Scarlet Seduction


Parody crime fiction

Scarlet Seduction

Scarlet’s life was dull as hell and she knew it. What was she doing working herself to the bone to keep her business running? What would she get out of it in the end? Dark circles under her eyes and sore joints. The measures of success for any modern professional.

She envied men. They got the added bonus of going bald. Showing off their gleaming pates for everyone to gasp at in wonder.

‘He must have worked himself like a slave!’ they would say. The lucky bastards.

What she needed was a strong male authority figure to inject some purpose into her dilapidated life. Little did she know, the author was about to do just that. He found her at the airport bar, sipping a glass of tonic water and ice. No gin, he noticed. Perfect.

Continue reading “Scarlet Seduction”

Writing The Opposite Gender (rehashed in a rage)

Do you remember the time I published a post about Writing the Opposite Gender? I’ll summarise it for you. Just write a person. People are unique, regardless of gender. That sounds about right. We can leave it at that.

Women aren’t pandas. Neither are men. That’s all you need to know.

But we can’t! Your writing is going to be read (we hope). It will be read by people who think about gender. If you’re unlucky, it will be read by someone who thinks about gender while they read (a very dangerous sport).

You may remember that earlier post, but do you remember the time I wrote a crime novella? Not to worry if you don’t. I’ve since unpublished it as part of an effort to get serious with my writing. It was a silly thing I wrote on a bet. A bet made largely with myself.

“I bet I can write a crime novella in a couple of weeks.”

“What? Why would you do that? It seems kind of pointless if that’s not even the genre you -”

“Challenge accepted!”

Continue reading “Writing The Opposite Gender (rehashed in a rage)”

An Agent Of Principle #4

Minnewaukan ND

They parked outside the station house and Tom led Jessie along the high street. People nodded to them in greeting. Innocent enough, but Jessie saw them cluster together after they passed, whispering behind her back.

‘The agent who got shot.’

‘What’s she doing up and about?’

She was glad when Tom said they were nearly at the morgue. Less so when he led her through the local grocery store’s side door. They stepped into the back cold storage room, where two men were standing over a stretcher set up in the middle of the floor.

The doctor was in his late thirties. White coat, clean-shaven and cropped dark hair. The other Jessie guessed was the grocer. Cut-off jeans shorts, tie-dye t-shirt, white beard trailing down over his bony chest and a pair of thin spectacles propped on top of his smooth, bald head.

Continue reading “An Agent Of Principle #4”

An Agent Of Principle #3

Minnewaukan ND

Damp cartridges. What a thing to have saved her life. Jessie had woken up in a hospital bed with a bunch of battered yellow flowers on the table beside her. Left by the sheriff, as she found out when Tom came in to check on her. No memories of what happened after she got out of her car.

His eyes were downcast, fixed on a sheet of paper in his hands. Apology written in his lined face. A fax from the state capital. Dangerous, do not approach. Melcom had been talking the big talk in prison. The “I ain’t going back inside” talk. Shooting his mouth about how he planned to go down fighting if they tried to take him in again.

It was just a routine check. Driving out to a tin-roof shack to look in on an newly released felon. Nothing serious. Nothing dangerous. Deputy work. And Tom had sent a special agent out there, waving her bureau I.D. in a paranoid ex-con’s face.

‘Don’t beat yourself up about it,’ she’d said, meaning it. ‘I volunteered.’

Continue reading “An Agent Of Principle #3”

An Agent Of Principle #2

Minnewaukan ND

A sign rolled into view at the side of the road. You are now leaving Roiville. Jessie didn’t think she’d ever been happier to leave anywhere. The only thing tempering her relief was the knowledge she would be coming back.

Back to what? A town with one foot in the grave and the other stuck so far in the past they probably believe Abraham Lincoln is the president.

The radio was chattering away in the background. She turned the volume up to drown out her morose thoughts. And now a special announcement from President Nixon. Her hand shot down and flicked the radio onto static. Dialled the volume back down to an indistinct hum.

Politics. No thanks.

When Jessie got behind the wheel of her new ride for the first time there was a Lynn Anderson cassette in the slot. Blasting country music from the moment she turned the key in the ignition.

‘Brand new and ready to drive off the lot,’ the salesman had said.

Yeah, and pigs can fly.

If it really was brand new, then someone at the factory in Japan or wherever had an ear for country. Jessie doubted it.

Turning off the main road the trees crept closer on either side. Dense, dark forest visible through breaks in the treeline. A dirt track, rutted by the passage of tractors and trailers. Was she lost? Jessie couldn’t be sure. There were no landmarks, nothing of note save the dust blowing in her rear-view mirror and mangled roadkill in her peripheral vision.

Something crept into view as she pulled the pickup round a winding bend. A monstrosity of corrugated iron and plywood. Not even worthy of being called a shack. A backwoods hovel. Jessie eased down on the brakes and the car nudged forwards, jolted to a halt.

