Long Spoon Lane: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel

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9780345523723: Long Spoon Lane: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel

After bombs explode during an anarchist attack in Long Spoon Lane, two of the culprits are captured and the leader is shot . . . but by whom? As Thomas Pitt of the Special Branch delves into the case, he finds that there’s more to the terrorism than the brutality of misguided idealists. Clues suggest that Inspector Wetron is the mastermind. As the shadowy leader of the Inner Circle, Wetron is using his influence with the press to stir up fears of more attacks and to rush a bill through Parliament that would severely curtail civil liberties. To defeat Wetron, Pitt must run in harness with his old enemy, Sir Charles Voisey. The unlikely allies are joined by Pitt’s clever wife, Charlotte, and her great aunt, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould. As they strive to prevent future destruction, nothing less than the fate of the British Empire hangs in precarious balance.

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About the Author:

Anne Perry is the bestselling author of two acclaimed series set in Victorian England: the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels, including Death on Blackheath and Midnight at Marble Arch, and the William Monk novels, including Blood on the Water and Blind Justice. She is also the author of a series of five World War I novels, as well as twelve holiday novels, most recently A New York Christmas, and a historical novel, The Sheen on the Silk, set in the Ottoman Empire. Anne Perry lives in Los Angeles and Scotland.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

The hansom cab lurched around the corner, throwing Pitt forward almost onto his knees. Victor Narraway, his companion, swore. Pitt regained his balance as they gathered speed towards Aldgate and Whitechapel High Street. The horse’s hooves struck hard on the cobbles and ahead of them traffic was scattering out of the way. Thank heaven this early there was little enough of it: a few costermongers’ carts with fruit and vegetables, a brewer’s dray, goods wagons, and one horse-drawn omnibus.

“Right!” Narraway shouted at the driver. “Commercial Road! It’s faster!”

The driver obeyed without answering. It was fifteen minutes before six on a summer morning and there were already laborers, hawkers, tradesmen, and domestic servants about. Please heaven they would be in Myrdle Street before six o’clock!

Pitt felt as if his heart were beating in his throat. The call had come just over half an hour ago, but it felt like an eternity. The telephone had woken him and he had gone racing downstairs in his nightshirt. Narraway’s voice had been crackly and breathless on the other end. “I’ve sent a cab for you. Meet me on Cornhill, north side, outside the Royal Exchange. Immediately. Anarchists are going to bomb a house on Myrdle Street.” Then he had hung up without waiting for a reply, leaving Pitt to go back upstairs and tell Charlotte before he scrambled into his clothes. She had run downstairs and fetched him a glass of milk and a slice of bread, but there had been no time for tea.

He had stood a cold, impatient five minutes on the pavement outside the Royal Exchange until Narraway’s cab arrived and slithered to a halt. Then the driver’s long whip snaked out and urged the horse forward again even before Pitt had fallen into the other seat.

Now they were charging towards Myrdle Street and he still had very little idea what it was about, except that the information had come from Narraway’s own sources on the fringes of the seething East End underworld—the province of cracksmen, macers, screevers, footpads, and the swarming thieves of every kind that preyed on the river.

“Why Myrdle Street?” he shouted. “Who are they?”

“Could be anyone,” Narraway replied without taking his eyes off the road. Special Branch had been created originally to deal with Irish Fenians in London, but now they dealt with all threats to the safety of the country. Just at the moment—early summer 1893—the danger at the front of most people’s minds was anarchist bombers. There had been several incidents in Paris, and London had suffered half a dozen explosions of one degree or another.

Narraway had no idea whether this latest threat came from the Irish, who were still pursuing Home Rule, or revolutionaries simply desiring to overthrow the government, the throne, or law and order in general.

They swung left around the corner up into Myrdle Street, across the junction, and stopped. Just up ahead the police were busy waking people up, hurrying them out of their homes and into the road. There was no time to look for treasured possessions, not even to grasp onto more than a coat or a shawl against the cool air of the morning.

