Alongside Jack the Ripper there is another brutal serial killer roaming the streets of Victorian London… Spring, 1890. The spectre of Jack the Ripper still haunts Inspector Walter Day; he alone is convinced that the Ripper remains at large. But now a new killer is terrorising the citizens of London. They call him the Harvest Man; he hides away in the attics of the unsuspecting, emerging at night to terrorise his victims. This macabre new threat requires Inspector Day to confront his demons, but he soon discovers the game has only just begun…
Release date: May 19, 2015
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Print pages: 400
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The Harvest Man
Mother and Father were sharing a bed. The Harvest Man hesitated in the open bedroom door, staring down at his bare feet, his face flushing scarlet beneath the plague mask. Mother and Father had always slept in separate rooms. He was certain of it. But perhaps their habits had changed over time. That made perfect sense. If they had remained the same, he felt sure he would have found them long ago.
Mother stirred in her sleep and the Harvest Man finally moved. He wasn’t ready for her to wake up. He uncorked a bottle of ether and placed a folded face cloth over the rim, tipped the bottle up and held it until cold liquid soaked through to his fingers. He set the open bottle on the floor next to the doorjamb, where he knew the liquid would silently turn to gas.
Everything always changing. Things disappearing without a trace.
He moved forward in slow motion, keeping his head and shoulders straight up and down, only bending at the knees. He made no sound. Mother stirred again, rolled onto her back, and the Harvest Man moved around the foot of the bed to her side. He preferred to deal with Father first. Father was bigger and stronger and, if he woke early, he always caused trouble. But Father was snoring and Mother was moving, on the verge of waking. Better to tend to her.
He knelt by the bed and gazed at Mother’s sleeping face. The room was dark, but the window was open and the moon shone bright. He could see well enough even through his thick lenses. Mother was pretty. He thought she had always been pretty, but she didn’t look like he remembered. It took him a moment to categorize the differences. Fortunately, he had a very good memory for faces. Mother’s nose was slightly larger now, and was turned up at the tip. Her eyes were spaced closer together and her lips were thinner. She had lost a little weight, and her forehead was wider, her hair a different color, her neck longer, her cheekbones more prominent. He shook his head and the heavy beak at the front of his mask moved back and forth. Why did they always make so much work for him? They shouldn’t change so very much. It always made him cross.
Mother opened her eyes and they were not the same color as he remembered. He hesitated, confused, but when she opened her mouth he clapped the ether-soaked cloth over it, held it tight to her face. She struggled for a moment, then relaxed and her arm fell limp over the side of the bed. He picked up her hand and placed it on her chest.
Around on the other side of the bed, Father shifted his position and so the Harvest Man leaned far across Mother’s limp body, stretched out his arm, the moist cloth pinched between the ends of his two longest fingers, and shared the ether fumes with Father. When both parents were insensible, he left that room and explored the house. He had been in a hurry earlier and had bolted for the attic without taking his customary tour.
There were two children, both boys, sleeping in a small bed tucked under the staircase. He pushed the plague mask up to the top of his head so he could see them better, enjoying the feel of fresh air on his cheeks and chin. He rubbed his ear. Sometimes it still itched where the top of it had been pulled away. The mask’s goggles rested against the back of his head and the long pointed beak stood straight up like a baby bird straining for food. The Harvest Man stood and watched the children’s chests move gently up and down. He gazed without affection at the nearest boy’s chapped lips, which were parted, the upper lip deeply grooved and dark pink. The boy’s eyelids fluttered. The Harvest Man placed his drying face cloth between the children, trusting that the remaining essence of ether would keep them from waking.
He climbed up the stairs above the sleeping boys and retrieved his boots and knife and a coiled length of stout rope from the attic. He sat on the top step and pulled the boots on. He tugged the plague mask back down into place and adjusted it so that it wouldn’t slip from his face while he worked.
He decided to ignore the boys. He didn’t know them. They might be his brothers, but he couldn’t remember their faces and so it would do no good to remove their masks. He would ask Mother and Father about the other children when they woke later. Then they could determine together what was to be done. As a family.
But first things first. Before they could be a family again, he would have to remove Mother and Fathers’ masks to reveal their true faces. He smiled, excited, and stood, picked up the curved knife and the rope and trotted down the stairs, no longer concerned about making noise. He couldn’t wait to see his parents’ faces again.
How happy they would be that he had finally found them.
In the late spring of 1890, Number 184 Regents Park Road was a flurry of activity. Upon receiving news of the arrival of twin grandchildren, Mr and Mrs Leland Carlyle ordered their luggage to be packed for an immediate holiday in London and took up residence across the park from their daughter’s home in Primrose Hill. Mrs Carlyle visited Claire Day early each morning and stayed on past tea most evenings. She found the household in a state of disarray (or, as she put it to her son-in-law, a state of near vacancy) and determined that her first order of business was to hire a staff. Fiona Kingsley, the young lady who had stayed at Number 184 to look after Claire during the pregnancy, was sent back to her father’s home. Within three days, a new governess had been acquired, along with a cook, a scullery maid and a head of housekeeping by the name of Miss Harris. Mrs Carlyle also arranged for three boys from the local reformatory to help clean the house once a week between seven-thirty and nine in the morning.