She peered through the windscreen. Flecked with dust and dead bugs. There was no movement at the end of the road. All she could see was the tin-roofed hut and a beat-up chevy with rust glaring through flaking paint.

Is this the right place? I mean it looks like the kind of place an ex-con would live, but I don’t see how anyone could live here.

Two glances over her map and she was certain this was the felon’s house. A man stepped outiside, letting the door slam behind him. Jessie watched him put a cigarette to his mouth and freeze. Motionless. Like a deer catching a predator’s scent.


She lifted the map higher, making it half-visible over the dashboard. A match flared and touched the end of the cigarrette. One puff. Two. He started walking over, arms hanging heavy by his sides.

Very thin, almost emaciated. Sunken cheeks. Puffed red eyes. She wondered if the ex-con was sick. Perhaps he had the flu.

No, not sick. He’s a burn-out. Drugged off his head, most likely. Probably hit a doobie just before I arrived. Keep cool and don’t spook him.

Jessie slid one hand across her breast and down towards her ribcage. As if checking for her own smokes. The small .38 revolver was reassuringly solid against her side. A good weight to it.

What if I have to draw it?

The damn thing was wedged in so tight by her suit jacket, it would take at least a minute to wrestle from its holster. Bending over and feigning a closer expection of her map, Jessie tugged at the smooth wooden handle. It didn’t budge.

Come on. You’ve got to be kidding me!

A short struggle and the pistol came free. With a sigh of pure relief, Jessie dropped it into the side door compartment. A loud tap on the window. She squinted up, blinded by the sun shining overhead, and rolled down the window. Realised how dishevelled she looked after her fight with the holster. Unkempt hair and creased jacket.

‘You lost, miss?’ he asked in his hooting country midwestern accent. Took a drag and flicked ash on the side of the car bonnet. ‘Don’t see many unfamiliar folk out here.’

‘Maybe you can help me,’ Jessie replied, pulling out her badge and flashing the I.D. ‘I’m looking for Jim Melcom. Does he live round here?’

No reaction to seeing the badge. Not even a twitch. His eyes remained cool, easy as if she’d asked his opinion of the weather and shown him her driver’s licence. Another drag. Another slug of crumbling ash on the pickup’s pristine bodywork.

‘Oh yeah? That’s my brother. I’ll head on in and fetch him.’

He flicked the butt out into the roadside undergrowth. Strolled back towards his iron sheet and plywood shack. Limping. Why was he limping? It didn’t matter. Jessie knew he was her man. His mugshot had been in the damn report.

For Christ’s sake, who does he think he’s fooling?

Her hands were trembling as she folded up the map and stowed it in the glove compartment. Deep breath, hold for ten, release. She opened the door and stepped out into the midmorning sunlight.

I should start wearing a hat. It’s dumb not to. Tom and his deputies all wear one, but then again, they’re not federal agents. What sort of hat does an agent wear? They don’t teach you that at the academy.

Lectures on the national security threats of Communism, counter-culture and organised crime were less than useless out in the northernmost midwest. Jessie doubted she’d find anyone within a hundred miles who could tell her who Karl Marx was.

He was coming back. Melcom walked down his dirt-and-weed driveway with one arm around his wife’s waist. Thin as a rake, hollow-cheeked and with a pinch in the bridge of her nose. Say what you might for the grime and rips in her dress, the woman’s hair was gorgeous. It stunned Jessie. Everything else about them and their home was falling apart at the seams, but there she was. Golden hair tumbling in soft curls over her shoulders.


A sneer tugged the corner of Melcom’s lip. Baring dark molars in a bestial grin. The easy sway of his shoulders. His wife stepping away to one side. Something was wrong.

Jessie reached inside her jacket. Empty. Smith and Wesson .38 revolver still lying in the side door compartment of her truck.

Melcom’s hand gripped a thick wooden stock. The long, black double-barrel emerged from behind his wife’s back, as if time had slowed to a gut-clenching crawl. Sick fear weighed heavy in Jessie’s gut. She reached out her hands, palms open. Reassuring. Non-threatening. Following every lesson she had learned at the academy.

Two loud cracks and something punched into her chest. Like being kicked by a mule. It knocked Jessie off her feet and the world drowned in red in her eyes. Explosion. Fireworks. Red lights. Flashing. More explosions and dust blowing around her.

Wailing, screaming outside her head. The world dissolved around Jessie as the squad car pulled up to the hospital doors.

Don’t worry, it’s not over yet…

An Agent Of Principle

Missouri River

A play on the legal term ‘agent of principal’.

The protagonist borrows names or initials from the FBI’s first three female agents. Recruited in the ’50s, they were soon edged out and the bureau did not take female recruits again until 1972. Read about them here.

US state close to the border with Canada, 1973

Jessie L Davidson, Special Agent. The plastic I.D. spelled it out in bold letters, clear as day. It was warming to look at. A gentle tingle of joy like she got from standing in the afternoon sunlight. For as long as Jessie didn’t look at the damn date of birth. They should put an opt-out box on the form, surely?

