doubt commission a special garment for the adventure.
The question at the front of my mind, though, was why Goddard would compare me at all to someone he so loathed. The question was answered by Goddard’s teasing chuckle.
“St. Andrews, indeed,” I grumbled.
Goddard patted my arse, slipping my silver flask into the pocket of the coat. There was a faint tinkle as the flask hit bottom. He’d even remembered my picklocks.
“Remember,” he said. “A porcelain dog, half as long as your forearm, black as sin and twice as ugly. Now go.”
With a sniff, I swept the horrible thing around me. Then, feeling a bit ashamed–it was an easy job, after all, and most of the time, Goddard didn’t ask much of me–I pecked him on the cheek. When the carriage pulled away from the big house on York Street with me inside, Goddard was still standing in the doorway, running his fingers thoughtfully over his jaw, a little smile pulling at the edges of his lips.
What self-respecting housebreaker sets off wearing a Trinity scarf, you might ask? Blame Goddard’s sentimental streak. He had taught at Cambridge once, and though he refused to talk about the experience itself or the circumstances of his dismissal, the scarf meant a great deal to him. You might also wonder what sort of imbecile takes a shiny private hansom to the building he intends to burgle. A necessity, I’m afraid, unless he intends to walk. The pawnshop stood nearly five miles away in Miller’s Court, and no cabbie in his right mind ventured down that wicked quarter mile after dark. The streets were deserted, and the weather was clear. Not half an hour later, we had left the red brick houses and well-tended gardens of York Street behind, and the rubbish-strewn East End closed around us in a cocoon of filth and desperation.
I instructed the driver to let me out in front of the Blue Coat Boy pub, two blocks removed from my destination. An excited throng had gathered around the entrance–another fight, no doubt–and I was able to pass by unnoticed. Closer to the shop, jolly old Do-as-You-Please Street, possibly the most lawless quarter mile in London, was quiet. I strode up to the front door as if I owned the place–the only way to break into a building in plain sight—slipping my picklocks into my hand. Seconds later, I nudged the door shut behind me. Silence descended, and I relaxed, knowing I’d be able to go about my work in peace.
The word ‘dollyshop’ might conjure images of china-faced pretties with real hair for a little girl to comb, and blue eyes that open and close. This shop belonged to a grubby matron who doled out ha’p’ny loans against objects that were hardly worth that. Crates of rust-scabbed metal were stacked as tall as a man along the back wall. The other walls were lined with ill-fitted shelves, bowing under haphazard loads of mildew-encrusted boots, stiff and stained rags, salt-encrusted horse collars, and what appeared to be bones. In the center of the room, piles of rubbish sat where they’d been dropped, layers of dust testifying to how long they’d been there. An attempt had been made to organize some of it into bins, but the bins were already overflowing with towers of detritus threatening to topple at the slightest breath. The dog could have been anywhere in that mess.
Tugging at my waistcoat, I picked up a fireplace poker with a missing handle and began prodding the chaos, listening for the telltale clink! of metal against porcelain. Forty sweaty minutes later, I was bored as hell and my eyes burned from the dust. I was tempted to declare the mission a failure and take the carriage back to York Street for whiskey and a sympathetic fuck. But if we didn’t put paid to the blackmailer, it would be the end of both whiskey and fucking for a good long time. Sighing, I fixed my eyes on a stack of bedding gradually being devoured by mildew and raised the poker.
It was then I heard the footsteps.
I mightn’t have noticed them at all, had they not been the only footsteps that I’d heard since I’d arrived. Quick and sure, with the weight of a man, and the confidence of someone who could afford a stout pair of boots, the footsteps stopped directly before the door.
Fuck me, had I remembered to lock it?
I flew back to the front of the room, dodging perilous mountains of rubbish, and flattened myself against the doorjamb. The footsteps didn’t have the righteous clip-clop of a Whitechapel bobby. But what were the chances someone else would decide to burgle, on the same night as I, the same down-at-heel junk shop? I swiped a damp clump of curls from my forehead, chafing against the overcoat. A prickling sensation crawled over my nether regions– the itch that had come to plague me over the past few weeks was making its presence known. Just in case I’d forgotten. Resisting the urge to claw at myself with my free hand, I felt instead for the sharpened length of pipe I used to carry on my belt during my Whitechapel years.
It was, of course, in my trunk back at York Street, sod it all!
From somewhere near my right hip came the grind of metal against metal. Slowly, the door creaked open, spilling a stream of gaslight across the dusty floor. My muscles tensed with the urge to flee. I’d not courted physical confrontation since Goddard had taken me into his home two years before. I hadn’t missed it. A single, shiny boot breached the doorway before stopping, suspended as though testing the air.
I swung the poker with all my might.
“What in blazes?” the other man exclaimed as the poker swept his cap back onto Dorset Street and smashed into the doorjamb with a force that left my left side ringing.
While I was still picking splinters from my teeth, the man sprang up next to a box of unraveling straw bonnets, straightening his jacket and smoothing his neat mustache with indignant little grunts. He squinted in my general direction, his expression registering confusion and then irritation.
“Adler?” he sputtered. “What the deuce are you doing here?”
Only Timothy Lazarus would respond to such an attack with euphemism. And with a perfectly executed defensive roll. Disgusted, I kicked the door shut and slammed the bolt home.
Lazarus, too, had dressed for Whitechapel. A once-white workman’s shirt hung from his muscular shoulders and bagged around his toned middle. Charity-box trousers rode low on his slim hips. Only the fastidious cleanliness of both clothing and man betrayed Lazarus’s middle class origins. One might have dismissed his attention to hygiene as a consequence of his work as a physician in the most pestilent, lice-ridden corner of London. However, having known the man in the most intimate way possible, I can assure you his enthusiasm for soap went straight to the core.
“Ira Adler,” he said. “I suppose it was to be expected.”
“You can’t mean that you knew I’d be here,” I scoffed.
He spat into his palm, smoothed back a section of dark hair that had been disturbed by my assault then met my eyes.
“St. Andrews asked me to retrieve something for him. Considering Goddard’s uncanny record of predicting what St. Andrews might consider important, and snatching it from under his nose, it stands to reason I’d meet one of Goddard’s errand boys tonight. I suppose I should consider myself lucky it wasn’t someone with better aim. Now, shall we find the dog together, or are you going to subject me to another tiresome display of violence?”
How the devil?
No matter. The statue was Goddard’s, and I’d be buggered if I’d let it end up with Lazarus.
“Dog?” I asked innocently.
Lazarus sighed again.
“A black porcelain statue, terrifically ugly, and somehow to do with the letter you’re rubbing like a talisman between your thumb and forefinger. At least I hope that’s what you’re doing.”
I yanked my hand out of my trouser pocket, sending a shower of coins across the floor. The itch had doubled its strength; my entire genital region was crawling. As I straightened my waistband in an attempt to regain a bit of dignity, the blackmail letter fluttered gently to my feet. Lazarus snatched it out of the dust before I could protest.
“‘I know what you are’,” he read, flicking a bit of fluff from the corner. “Hm. It seems the blackmailer expended his store of clever synonyms for ‘sodomite’ in his previous letters.”
“How do you know what the other letters said?” I demanded.
Lazarus held out the paper as if it were a soiled handkerchief. In the gaslight glowing through the dust-smeared window, the lavender ink looked like blood.
“Because, Adler, we’ve been getting them, too.”
(c) 2010 Jess Faraday
See the trailer here!