The Devil in AmberMark Gatiss
Have you read these other titles in the Bunsen Book Club?
WITH VINEGAR AND BROWN PAPER
by Ariadne Oliver
When newly-wed couple Silly and Sausage decide their lives need a little spicing up, they get more than they bargained for! The odious Colonel Fleming is found stabbed through the ears on a golf links and only our intrepid twosome stand between local simpleton Tommy Wideawake and the gallows…
HELLO, MR QUARMBY!
by Todd Wakefield
Twelve mysteries from the acclaimed author of “Really, Mr Quarmby!”, “Stop that, Mr Quarmby!” and “Mr Quarmby Runs Riot”. Readers will welcome these new tales featuring the deaf, dumb and blind Welsh detective as he once again pits his wits against the most devious of criminals and the irascible Scotland Yard Detective, Inspector Pump.
by Sandy Maltravers
Five years after his explosive introduction in “Clean Grit”, Ronald Stride finds himself pitch-forked into a one-man campaign against a crazed troupe of Prussian snorkellers hell-bent on resurrecting the Kaiser’s cause and planting the German flag in Parliament Square. It’s a tight spot for Stride but, as his mentor “Baba” Carrington puts it: “He was shut up at Mafeking with Baden-Powell and knows a thing or two.” Together, Stride, Carrington and the lanky American agent Teddy W. Greatorex get athwart of the enemy’s plotting and are soon set fair for a final confrontation with a grotesque Count Von Stummup.
“TERRIER” MASTERSON HITS OUT
Re-enter Tom “Terrier” Masterson! The hero of “The Darkie Gang” is once more bored with civilian life and determined to give the enemies of the Empire a good kicking. But will “Terrier” and his two fists be enough to foil the machinations of sinister mastermind “The Scallywog”? Another terrific “shocker” from the author of “That Hat Means Murder”.
THEY WORE DARK TROUSERS
by Tenacious Beatme
Plucked from semi-retirement by a desperate British Government on the eve of the Battle of the Somme, the Comte de Cointreau must re-unite his old pals for one last desperate venture that takes them to the very heart of the German war-machine! Can bluff Randy Robinson, wily Sacha Goldilox and the Comte himself outwit the combined forces of the Wilhelmstrasse and the heathen magic of the fabled lost continent of Atlantis? Another rattling tale of sorcery, flogging, high-adventure, whipping, facial disfigurement and spanking from the author of “The Bad Black”, Das Ist Verboten”, “Strange Document” and “Satan’s Succubus”.
UP PLUTO’S CORE
by Edward Fleisch-Cutter
The planet Pluto hollow? Absurd? Or so the world’s scientists believed until Professor Potty and his chum Douglas Strongarm turned their gigantic space-rocket-cum-drill towards it! Burrowing deep below the Plutonian dust, the intrepid adventurers happen upon the long-lost kingdom of Longlostikar–a land where Pluto-dinosaurs still roam and Pluto-men with a thousand heads and blue thighs battle for dominance! Part of the thrilling “Pluto” sequence that includes “King of Pluto”, “Ulnomia, Queen of Pluto”, “Lord Mayor of Pluto” and “Dirty Pluto”.
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2006
First published by Pocket Books, 2007
An imprint of Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
A CBS COMPANY
Copyright © Mark Gatiss, 2006
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.
Pocket Books & Design is a registered trademark of Simon & Schuster Inc.
The right of Mark Gatiss to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
London WC2B 6AH
Simon & Schuster Australia
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously
Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Winnie–‘Gather the rose of love whilst yet is time’
1 Fallen Idle
2 You Might As Well Live
3 A Trip to Neverland
4 I Move In Bad Company
5 Sibling Devilry
6 An Attempt On Mount Olympus
7 I Strike Damned Queer Country
8 The Buttons Come Off the Foils
9 All At Sea
10 A Guest Of Captain Corpusty
11 A Whiff Of Brimstone
12 Troubled Waters
13 Flight Across the Marshes
14 Tuppence For A Bloater
15 Whatever Possessed You
16 Further Adventures Of A Fallen Angel
17 In Pursuit Of The Lamb
18 Night Train To Death
19 Eastwards By Monoplane
20 Memento Mori
21 Devil’s Bargain
22 The Tomb Of Satan
23 The Sabbat of Olympus Mons
24 The Charm’s Wound Up
Thanks to Ian Bass, Caroline Chignell, Edward Fitzwilliam Hedley, Jon Plowman, Martin and Tim Stainthorpe, Nigel Stoneman, Rochelle Venables (for devilish editing) and to Ian, as ever, with all my love.
‘If you value your souls, don’t look in its eyes.’
He was an American, so it seemed only fair to shoot him.
I’d already winged the beggar once–somewhere in the region of his flabby calves–and was now in hot pursuit with the tenacity for which I’m mildly famous. For reasons too dreary to dwell on, I found myself clinging to the running board of a motor car, wind whipping at my face, positively pelting through the choked streets of Manhattan. Ahead of me loomed the gorgeous elegance of the new Chrysler Building, thrusting like a sword into the cold, brilliant blue sky. Ice and sun glinted off its exterior; sharp as a pin in the eye.