Vanity was not one of her vices. Or if it so, not a dominating one. What did she care how old people thought, knew, she was?

If I’m showing some hood my badge, I doubt I’ll be asking him out.

Her irritation at the short sequence of numbers went deeper. It was something she was born with. Something she had no control over. Jessie was a woman, always had been, and not two years ago they wouldn’t have let her within a hundred yards of the F.B.I.

That was their loss. I’m in the door now and climbing my way up the front staircase. 

Except she knew she wasn’t. Nobody had laid out the bureau’s roadmap to a cushy office on the top floor of the J Edgar Hoover Building, but Jessie was sure a posting out in the back of beyond didn’t feature on it. She had been relegated. All but dismissed.

Garbage. It was how they saw her. It was how she felt. Damn if she’d let it break her.

Jessie remembered being a young girl. How young had she been? Scuffed-up pigtails, muddy flower-pattern frocks and dolls lying untouched in their cardboard boxes. That young. That sort of girl. She didn’t know when it began, but for as long as her memory served her she had wanted to be a special agent.

Forty-one years of age last fall. Over the hump. Thirty plus years waiting for someone in the world to grow some sense. Filling out a desk job and watching the clock. Watching a calendar. Watching women shoot into space, and still nobody thought to hand them a badge.

I’ve got my badge now. Time to quit whining and face reality. You wanted to be a special agent? Here we are. What now?

Her alarm clock had a fit. Shuffling around on its short metal legs. Why did she still bother setting it? Since the academy she hadn’t been able to sleep in, unless she was coming down with something. Being last up in the morning, being the only woman in your class and the only one over thirty. It was enough to make you spring up from your bed at the crack of dawn every day singing The Star-Spangled Banner and throwing salutes to the flag.

Welcome to the rest of your life.

The clock rattled closer to the edge of her bedside table. Ringing. Ringing. Ringing. She snatched it up and flicked the switch. Paused for a moment with her finger resting against the battery pack. No, not today. Every morning she considered doing it, but always there was ‘What if?’ What if she overslept tomorrow? What if she forgot to start getting ready on-time?

Who’d know? Does anyone even know I’m out here? 

They had hardly pushed her onto a train, stuck an address label to her chest and shipped her off to the sticks. Jessie knew when she was being melodramatic. People knew where she was. They sent the circulars to the local police station. She was encourage to check-in by phone now and then. It would be a lie to say she’d been forgotten.

It’s not like they care though, is it? 

There was no arguing with that.

Jessie breezed through her morning routine, leaving her I.D. out on the kitchen table so she wouldn’t chicken out and climb back into bed. It hadn’t happened yet, but it was always worth taking the precaution. Shower, clothes, breakfast. Oatmeal and raisins. Two slices of buttered toast and jelly. She looked down at her waist.

I’m getting fat. 

A little vanity could be a good thing. She walked downstairs to the first floor and jogged back up to her apartment. Repeated the exercise until she was wheezing for breath on the landing then stepped out onto the sidewalk. Already sweating and today was going to be hot. The workout had been a mistake, but she was feeling better about the day ahead.

Her car sat on the street under a thin film of dust. As soon as she found a reason to go anywhere, she’d take it for a drive. Somehow it felt like a crime to buy a new pickup and only take it from the salesman’s lot to her front door. Did she even know where she left the keys?

Ten minutes walk down the idle main street and she arrived at the station house. Stepping inside she was greeted by the same pitying looks, as if the local sheriff’s deputies thought a badge and gun might be too heavy for her. Like carrying them would give her arthritis.

That wasn’t fair. They were honest guys and they’d been welcoming enough. Most of them were good guys. Jessie saw the sheriff and made a beeline towards him. His second coffee of the morning was still steaming in his hand. A good sign. Catch him between his first caffeine hits of the day and he was a terror.

‘Morning, Tom,’ she said, raising a hand in greeting. ‘Has anything come in for me?’

Federal agents don’t wave to local police. Get a grip, for Christ’s sake. 

‘Mornin’, Agent Davidson,’ he called, returning the gesture with a broad smile. Then the mournful look returned. Like he was turning away a begging dog. The comparison wasn’t too far off the truth. ‘Nothing’s come in so far. You thinking you might drive up to the reservation and take a look at things over there?’

His tone was almost pleading. How could she blame him? Sheriff Tom was trying to run his town and keep one step ahead of whatever petty criminals happened to breeze through it. The last thing he wanted or needed was a special agent slouching around his office, waiting for a call which never came. She could go up to the reservation. In technical terms, it was her jurisdiction.

‘Has anything happened up there?’ she asked, trying to stand up straight without her holster chaffing. Why didn’t the deputy just get off his lazy backside and fetch her a chair? He gave her a bored look and went back to his paperwork. The sheriff seemed oblivious, keeping his kindly gaze on her.

‘Nothing I know of,’ Tom replied, stepping into his office and motioning for her to accompany him. ‘It’s pretty much always quiet out there.’