Pitt saw a constable of about twenty chivvying along an old woman. Her white hair hung in thin wisps over her shoulders, her arthritic feet bare on the cobbles. Suddenly he almost choked with fury against whoever was doing this.

A small boy wandered across the street, blinking in bewilderment, dragging a mongrel puppy on a length of string.

Narraway was out of the cab and striding towards the nearest constable, Pitt on his heels. The constable swiveled around to tell him to go back, his face flushed with anxiety and annoyance. “Yer gotta get out o’ the way, sir.” He waved his arm. “Well back, sir. There’s a bomb in one o’ . . .”

“I know!” Narraway said smartly. “I’m Victor Narraway, head of Special Branch. This is my associate, Thomas Pitt. Do you know where the bomb is?”

The constable stood half to attention, still holding his right hand out to bar people from returning to their homes in the still, almost breathless morning air. “No sir,” he replied. “Not to be exact. We reckon it’s gotter be one o’ them two over there.” He inclined his head towards the opposite side of the street. Narrow, three-story houses huddled together, doors wide open, front steps whitened by proud, hardworking women. A cat wandered out of one of them, and a child shouted to it eagerly and it ran towards her.

“Is everyone out?” Narraway demanded.

“Yes, sir, far as we can tell—”

The rest of his answer was cut off by a shattering explosion. It came at first like a sharp crack, and then a roar and a tearing and crumbling. A huge chunk of one of the houses lifted in the air then blew apart. Rubble fell crashing into the street and over other roofs, smashing slates and toppling chimneys. Dust and flames filled the air. People were shouting hysterically. Someone was screaming.

The constable was shouting too, his mouth wide open, but his words were lost in the noise. His body staggered oddly as if his legs would not obey him. He lurched forward, waving his arms as people stood rooted to the ground in horror.

Another blast roared somewhere inside the second house. The walls shivered and seemed to subside upon themselves, bricks and plaster falling outward. Then there was more flame, black smoke gushing up.

Suddenly people started to run. Children were sobbing, someone was cursing loudly, and several dogs burst into frenzied barking. An old man was swearing steadily at everything he could think of, repeating himself over and over.

Narraway’s face was white, his black eyes like holes in his head. They had never expected to be able to prevent the bombs going off, but it was still a searing defeat to see such wreckage strewn across the road, and terrified and bewildered people stumbling around. The flames were getting hold of the dry lath and timber and beginning to spread.

A fire engine pulled up, its horses sweating, their eyes rolling. Men leapt out and started to uncoil the big, canvas hoses, but it was going to be a hopeless task.

Pitt felt a stunning sense of failure. Special Branch was for preventing things like this. And now that it had happened there was nothing comforting or purposeful he could do. He did not even know if there would be a third bomb, or a fourth.

Another constable came sprinting along the street, arms waving wildly, his helmet jammed crookedly on his head. “Other side!” he shouted. “They’re getting away on the other side!”

It was a moment before Pitt realized what he meant.

Narraway knew immediately. He twisted on his heel and started back towards the hansom.

Pitt galvanized into action, catching up with Narraway just as he swung up into the cab, barking at the driver to go back to Fordham Street and turn east.

The man obeyed instantly, snaking the long carriage whip over the horse’s back and urging it forward. They went to the left, crossed Essex Street barely hesitating, and glimpsed another hansom disappearing north up New Road towards Whitechapel.

“After them!” Narraway shouted, ignoring the morning traffic of delivery carts and drays, which swerved out of their way and jammed together.

There had been no time to ask who the bombers might be, but as they slewed around the corner into Whitechapel Road, and past the London Hospital, Pitt turned his mind to it. The anarchist threats so far had been disorganized and no specific demands had been made. London was the capital of an empire that stretched across almost every continent on the earth, and the islands between, and it was also the biggest port in the world. There was a constant influx of every nationality under the sun—recently in particular immigrants had arrived from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, seeking to escape the power of the tsar. Others from Spain and Italy, and especially France, had more socialist aims in mind.