Overnight the household became too large to be sustained on the salary of a policeman and Detective Inspector Walter Day began to feel vaguely anxious. The two babies woke at odd hours and Day, who was a light sleeper, rose with them and tried to stay out of the way as the governess tended to them. He did not remember the governess’s name, nor did he know the names of the cook and scullery maid. Nobody had bothered to introduce him to Claire’s staff and he felt certain he was going to have to let them all go once his in-laws departed. He made no effort to get to know them.
Violence had recently been visited upon the Day home in the form of a double murder, and reasonable precautions had been taken against future ugliness of the sort. A retired inspector by the name of McKraken had volunteered to stand guard on the house. He kept to himself, but his presence added to the general quality of congestion at Number 184.
Some sensation had returned to Day’s right leg and he got around with a degree of confidence using a cane. The commissioner of police, Sir Edward Bradford, had assigned Day a number of tasks designed to supplement the efforts of the rest of the Murder Squad and, clearly, to keep him sitting at a desk for the bulk of his shifts. Day had petitioned Sir Edward for a meeting on several occasions, hoping to convince the commissioner to give him more challenging work, but he had been ignored. Everyone at the Yard was bustling about, working to catch a murderer known only as the Harvest Man, and boxing up all nonessential items for transport to the new headquarters that were being built for them—had, in fact, been nearly finished—on the Victorian embankment. Nobody was sitting still except for Day, change was everywhere. The flow of life, he felt, had plucked him off his feet and deposited him on some deserted beach.
Feeling useless both at home and at the Yard, Day began to spend much of his time at the Chalk Farm Tavern above the canal. That is where Nevil Hammersmith found him at teatime on the first Tuesday of May. Day was at a table in the back, talking with a trio of young solicitors. He had lost track of the amount of ale they’d had and he doubted the other men would make it back to their office in Camden Town. When he saw Hammersmith at the tavern door, he stood and moved stiffly around the table. Hammersmith saw him and made his way across the room, through a maze of mismatched tables and chairs. They greeted each other warmly and Day introduced him to Haun, Moore and Peck, the solicitors. After shaking hands all round, those three men politely gathered their glasses and retired to the counter near the front of the pub, surrendering the table to the inspector and his friend.
“I’m headed to Bridewell right now,” Hammersmith said. “I assume you’ve heard the news?”
“I’m sure I haven’t. Nobody tells me anything anymore.”
Hammersmith blinked and pulled out a chair. “You look rough,” he said.
“Do I? And how have you been, Nevil? Breathing well enough?”
“I’ve been careful,” Hammersmith said. He had been promoted from constable to sergeant after helping Day catch a child murderer, but then almost immediately dismissed from the Yard. In the course of his duties he had been poisoned on two occasions, bludgeoned, nearly frozen to death, and stabbed in the chest with a pair of scissors. It had all been too much for the commissioner of police to bear. “I don’t move as quickly as I once did.”
“Nor do I,” Day said.
“How’s the leg?”
“Better than it was. Will you have a pint?”
“Tea for me.”
“Good. And then you must tell me your news.”
Day called over the proprietor and ordered a pot of Imperial and brown bread. The man nodded and hurried away. Hammersmith watched him go, then leaned forward across the table. “Never mind the news. That can wait. I want to know, are you with me?”
“Now I’m sufficiently mobile,” Hammersmith said. “I’m going to find him.”
He didn’t have to explain. Day knew who he was talking about and he unconsciously rubbed his leg. The scars there were ugly and they ached, and he had been told he would never walk properly again. The most dangerous man in London had held Day captive in a devil’s workshop deep beneath the city, had tortured and taunted him. Day had barely escaped with his life.
Hammersmith had come even closer to an early death. His chest was a battleground of dried black stitchwork. Both men knew that Jack the Ripper was still at large, still roamed the streets, and had not finished his deadly work.
“Come with me now,” Hammersmith said. “Together we can catch him.”
He leaned back as the tavern’s proprietor reappeared with a wooden tray. The jittery little man set a teapot in the center of the table and ringed it with two cups and saucers, a plate of brown and white bread, lemons, a jug of milk, and tiny pots filled with sugar, jam, and thick white butter.
“Thank you,” Day said. “And a shot of whiskey?”