The distraction would be welcome, but it didn’t sit right with Jessie. She wasn’t blind to the resentment some within the reservations had to federal involvement. Interference, as they saw it. Was it worth poking her nose in, maybe inadvertently stirring up trouble, just to give herself a sense of purpose? Her conscience prickled at the idea.

Well, what else am I going to do? I’m here to do a job. What use is having a conscience if it won’t let me get on and do it?

‘I’ll head out there another time.’

Tom nodded, slow and thoughtful. When once you don’t succeed, try and try again. Jessie waited. She was getting to be an expert at waiting. Watched the cogs grinding round behind his kindly, pitying eyes.

‘Hey, Deputy West,’ he called through the door. There was no reply from the surly deputy sitting behind his desk, eyes glued to his report. ‘West, where’s that report which came in last night?’

Swaggering like a younger, portlier John Wayne, the deputy strolled into Tom’s office. He flourished a sheet of paper, slapped it down on the sheriff’s desk and touched his forelock to Jessie.

Why does he do that? I know he’s not wearing a hat. He knows he’s not wearing a hat. It’s pointless. Is he just letting me know he knows I’m a woman? No, he’s saying I’m a lady. A deputy doesn’t tip his hat to a federal agent. 

 ‘Thanks, West,’ Jessie said, tapping the brim of her own imaginary hat.

Who’s the lady now?

It was petty and the deputy didn’t even seem to notice, but the small act had felt like revenge for something. She turned back towards the sheriff and cringed under his stare. Tom had seen it. A calculation was happening behind his weary eyes. Turning cogs. Whirring gears. He was studying her. Trying to work out if she was a loose cannon which would jeopardise the cohesiveness of his small-town police force.

‘Here’s something for you,’ he said, handing over the report.

There wasn’t much to it. Several lines of black typed font about an ex-con recently released on probation. Something to check up on. Deputy’s work.

‘You want me to follow-up on this?’ she asked, glancing over it again to see whether she’d missed something.

‘He’s been released from prison in another state,’ Tom said, aloof, giving her an apathetic shrug. ‘So I reckon he’s crossed state lines to get here, which makes it your jurisdiction. Of course, I can’t ask you to do anything you don’t want to do. You have seniority here.’

He waved his arms to encompass the tiny, cramped station house. Making it clear how absurd their situation was. A federal agent riding a desk in a backwoods border town. No security threats or serious crimes to speak of. It was a damn shame and they both knew it. If he was throwing her a bone, Jessie wasn’t so proud she wouldn’t jump to catch it. After all, it was better than rousing up the reservation just to stave off boredom.

‘Thanks, Tom. I’ll look into this.’

She headed out, feeling like a hundred bucks. The address was on the other side of town, far enough to justify wiping some of the dirt off her pickup. This was turning into a good day. It didn’t last. A short drive and an even shorter conversation later, Jessie was staring down the wrong end of a shotgun barrel. Trying to remember whether she ever made her will.

Ripper (full story)

Battersea bridge

Ripper parts 1-9; edited, updated and condensed for your greater enjoyment!

Chapter 1

Jed knew everything about the woman. He had been watching over her for almost four months and it felt as though they had been friends since childhood. He knew that she must think he was her guardian angel. One day, he did not know when, Jed would summon enough courage to speak to her.

Every night she stood beneath the same hanging lantern, bathed in a halo of warm amber light. Every night Jed watched her from the shadows, her figure perfectly silhouetted against the waters of the river as they glimmered in the moonlight.

He knew it was not right that she was oblivious to her saviour’s identity. On several nights he had seen her being robbed and beaten by crooks or manhandled by the local constables. He had immediately done all that he could to save her life, praying feverishly for Him not to take her so soon. She had not died yet.

I’ll protect you, my sweetness.

But now a new threat was drawing near. It came beneath a wide-rimmed hat and heavy overcoat, lingering in the shadows at the edge of the circle of light. Jed prepared his mind for the prayer he would soon be offering, but there was no need. The woman turned towards the stranger, laughed shrilly at something he said and threw her arms around his neck.

‘Just business, no need to worry,’ Jed muttered, using his sleeve to stifle a cough.

The pair began to trade fleeting kisses and he felt blood rush to his cheeks. He was not angry or jealous, merely embarrassed to be witnessing such a private exchange.

A rough leather shoe clapped against the hard cobblestones behind him. The sound was faint but it carried clearly to Jed’s ears. He began to turn as the sharp thing bit into his neck. It dragged across and a wave of warmth spread down his chest. A red mist hung in the air. Jed tried to ask what was happening but found he could not speak. He crumpled to the ground.

The crimson blush of life drained out of Jed’s face, replaced with the ashen pallor of death.

Chapter 2

Jack pressed his lips to the rim of the rough flagon, took a small mouthful and grimaced. He had never thought a pint of ale could become stale, but that was exactly how the beer tasted. It had the hard, sour taste of bread long since made inedible. Something dark floated on top of the cloudy brew and Jack hoped it was only a head of wheat.