Beside him Narraway was craning forward, his lean body rigid. His face turned first one way then the other as he sought to catch a glimpse of the hansom ahead. Whitechapel had turned into Mile End Road. They passed the huge block of Charrington’s Brewery on the left.

“It makes no damn sense!” he said bitterly.

The cab ahead of them turned left up Peters Street. It had barely straightened when it disappeared to the right into Willow Place and then Long Spoon Lane. Pitt and Narraway’s cab overshot and had to turn and double back. By that time there were two more cabs slithering to a halt with policemen piling out of them, and the original cab had gone.

Long Spoon Lane was narrow and cobbled. Its gray tenement buildings rose up sheer for three stories, grimy, stained with the smoke and damp of generations. The air smelled of wet rot and old sewage.

Pitt glanced along both sides, east and west. Several doorways were boarded up. A large woman stood blocking another, hands on her hips, glaring at the disturbance to her routine. To the west one door slammed, but when two constables charged with their shoulders to it, it did not budge. They tried again and again with no effect.

“It must be barricaded,” Narraway said grimly. “Get back!” he ordered the men.

Pitt felt a chill. Narraway must fear the anarchists were armed. It was absurd. Less than two hours ago he had been lying in bed half-asleep, Charlotte’s hair a dark river across the pillow beside him. The early sunlight had made a bright bar between the curtains, and busy sparrows chattered in the trees outside. Now he stood shivering as he stared up at the ugly wall of a tenement building in which were hiding desperate young men who had bombed a whole row of houses.

There were a dozen police in the street now and Narraway had taken over from the sergeant in charge of them. He was directing some to the other alleys. Pitt saw with a cold misery that the most recent to arrive were carrying guns. He realized there was no alternative. It was a crime of rare and terrible violence. There could be no quarter given to those who had committed it.

Now the street was oddly quiet. Narraway came back, his coat flapping, his face pinched, mouth a tight, thin line. “Don’t stand there like a damn lamppost, Pitt. You’re a gamekeeper’s son, don’t tell me you don’t know how to fire a gun! Here.” He held up a rifle, his knuckles white, and pushed it at Pitt.

It was on Pitt’s tongue to say that gamekeepers didn’t shoot at people, when he realized it was not only irrelevant, it was untrue. More than one poacher had suffered a bottom full of buckshot. Reluctantly he took the gun, and then the ammunition.

He backed away to the far side. He smiled with a twist of irony, finding himself standing behind the only lamppost. Narraway kept to the shadow of the buildings opposite, walking rapidly along the narrow shelf of footpath, speaking to the police where they were taking as much cover as there was. Apart from his footsteps there was no other sound. The horses and cabs had been moved away, out of danger. Everyone who lived here had vanished inside.

The minutes dragged by. There was no movement oppo- site. Pitt wondered if they were certain the anarchists were in there. Automatically he looked up at the rooftops. They were steep, pitched too sharply to get a foothold, and there were no dormers to climb out of, no visible skylights.

Narraway was coming back. He saw Pitt’s glance and a flash of humor momentarily lit his face. “No, thank you,” he said drily. “If I send anyone up there, it won’t be you. You’d trip over your own coattails. And before you ask, yes, I’ve got men ’round the back and at both ends.” He took a careful position between Pitt and the wall.

Pitt smiled.

Narraway grunted. “I’m not waiting them out all day,” he said sourly. “I’ve sent Stamper for some old wagons, something solid enough to take a few bullets. We’ll tip them on their sides to give us enough shelter, then we’ll go in.”

Pitt nodded, wishing he knew Narraway better. He did not yet trust him as he had Micah Drummond, or John Cornwallis when he had been an ordinary policeman in Bow Street. He had respected both men and understood their duties. He had also been intensely aware of their humanity, their vulnerabilities as well as their skills.

Pitt had never set out to join Special Branch. His own success against the powerful secret society known as the Inner Circle had contrived an apparent disgrace, which had cost him a position in the Metropolitan Police. For his safety, and to provide him with some kind of job, he had been found a place in Special Branch to work for Victor Narraway. He had been superseded in Bow Street by Wetron, who was himself a member of the Inner Circle, and now its leader.