For those of you not in the know (dear me, where have you been?), my name is Lucifer Box: painter, occasional memoir-scribbler and agent (most secret) for His Majesty’s Government. Sad it is to relate that my artistic career was somewhat in the doldrums. Fashion, that gay but inconstant dog, had moved on and I was regarded with some suspicion by the bright lads of the new school. Passé, old-hat, preWar (the Great one, you understand: although there’d been nothing particularly great about it from my point of view). Between the Surrealists and the Cubists and the Whatsists, there seemed precious little demand for a spectacularly good portrait painter such as yours truly. Oh, don’t protest! Modesty is for amateurs.
Even the landed gentry who had once positively drenched me in commissions seemed in thrall to the damned new religion of photography, and were busy cramming the green-damask walls of their country piles with horrid daguerreotypes of their scarcely smiling selves. And so here was I, the gorgeous butterfly of King Bertie’s reign: middle-aged and rather neglected, my hair shorter and greying–though my figure still as trim as a boy’s, thank you very much.
Crouched low against the cold metal of the motor, I peered at my distorted reflection in the window. Still a head-turner, no doubt about it, and those eyes no less blue, no less cold and clear.
So much for Art! Happily I had oth
er interests and when not exhibiting my daubs to an increasingly bored public, I was engaged, as I’ve said, doling out death and violence as gleefully as I did Crimson Alizarin or Mars Yellow. Every man should have a hobby.
Trouble was, of late the glee had rather gone out of this too. But I mustn’t get ahead of myself.
The chap I’d been assigned to bump off on this charming December day was called Hubbard. Hubbard the Cupboard, don’t you know (the Colonials like their schoolyard nick-names), his curious moniker coming not only from his ungainly shape but from his being a dealer in stolen goods. It was said Hubbard’s cupboard was never bare.
The fat fool, however, had strayed somewhat from his usual territory of filched diamanté and crudely forged Demuths, being the brains, it was said, behind an influx of cheap cocaine that was currently drowning New York’s nightspots. So, before the hooters of all the hoofers were irretrievably rotted, Hubbard was to be removed from the scene forthwith.
I was in town, tying up the loose ends of another job (the startling history of the Sumatran Automata will have to wait for another day), and, at its conclusion, had been hastily shunted off in pursuit of this nefarious drug baron.
I kept my head low as the car slowed down. The fat man’s blood was visible in the snow, trailing in neat crimson curlicues as if fallen from a leaking paint tin. If I could finish him off by lunchtime, I knew a place down in the Bowery that did a smashing shad-roe-caviar club sarnie.
Dropping from the running board, I flattened myself against the grimy wall of the nearest brownstone and watched as the flivver chugged off with a backfire like a Lewis gun.
Inclining my trilby at a rakish angle, I paused a moment, knowing I cut quite a dash. I’m afraid I rather fancied myself–but then everyone else did, so why should I be left out of the fun?
The trail led off the pavement–or ‘sidewalk’ as I suppose I must call it–and I moved off, my breath billowing like exhaust before me. The air was heavy with the stink of Polish cooking and uncollected rubbish.
Hurrying through the churned-up, brown drifts and following the trail as it swung right, I found myself in a light-starved courtyard. At its centre, smothered in snow, stood a quaint little clapboard church, fragile and unremarkable–save for the polka-dot pattern of bright blood on the steps. The door to the church was slightly ajar. I had him.
As quietly as possible, I slipped inside, taking a moment to adjust to the musty darkness with its familiar odour of incense and damp. Rapidly I made out shadowy pews, a pulpit like a ship’s fo’c’s’le, a narrow spiral stair leading to the bell tower.
My gloved hand closed around my Webley. As I reached the well of the stair, there was movement above and a little rivulet of dust cascaded onto the brim of my hat. Stealing upwards, I emerged into a beam-ceilinged chamber where two great copper-green bells hung in their housings. The hunched figure of a man was silhouetted against the flat light pouring through an arched window. I raised my pistol and he swung towards me, his face a picture of fear. But unless Hubbard had hastily taken holy orders, this was not my quarry.
The priest’s face fell as he glanced over my shoulder.
I span on my heel, hearing the scrape of shoe leather on wood and realizing at once that Hubbard was right behind me. Suddenly there was something startlingly cold at my flesh and every instinct thrilled as I felt a coil of piano wire loop about my throat. Without a moment’s hesitation, my hand flew to my collar just as the wire tightened, allowing vital room for manoeuvre. I gasped as the deadly lasso bit into the leather of my glove.
Hubbard’s sickly breath hissed into my face as he crushed me in a bear-like embrace. I own I was in a pretty blue funk. Trying frantically to turn about and aim the Webley, I felt instead my wrist savagely twisted and the pistol went crashing down the stairwell.
Still the noose tightened. Jerking my elbow repeatedly backwards, I met only empty air as Hubbard the Cupboard swung clear. There was a cold, bright zing as the razor wire sliced cleanly through my glove and ripped at the flesh of my hand.