He was surrounded by the low hubbub of tens of voices talking at once. The tavern was dark and musty, smelling like a damp cellar. This was unsurprising considering that they were one floor underground and only separated from the muddy bank of the Thames by a few feet of stone and brick. Black mould clung to the wooden beams holding up the ground floor.

‘Are you drinking that, mate?’ someone asked from over Jack’s shoulder.

‘You have it.’

He turned and pressed the vile drink into the grimy hands of an elderly man with hops and pieces of bread sticking out of his tangled grey beard. Jack shuddered as the wretched man’s hand touched his.

Wretched filth. Some people ought to be thrown in the river and given a good cleaning up.

Every rational part of his mind was pleading with him to leave the tavern. The men who frequented riverside drinking holes were all either vicious or desperate, sometimes both, and the very air was polluting his body.

‘But I have to stay,’ Jack said to himself.

‘What’s that, love?’

A heavy figure pressed itself between Jack and the crowd. He saw a maroon dress almost bursting at the seams where it had been tightly laced over an expansive bosom. A pair of gaudily painted red cheeks wobbled as the woman pressed her pink lips into a wet pout.

‘I wasn’t talking to you, I’m sorry,’ Jack replied.

‘Well, who were you talking to then?’

‘Nobody, you shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be here with these men.’ He tried to move away from the whore and backed into a group of men. She tottered after him.

‘Tell me your name, love. Why shouldn’t I be ‘ere?’

Jack leaned closer to the woman and a heady waft of perfume stung his nostrils. He whispered in her ear.

‘These men are all evil. I’m going to kill them.’

Chapter 3

Constable Matthews was standing alone on the high stone bank of the Thames. Except that he was not alone. Inside the city it was hard to ever find somewhere truly isolated. There was a hum of noise drifting out of the taverns behind him and tired yellow light glowed in the windows of warehouse offices.

Scribes and sailors alike would be getting little sleep that night, the one hastily finishing the accounts of the day and the rest drinking away whatever demons haunted them. This was to say nothing of the rats. In London you were never far from a rat.

Bugger rats, they’re not the only vermin in this ‘ere city. 

The constable was seeking out a different sort of vermin that black night. He lingered as a portly phantom in navy blue coat and helmet under the dark void beneath the shattered street lamp. The smooth cobbles at his feet were still tarnished by the maroon blemish of spilled and dried blood.

‘Good evening, constable.’

Matthews looked up from the old stain and saw a familiar face. The constable’s mind was an impeccably kept and ordered repository of all the names and faces which frequented his beat. It was a catalogue of local knowledge which could have put the national library of any state to shame, if they were in the habit of keeping such records.

Even as his beady eyes watched the fellow pass him by, Matthews was running through everything that he knew of the man.

Last name Smithly. Dockyard labourer by trade. No family. Hang on, a widowed sister in Portsmouth. Whore. No church or creed to speak of and frequents the Steady Berth. Villain, most likely, but not proven.

The latter was one of the seedier tumbledown places where criminals of all sorts gathered to conspire and gloat.

‘Stay out of trouble, Smithly,’ Matthews called to the labourer’s retreating back.

It was not long before another regular passed him at his lonely vigil.

Chandler, no association with trade or ship-building. A well-to-do bachelor with apartments in Kensington. Old Anglican stock and patron of some of the less wretched but still morally corrupt alehouses of the docklands. Braggart and womaniser, but no villain.

‘God give you good evening, Constable Matthews,’ the man called with a tip of his hat.

‘Good evening to you also. Be sure I don’t see any of Tapper’s girls sporting sore bruises tomorrow or I’ll be coming for words with you.’

The gentleman straightened his back, turned his chin up at the constable and hurried away with aristocratic aloofness. Those two were not the only men Matthews saw during his watch, but they were of the most note. A career criminal and an entitled philanderer, prime suspects indeed.

His vigil beneath the broken lamp had a determined purpose to it. Experience had taught Matthews much. He had learned that a nation’s worst persons congregated in its ports and the vilest excesses therein were carried on by its docks.

He also knew that men who sung hymns and toiled at honest labour beneath the sun’s glow would rob, fight and worse when the moon was high. But the most important piece of experience he had earned was the realization that a killer’s footsteps always brought him back to the scene of his crime, willingly or not, and invariably on the evening after it was done.

One of the men who passed him that night had wielded the razor in the dark, opened a woman’s throat and painted the cobblestones red.

Chapter 4

Master Jeply ripped his loaded quill across the page with a final, furious flourish. It was the end of a very long day during which absolutely nothing had gone well.

All’s well as ends well, as the saying goes, and it’s over now. For a night, at least.

The labourers had unloaded the wrong cargo, his assistant had been late opening the warehouse and just when he thought nothing worse could happen, there was the prior day’s account.

He believed without any shred of doubt that one or all of the accounts men were at the bottle. There was no other way they could have produced such a document, filled with more errors than truths. It almost seemed to him that the brittle pages reeked of gin.

‘Well blast it all!’ Master Jeply cursed.