Pitt felt uncertain, too often wrong-footed. Special Branch, with its secrets, its deviousness, and its half political motives, required a set of skills he was only just beginning to learn. He had too few parameters by which to judge Narraway.

But he was also aware that if he had gone on to further promotion in Bow Street he would soon have lost his connection with the reality of crime. His compassion for the pain of it would have dimmed. Everything would have been at second hand, particularly his power to influence.

His situation now was better, even standing outside in a chilly lane with Narraway, waiting to storm an anarchist stronghold. The moment of arrest was never easy or pleasant. Crime was always someone’s tragedy.

Pitt realized he was hungry, but above all he would have loved a hot cup of tea. His mouth was dry, and he was tired of standing in one spot. Although it was a summer morning, it was still cold here in the shadow. The stone pavement was damp from the night’s dew. He could smell the stale odor of wet wood and drains.

There was a rumble on the cobbles at the far end of the lane, and an old cart turned in, pulled by a rough-coated horse. When it reached the middle of the lane, the driver jumped down. He unharnessed the animal and led it away at a trot. A moment later another, similar cart appeared and was placed behind it. Both were tipped on their sides.

“Right,” Narraway said quietly, straightening up. His face was grim. In the sharp, pale light, every tiny line in it was visible. It seemed as if each passion he had experienced in his life had written its mark on him, but the overwhelming impression he gave was of unbreakable strength.

There were half a dozen police now along the length of the street. Most of them seemed to have guns. There were others at the back of the buildings, and at the ends of the lane.

Three men moved forward with a ram to force the door. Then an upstairs window smashed, and everyone froze. An instant later there was gunfire, bullets ricocheting off the walls at shoulder height and above. Fortunately no one staggered or fell.

The police started to fire back. Two more windows broke.

In the distance a dog was barking furiously, and there was a dull rumble of heavy traffic from Mile End Road, a street away.

The shooting started again.

Pitt was reluctant to join in. Even with all the crimes he had investigated through his years in the police, he had never had to fire a gun at a human being. The thought was a cold pain inside him.

Then Narraway sprinted over to where two men were crouching behind the carts, and a bullet thudded into the wall just above Pitt’s head. Without stopping to think about it, he raised his gun and fired back at the window from which it had come.

The men with the ram had reached the far side of the street and were out of the line of fire. Every time a shadow moved be...

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Book Description Ballantine Books, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. After bombs explode during an anarchist attack in Long Spoon Lane, two of the culprits are captured and the leader is shot . . . but by whom? As Thomas Pitt of the Special Branch delves into the case, he finds that there s more to the terrorism than the brutality of misguided idealists. Clues suggest that Inspector Wetron is the mastermind. As the shadowy leader of the Inner Circle, Wetron is using his influence with the press to stir up fears of more attacks and to rush a bill through Parliament that would severely curtail civil liberties. To defeat Wetron, Pitt must run in harness with his old enemy, Sir Charles Voisey. The unlikely allies are joined by Pitt s clever wife, Charlotte, and her great aunt, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould. As they strive to prevent future destruction, nothing less than the fate of the British Empire hangs in precarious balance. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780345523723

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Book Description Ballantine Books, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. After bombs explode during an anarchist attack in Long Spoon Lane, two of the culprits are captured and the leader is shot . . . but by whom? As Thomas Pitt of the Special Branch delves into the case, he finds that there s more to the terrorism than the brutality of misguided idealists. Clues suggest that Inspector Wetron is the mastermind. As the shadowy leader of the Inner Circle, Wetron is using his influence with the press to stir up fears of more attacks and to rush a bill through Parliament that would severely curtail civil liberties. To defeat Wetron, Pitt must run in harness with his old enemy, Sir Charles Voisey. The unlikely allies are joined by Pitt s clever wife, Charlotte, and her great aunt, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould. As they strive to prevent future destruction, nothing less than the fate of the British Empire hangs in precarious balance. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780345523723

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