Yelling in agony, I dropped to my knees and reached desperately behind me, clawing at the rotten woodwork of the floor, striving to find purchase on my assailant’s ankle. The cold wire sawed into my palm.
‘Help me!’ I cried to the priest. ‘Help me, for Christ’s sake!’
But divine intervention came there none, the holy fool merely whimpering and wringing his hands.
Again I cried out in pain but then my fingers closed on the turn-up of Hubbard’s trouser leg. It was wet with blood and I realized at once that this was where I’d already wounded the fiend. Frenziedly, I scrabbled at the floorboards till my fingers found the rusty end of a bent nail. Croaking with effort, I prised the nail from the planking and managed to ram it with main force into the wound on my enemy’s leg.
Hubbard screamed, stumbled forwards and suddenly the wire noose slackened. I rolled away, nursing my damaged hand, then, leaping to my feet, finally came face to face with him.
He was broad as a meat locker and swaddled in a cheap fur-collared overcoat such as an actor-manager might have left out for the moths. His eyes–buttons in the burst upholstery of his ugly face–glinted black and tiny. I’d never met Hubbard, only shot him, so by way of an introduction I kicked him in his lardy throat, sending the brute flying backwards into the bells. At once, the great shapes rolled in their housing.
He tried desperately to right himself, but the bells moved like quicksand beneath him, clappers ringing off the ancient bronze. He clawed at their surfaces, nails scoring grooves in the thick verdigris; sliding, gasping, out of control.
‘This ain’t right!’ he squawked in a grisly Brooklyn accent, already slipping through the gap between the bells. ‘It’s a set-up!’
I scowled at him, cradling my wounded hand, totally unmoved by his imminent demise. ‘Tell it to the marines.’
Hubbard gasped as he fought to keep from falling, his little feet scrabbling comically at the wooden housing. ‘I’m a patsy!’ he screeched.
‘A patsy!’ he cried. ‘Oh, God!’
The corpulent cur knew he was a goner and something nasty flashed in those black eyes. One hand flew to his overcoat, and in an instant a small snub-nosed revolver was in his chubby hand. He wasn’t intending to go down alone.
I stood powerless, my heart racing in time with the blood thudding onto the boards from my wet glove. Still the wretched priest did nothing, standing by in saintly inaction.
When the shot rang out I was surprised to feel no pain whatsoever. It took me a while to realize that this was intimately bound up with the fact that Hubbard now boasted a capacious and gory hole in his temple from which startlingly papal white smoke was pouring.
Hubbard gurgled most unpleasantly and then made his final foray between the bells, tumbling to the church floor below and setting the wretched things pealing gaily as though for Christmas Mass.
A cold sweat prickled all over me as I turned to greet my rescuer. He stood at the top of the stairs, still holding the weapon he had used on the ill-famed dealer in stolen goods.
‘You’re getting slow, old boy,’ said the lean, brown newcomer, stepping into the light.
‘Hullo, Percy,’ I said lightly. ‘Thanks.’
Percy Flarge grinned his infuriating grin, pocketed his pistol and tipped his hat onto the back of his head, setting his blond fringe bouncing. ‘Least I can do to help out a chum in his hour of need.’ He peered at my hand. ‘I say! You have been in the wars.’
I stepped away from him. ‘I’ll take things from here.’
Flarge shook his head. ‘Wouldn’t dream of letting you, old love. You should really put your feet up! Least I can do, as I say, for the great Lucifer Box.’
The great Lucifer Box suddenly felt a clammy sickness grip him and chose that moment to collapse onto the planking in a dead faint.
I awoke to a biting pain in my hand. I was stretched out on a pew, back in the main body of the c
hurch and sat up, blinking for a moment. The light had that strange, vivid quality as before a thunderstorm. The place was abuzz with what I knew to be Domestics–those terribly useful folk who clean up after chaps like me have been splattering haemoglobin all over the furniture–but there was no sign of Flarge.
I shook my head, groggily. My wound had been neatly and expertly stitched and was now being bandaged by a little ferret-faced chap in a short coat and yellow gloves. This was ‘Twice’ Daley–one of Flarge’s favourites. Unlike my own dear Delilah (presently cook, valet, general factotum, bodyguard and thug) back in Blighty, he was a local man of no particular distinction.
‘Hi there, Mr Box!’ he cried.
I nodded weakly. ‘You’ll forgive me if I don’t shake hands.’
He gave a short, barking laugh and tied off the bandage with his nimble fingers.
I flexed my own digits to assess the damage. ‘Thanks for the repair job, Daley. Everything cleared up here?’
He nodded, his rheumy eyes scanning the church. ‘Shoo-wer. We paid off the pastor with enough rubes to make a new roof, and the Cupboard’ll soon be doing the breaststroke in the Hudson–face down, if you takes my meaning.’
I did. ‘I have orders to bring back everything he had on him. I trust you took care to—’
‘Mr Flarge done all that,’ he interrupted.