He was a devout man, a Christian man, but even the strictest believer could be driven to curse like a devil.

Things would not improve on his way home, Master Jeply thought as he packed away his work in a battered leather satchel. He would have to walk some distance down the wharf to make the journey. That meant passing women of debauched profession and men of poor repute.

Ugly, tormented souls to fill an ugly, tormented city. Not for long though. Soon it will be long walks in the countryside and a comfortable retirement. Dorset or Norfolk, I wonder?

If England were still a godly nation, such people would all be hanged, he mused. The thought tickled his mind and a cynical smile curled the corner of his tight lips. There was another gentleman who shared his beliefs.

He had seen the agent of darkness sneaking along the wharf some nights before, a glittering blade in his shadowed hand. The assassin had crept upon an unsuspecting agent of the devil and cut her down beneath the swinging streetlamp.

‘What a sight that was,’ Master Jeply muttered as he stepped out of his office onto the cobbles of the waterfront. ‘Praise be to God.’

‘You saw nothing,’ a voice breathed from the shadows.

Master Jeply wanted to agree. He wanted to take the stranger in a brother’s embrace and tell him of their common convictions. He wanted to swear that he would carry the truth locked in his breast until his dying day.

There were many things he wanted to say and do, but he had no opportunity to act on his desires. His throat was open, letting his words seep out into the air as nothing more than ragged breaths. The lifeblood which had sustained him since birth now blossomed down the front of his starched white shirt.

Chapter 5

‘This isn’t right.’

Constable Matthews muttered the words as he stood over the warehouse master’s lifeless corpse, following them with a violent curse.

He could understand waking to find a prostitute lying beneath a broken lamp, her throat cut by some dockside cur. He could understand the boy Jed, who so liked to stalk the ladies of the night, having his neck slit by a jealous lover.

But Master Jeply had been an honest, hard-working and god-fearing man. Far from indulging in pleasures of the flesh, he had treated the harbour women and tavern patrons like diseased mongrels, never letting even a breath of their wickedness touch his pure soul.

‘Who, then? Who kills a whore, a peeping tom and a Christian?’

There was no answer readily apparent. Years of walking his beat by the docks had given Constable Matthews a wealth of experience, but it had also dragged him deeper into the routine until habit overcame intelligence.

As far as his mind was concerned, philanderers killed prostitutes, lovers murdered peeping toms and nobody had cause to harm a godly man.

Damn the confounded absurdity of it. Who kills a godly man? 

Watching from the shadows beside the warehouse, Jack’s sharp eyes caught every twitch of frustration on the constable’s furrowed brow.

Routine made for a fine constable, but a poor detective. And habit was the best friend of a dockside ripper. Jack stepped out of the shadows, fingering the razor blade in his pocket.

‘Good morrow, Constable Matthews,’ he called. ‘Bloody business that.’

The lawman’s hard gaze searched Jack’s face for a moment, no doubt drawing everything he knew about him from the dusty shelves of his mind. Jack wondered what bright nuggets of information lay there.

A good man. An honest man. Perhaps even a godly man. No killer, good old Jack.

‘Good morning to you,’ the constable said. ‘See anything strange the past few nights?’

‘Not a peep, constable. You know I’m not one for going out after dark.’

Chapter 6

The judge sat high above the accused on a towering dais of polished mahogany. His front was guarded by the ornately carved royal coat of arms, an insistent reminder that his word was the Queen’s law.

If this ornamented threat was not enough, the plush red robes billowing around his body and powered wig on his head were a powerful symbol that, in this court at least, a man was judged by his betters.

Next to this mountain of imperial authority, be it in the lowly Southwark Crown Court which sat only a short distance from Whitechapel, the two accused men seemed as small as ants.

Constable Matthews did not feel much larger. A fifteen minute walk had brought him there, but he felt many miles away from the familiar stomping ground of his dockside beat.

And now the full weight of English Law, which stretched from London to Calcutta, Montreal to Sydney, was about to fall on his head and crush him beneath the judge’s black-polished heel.

‘Constable, would you kindly tell me why these two men are standing before me?’ the judge asked, his tone every bit as severe as the expression on his sharp face. ‘Why are they charged with the same crime but not as accessories? Why have you provided no evidence of their guilt?’

Matthews felt naked without his navy blue uniform and helmet. He wished he had not worn a simple grey suit, but he could not have known his actions would be called into question.

If I close my eyes, will I be back on my beat? Will I have been dreaming this? Bugger it all. 

The prosecutor caught his desperate glance and shrugged his shoulders. That was how it was going to be, it seemed. Matthews would never have brought charges against the two men if the prosecutor had not been leaning on him.

‘Smithly and Chandler are the most likely suspects in these murders, and-‘

He broke off his explanation. Surely that reed-thin, wavering voice could not be his, Matthews thought. It was nothing like the proud constable’s bellow which usually echoed across the waterfront.

The judge’s paunchy hand crashed into the top of the dais in front of him, making Matthews jump. Both prisoners lowered their gaze.