The man nodded and took the now empty tray back to his counter, out of earshot. Day and Hammersmith busied themselves with the tea for a moment. Day poured in a spot of milk and swirled the dark tea in after it. He spooned in sugar and stirred slowly back and forth, watching the murky liquid fold over on itself, ripple outward and lap gently against the side of the cup. He set the spoon down and sipped, his eyes averted from Hammersmith’s face. When he lowered the cup at last, he wiped his lips and sighed.
“It’s my leg,” Day said. “I’d be useless to you.”
“Hardly useless. You’re the brains of our little outfit, you know. We can catch him, you and I. You figure his game and I’ll ferret him out.”
“Sir Edward’s been giving me busy work.”
“Yet here you are.”
“I can’t help you.”
“You know I’ll do it without you. But I’d rather have you with me.”
“I have two babies, Nevil.”
Hammersmith said nothing.
“And if I do go with you? If he catches me again…” Day shivered, remembering long hours underground, a scalpel, a laughing madman. “If he kills me this time, Claire and the babies will have nothing. They’ll be put out in the street.”
“Do you really believe that?”
Day filled his cup again and sipped. Claire’s parents would jump at the chance to have her back home with them. Her father no doubt already had a proper match in mind for her. She’d be remarried within a year and the twins would be raised by some other man. They would take that stranger’s name and call him “father.” Day set his cup down and opened his mouth to respond, but there were no words. The pub’s proprietor arrived just in time with the whiskey. Day took the shot, swallowed it and handed back the empty glass.
“Another, would you?”
“Right away.” The proprietor walked back across the room, wiping the glass with a dirty cloth.
Day looked again at Hammersmith who held up a hand and nodded. “I apologize,” Hammersmith said. “You have a family. Of course you have a family. And so many other considerations I do not. My God, the Ripper even knows where you live. You must be constantly on edge. It’s only… I’m frustrated.”
“I know you are. I am too.”
“Yes, you’re the only one who knows my frustration. That’s why…”
“It’s not just fear, Nevil.”
“It’s really not. They’re hunting this other monster now.”
“The Harvest Man.”
“Yes. He killed another family last week. The things he did…”
“You’ll catch him.”
“And I want to help you. But our fellow, Jack, he’s all but disappeared.”
“Doesn’t that frighten you? What’s he up to, do you think?”
“He’s killing them. Somehow. He must be. Or planning to at any rate.”
Jack the Ripper was embroiled in a personal war with a secret society of vigilantes who called themselves Karstphanomen. The notion that the Karstphanomen might have won, that Jack might be dead or captured, did not cross Day or Hammersmith’s minds. Jack was far too dangerous to go quietly.
“He hates them,” Day said. “And I honestly can’t muster much sympathy for them. It’s the Karstphanomen’s fault he’s at large right now. Their own damn fault he’s killing them off.”
“He’ll make a mistake and I’ll be on him before he can hide again.”
“I know you will. At least, you’ll catch him if he really does make a mistake, but I don’t share your faith that he will.”
Hammersmith opened his mouth to respond, but Day held a hand up, quieting him, as the proprietor appeared once again with a shot glass on his tray. Day took the drink and closed his eyes, held the whiskey in his mouth as it warmed, then finally swallowed it. He opened his eyes again and took a deep breath.
“I must do my job. And only my job. Sir Edward won’t acknowledge that Jack’s even still alive. I can’t make him see the truth and I can’t risk my job.”
“Then I’m on my own.”
“Get one of the others. Constable Bentley might help.”
“I’m not a policeman anymore, remember? Nobody’s going to help me. Not officially.”
“Then give it up. For your own sake. It’s too much for you. He’ll leave you alone if you let him be, but if you don’t he’ll get to you before you can find him. I know him. He’s almost…”
“No, what were you going to say?”
“I don’t think he is a man. I think he’s something else.”
“A woman? He’s not a woman. I heard his voice.”
“No,” Day sighed. “That’s not what I meant. Forget I said anything. Just let it be. For God’s sake, Nevil, you had your chest split open. You’re lucky to be alive. Heal yourself and, when you’re better, petition Sir Edward for your old job back. He’s fond of you. He’ll consider it. I’ll put in a word for you, you know I will. So will some of the others. Kett, Blacker, maybe even Tiffany.”
“What you said. I’m lucky to be alive. There’s a reason I am. I think it’s to catch that monster. Someone has to. He can’t be left to roam. If I’m alive, then I must make myself matter.”
Hammersmith pushed his chair back and stood, fished sixpence from his pocket and tossed it on the table. “For the tea,” he said. He walked away without another word, out the door and into the sudden blinding sunlight. Disappointment shimmered like heat from his shoulders. The door closed behind him and the tavern was once more plunged into brown silence.
Day motioned for another shot of whiskey, stared glumly at Hammersmith’s untouched cup of tea and waited for the man to bring his drink. It occurred to him too late that Hammersmith had come to deliver news. He wondered what it might have been.
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