My Victorian detective novel The Inquiry Agent featuring former Bow Street Runner Jack Brodie continues to ride high in the Amazon charts and here as promised is the second extract from its sequel, The Distressed Lady.
Mr George Lazarus
The chambers of Mr George Lazarus were, in every way, what I expected to find and a little bit more. So was the man. The room was sumptuously furnished, the desk even larger than the clerk’s outside. The chairs were leather bound. Paintings depicting scenes of fox-hunting and horse-riding were on the walls .
Mr George Lazarus stood with his back to me, looking out the window which gave him a fine view of an inner garden courtyard. He was dressed in the finest broadcloth. He had a high collar and a cravat wrapped around his thick neck. He was a very portly man, huge and broad as a bull. He carried a lot of extra weight but he did not look flabby. He looked solid and strong.
When he turned to face me, that impression was reinforced. His nose was aquiline, his mouth narrow, his eyes were hooded. His weight did not, as it does in so many fat men, convey the impression of joviality, conviviality and good cheer. It gave a sense of rapacious, unchecked appetite.
“You are Brodie, the inquiry agent,” he said. It was not a question. He was placing me in his mind, attaching a name to my face and I could tell from the way he looked that he would no more forget me than I would forget him. His voice was booming but there was no warmth in it. It was clear I had been let into the chamber not so much so that I might question Mr Lazarus but so that he might ask questions of me.
“I am, sir.”
“And Perkins tells me that you have been employed by the Camberley woman to find her husband, whom she believes has gone missing.” He seemed to chew on his words as he spoke them. When he moved his mouth, his many chins moved beneath it.
“Who has gone missing, sir.”
“Yes. Yes. Of course,” he said, in a manner that dismissed the correction as trivial and at once asserted his mastery of the situation. “And she has sent you here because…”
“I came here because it seemed like the best place to start my investigation, sir.”
“How so?” His tone was sharp and school-masterly now and I found myself starting to resent it. I made my voice as patient sounding as I could without giving offence.
“Because men sometimes take things that do not belong to them from their places of employment. It is one of those reasons men disappear.”
“They disappear to Australia, sir, if they take anything from me. To Australia or to the gallows.”
“Has that happened, Mr Lazarus?” I asked. I could not help myself. I felt the urge to provoke him.
“Of course not!” His tone very strongly suggested than no one would have the impertinence to dare such a thing as theft while in his employ.
“So you are saying that nothing has been noticed missing since the time when Mr Camberley disappeared?”
His mouth shut like a trap. He was plainly considering the matter more carefully now.
“Nothing has been found to be so!” Even as he attempted to speak softly his voice managed to be thunderous.
“Then you have looked, sir?”
“I can assure you, Mr Brodie, there is no need of such a thing. If there had been any irregularities in my office, they would have been noticed. By God, they would have!”
“Can you think of anything odd, sir, in the days leading up to Mr Camberley’s disappearance? Did he behave any differently than usual? Were there any irregularities in his manner?”
“I don’t allow irregularities among my clerks. I expect them all to be decent, well-behaved, respectful young fellows.”
“Of course you do, sir. And of course they are. I would expect nothing less.”
He moved closer to me, like a prize-fighter going for a clinch. He was one of those very large men who use their size as a bludgeon to intimidate the people around them. I recognised this at once, for I do it myself sometimes. He looked directly into my eyes with a cold, unblinking porcelain blue stare. I think he was surprised when I did not flinch.
“Are you mocking me, Mr Brodie,” he thundered. He was close enough so I could smell the scent of tobacco that clung to his garments.
I held his gaze for long enough to let him know I was not daunted.
“No sir. I can assure you I am not.” I kept my voice quiet but he heard the menace in it. I could not have kept it out if I tried.
His hands flexed as if he wanted to place his fingers around my throat. He took a step back and they balled, momentarily, into fists. I tilted my head to one side and nodded amiably but my heart was beginning to pound against my ribs and I felt some of the old excitement I used to get in my fighting days. I think he noticed that too. His hands slowly unclenched. His lips smiled. His eyes remained hooded. “Did you ever take part in the Fancy, Mr Brodie.”
“I did, sir, when I first came to London. I fought to earn extra money.” He nodded as if I had confirmed something.
“I thought so. I saw you spar with the Liverpool Ape once although you were much younger then and did not have that cruel scar on your cheek.”
“A man gave me that when I was a Runner, sir. He died shortly thereafter.” I let him draw his own conclusions from that. He strode back over to his desk, slumped down in his chair, rested his elbows on his desk, interlocked his fingers and rested his many chins on them while he considered me. I do not think he was frightened of me, not really. He was just puzzled and frustrated at his inability to bend me to his will. Contrary to what we like to tell our children, not all bullies are cowards, and not all of them will run if you stand up to them. Some of them will turn very nasty indeed.