‘You make a mockery of this court, constable, and the Crown it represents. Are you seriously asking us to investigate this crime for you?’

He was interrupted by the sound of frantic steps rattling down the hallway outside. To Matthews’ relief, they drew ever closer, promising him salvation.

Flood or fire, I don’t mind. So long as it gets me out from under that pompous devil’s stare.

The courtroom doors flew open to reveal a red-faced constable’s clerk in a black shirt streaked with sweat. Like a vicious snake preparing to pounce, the judge rose to deliver a verbal assault against the intruder.

‘Begging pardon, Your Honour. There’s been murder in Whitechapel, near the docks.’ the clerk gasped.

Constable Matthews felt his vigour return. He would serve his penance with the judge later. Now there was a killer to catch.

‘Who was it, man?’ he demanded of the clerk. ‘Who was killed?’

‘So many of them, sir. It’s a bloodbath, a massacre. A whole room of people near wiped out at the Black Flagon. Men hacked to ribbons, women with their throats cut, blood-‘

The clerk doubled over and began to retch. At the far end of the courtroom, the judge’s dais seemed to shrink as he held a perfumed handkerchief over his mouth and nose. Smithly’s rat-like face was twitching. Many of his villainous friends frequented the Flagon, Matthews remembered. Even the philanderer and abuser, Chandler, had turned somewhat pale. Perhaps he had a favoured mistress or two there.

Either way, that was two suspects crossed off the list, and more bodies piling up with every passing day.

Chapter 7

It really is a bloodbath.

Constable Matthews had travelled up by cab from Southwark Crown Court fully expecting to discover the clerk was exaggerating. You simply did not find massacres happening in the heart of London. It was absolutely unheard of.

But here he was, standing near up to his ankles in the gore strewn across the Black Flagon’s floor. There were smears of drying black blood running up the walls and in loose splashes on the roof beams. It was like the backroom of a slaughterhouse, men and women sprawled underfoot like pigs waiting for the butcher’s block.

He could see clearly enough how the thing had been done. A short wooden bar lay by the door where it had been used to seal the exit. Matthews had passed a woman, plump and with an expansive bosom, resting in a bloody heap against the wall of the alley outside. No doubt she was a witness, swiftly silenced.

Then the killer had moved through the tavern proper. He had begun with the gambling men, who still had playing cards and dice clasped in their rigid, cold fingers. Then he had forged a path of slit throats and hacked limbs through the evening crowd.

But that’s not right. It’s impossible.

The place must have been packed. Even the sharpest blade would have become thick with blood, useless. Then the patrons would surely have defended themselves. Beneath hair matted with gore and faces twisted in shock or agony, Matthews recognised hard men who would not hesitate to crack a man’s skull to save their own skins.

So this is no ordinary killer. Some demon, perhaps? Folly. Keep a straight head, damn it.

A pair of boots rapped the flagstones and another constable entered the tavern. He was not a man Matthews knew, and he remembered every face he met. The man was tall, unsurprisingly, and had an added briskness to his step which marked him out as someone who had seen military service.

‘The Commissioner wants this kept quiet,’ the stranger said. ‘He wants no word getting out of what happened inside.’

Matthews’ brow furrowed and he felt a vein pulse in his temple.

‘How does the Commissioner expect me to investigate this crime then?’

‘You can mention the whore outside, nothing else. There’s this as well.’

The constable handed Matthews a folded note, turned on his heels and marched out of the tavern. His gaze did not even chance on the corpses sprawled around them as his boots clipped the stone floor. Matthews heard a cab door slam closed and the clop of hooves on the cobblestones outside.

He unfolded the note and read.

         ‘Dear Constable Matthews,

          I am a great admirer of your work, and hear that you are investigating some of                 mine.

          Meet me under the broken lamp tonight, 9.00pm.

          Yours Faithfully,


Chapter 8

Matthews stood on the Thames quayside and breathed in the night air. The stench coming off the river was foul, so thick in his nostrils that he could almost taste the raw sewage and refuse floating on the surface. He gagged.

There would be no more Constable Matthews, the riverside bobby. The judge had come through on his threat that afternoon and seen him stripped of his uniform, dismissed from the London constabulary.

Heavy boots tapped the cobblestones behind him and Matthews turned. The lamp above his head was broken so it was not until the person was within arm’s reach that he could see their face.

What caught his attention first though were the bright silver buttons reflecting points of moonlight on his navy blue overcoat. It was the constable, the one who had handed him the note earlier that day.

Could it be? How could a constable commit such ungodly crimes?

Matthews nodded to the man and he did the same, but neither one of them spoke. His hand slowly reached for the stout wooden truncheon stuffed into his belt.

But he was interrupted by the arrival of another man, one he recognised. It was a clerk from one of the trading companies, a studious and timid man.

A third arrived, this one unknown to him. He had the burly figure of a labourer, but a keen intelligence in his sharp black eyes.

