When Symington, Earl Byrd is called in to investigate the murder of Robert Langley, he’s confused. Why shoot a man when you’ve already poisoned him?
Much to the prime minister’s disgust, a trip to Wales complicates matters further. But the prime minister is the least of Byrd’s worries. Rumour has it, Jack the Ripper’s back – tying up loose ends.
But when did Jack start using poison?
I’m back in England Lil, and God is it cold! I’ve had to go and buy a new coat. Not that you
want to hear my complaints, so I’ll get to the point.
I know who’s killing ‘the unkind ravens’ as we got labelled. And guess what? He lives near you.
Not that he’s blown your cover. But we’d better meet, so you can work out what you’re going to
do, coz when he finds out what your part in it was, it’s not going to end well for you, is it? Not in
Wales. Too dangerous, he knows what I look like, given that bitch sent him that photo! Not
where we worked either. Somewhere neutral, like The Grapes, Limehouse Basin, where noone’ll do anything for fear of the Big Man, Jethro, not liking it. Oh, and better make it late at
night, when a decent Christian lady like you should be in bed.
Lilian laughed. She might be a Christian, but never decent. A veneer, that’s all. And as for men:
she was off them. Bloody cheek. Reacting that way to her confession like she’d done something
wrong. She’d tell the duke about him when she got home, like she should have done the moment
About to enter The Grapes, Lilian stilled as escaping smoke paved the way for the exit of a
black-haired old man. Unusually upright for his surroundings and age, he stopped to cough into a
handkerchief – before surveying the world through eyes bubbling with amusement.
Oh God! No! Not him! Not the pawnbroker.
She shrank against the wall. Tried to become invisible. It didn’t work. The old man’s eyes
widened, and he gave a slight salute of recognition. “Night Lil. Give my love to your sister!”
Had to be.
He couldn’t recognise her.
Not after all this time.
Unsteady hands rolled and lit a cigarette.
“Oh, for Gawd’s sake, Lil! Pull yourself together,” she chided through drags. “Just because he
called your name, doesn’t mean he really knows it was you.” Another drag. A further puff. “You
met him what?… three… four times? Get a grip!”
A coughing fit, coupled with cramps, took her just as she finished her cigarette, and, the
pawnbroker forgotten, Lilian cursed the jellied eels she ate for lunch. “Bloody ‘ell Flo, I told you
they were off, but you wouldn’t ‘ave it!”
Rummaging in her bag, Lilian pulled out a bottle of home-made heartburn relief and took a
healthy swig then one more for good measure. Just as she put the stopper back, she spoke –
possibly to the night air, possibly to the lamppost at the end of the street. “Well Langley old mate
you’re late, and I’m not ‘anging around. As much as I want to find out who did it and who I need
to avoid; this weather ain’t good for my lungs.” To emphasise the point, she wretched again.
Doubling with pain, as wave after wave of spasms seized her, she dived into the alleyway not far
from the pub to throw up.
Once finished and wiping her mouth on her sleeve as she did so, Lilian looked around the little
alleyway. A pile of clothes, shaped like a man, caught her attention and, having been on the
nasty side of sleeping rough, she resolved to do one good turn before she left this city.
“Oi, mate! You can’t sleep here!”
When the clothes didn’t move, Lilian tried a different tack. “A mate of mine says Mr Jethro’s the
big man in these parts. He won’t like it, you kipping here. He’ll take it personal – ‘specially when
he’s got a dosshouse you can go to … If you ain’t got the pennies, I can see you right.”
All too ready to continue berating the clothes for their shocking lack of sobriety and sense, Lilian
grabbed the coat’s shoulder and tugged – hard.
Time stopped. Sound died. Blood. So much blood.
Thank you, S.E. Smith and Love Books Group
About the author
S.E. Smith, known as Sarah to her friends, and ‘Miss’ to her students, was born into a naval family and now lives on a 65-foot broad-beam boat with her husband, Steve, and her two rescue dogs – Ben and Eva.
Crediting her Nana May for instilling in her a love of history, and an encyclopedic knowledge of the East End of London at the turn of the 20th Century, Sarah took on board the adage ‘write about what you know’ and created Symington Byrd: a gentleman detective whose foray into the East End leads him into all kinds of danger.
A great fan of the West Wing, Pokemon Go, and Doctor Who, Sarah’s biggest claim to fame is the day spent with the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, chasing Daleks down The Strand.