More men came to join the group, from all manner of backgrounds. There were dockhands, overseers and academics. Some had grey hairs on their head and others had yet to grow their first stubble. A few were in rags, a couple in top hats.

Matthews felt the hand which gripped his truncheon grow cold and clammy. He could not hope to fight so many men if they intended him harm. But he still needed to know which was the murderer.

‘Which of you men is Jack?’ Matthews asked, fighting back a stammer.

‘I’m Jack,’ the constable replied.

Damn. That complicated things.

The labourer spoke up. ‘Me, I’m Jack.’

‘I’d be Jack.’

‘I. I’m Jack.’

Thirty or more voices spoke the name that Matthews dreaded to hear. As they said it, his mind turned back to the bodies in the Black Flagon, heaped together and mired in blood. He heard the sound of thirty or more sharpened razors snapping open.

Chapter 9

What happened?

Matthews remembered the sharp glare of moonlight on the edge of thirty or more drawn razors. The taste of London smog, smoke and dust thick in his mouth. He’d seen grimy grey water spreading out as he fell towards its surface, or else it had fallen towards him.


Whether he standing, lying or still falling he didn’t know. He could feel the whole of his world spin around and stay deathly still all at the same time. His eyes were not opening, and that was a concern, but Matthews felt relaxed in spite of it.

It’s like sleeping. Or waking from a long sleep. Am I dying? Am I dead?

He groped towards his chest and his movements were sluggish in spite of his desperation. One finger met with coarse fabric and found it damp. Relief washed over Matthews with the realisation that he was bleeding. It answered some of his questions and at least the doubt was gone.

Now he did open his eyes, groping through the clouded darkness for some sign of light or life. An object swam towards him, a crumbled deck sprouting a decayed mast of brackish timber. Matthews tried to breathe sweet, crisp night air and inhaled foul Thames water. It burned in his lungs, but brought with it a certain peace.

So that’s where I ended up. It isn’t so bad. What was I afraid of? Constable Matthews, retiring from his beat.

Light shone blinding in his eyes.

Tell Me Your Story

Tell Me Your Story

Hi there!

I’m looking for stories to read. If you’ve written something in historical fiction, fantasy, crime (or any other genre you think I’d like) then leave a link to your story in the comments. I’ll drop in and have a read. Maybe others will too!

If you’ve got the time, tell me about you or your writing as well. It doesn’t even have to be fiction, I’m in the middle of reading a seemingly endless novel and in dire need of a break!

Are you a story in your own right? Then just tell me about yourself!


The Insanity Test

The Insanity Test

The man massaged the dark, ox-blood meat with firm circling motions. His left hand occupied tenderising the steak, he reached into the drying rack with his left. A voice calling through the bathroom door made him pause. That was one thing which never ceased to frustrate him, having the toilet next to the kitchen. It was barbaric.

“Babe, have you heard of this ‘insanity test’? It’s supposed to tell you whether or not you’re a psychopath.”

His hand found the cleaver’s handle. It came free from the rack with an intensely satisfying scrape of steel against wood. The man lifted it ever so slightly, braced his hand against the board and smacked the blade down. It pared through the meat and stuck for a second in the chopping block below. His face lit up with a smile as he pulled it free.

“Are you listening to me?” The bathroom voice asked, an irritating needle of accusation in its tone. “Have you started boiling the vegetables?”

Damn it, he’d forgotten. Now he’d be hearing the snagging, piercing voice for an hour over dinner. One tiny mistake and his whole night was ruined. He banged the cleaver down into the plump steak again. “I’m doing it now.”

“You didn’t already?”

That high, wavering voice. Was it the worst thing in the damn world if the vegetables didn’t get put on right then? Was it really that much of a crisis? He was getting stressed. That was his blood pressure ramming a nail into his temple every half-second. His mind was about to explode. It felt hot and stuffy, like he’d left the oven on and stuck his head inside it for good measure.

He swung the cleaver down again, missing the flesh completely and almost taking off his own thumb. He did a double-take to check that he hadn’t. Had to because there was blood on his hands, but no wound that he could see.

That was more bad news. Now he was really for it. He would be lucky if he even got any sleep that night. A bloody raw steak meant it hadn’t been butchered properly, there was no way they were eating that for dinner.

He went to wash his hands and there was more crimson blood, hot and sticky around the sink. It was everywhere. A shrill voice screamed from the hallway. Of course. His daughter always had to freak out about everything.

“Shut up!”

He tried walking to the other side of the kitchen and nearly tripped on something awkward and lumpen, lying in the middle of the kitchen floor. There was slippery, sticky wetness on the tiles beneath his feet.

“Pick that up! Mop that up!”

Damn, he was losing it. He was forgetting what he was supposed to be doing.

The cleaver rang over and again on the brittle tiles, hacking at chopping at the raw, bloody meat.

The girl in the hallway screamed.

My books:

Scafell Pike #7 (finale)

Scafell Pike #7 (finale)

Lu stepped over the threshold and into the bustling warmth of the country pub. Hikers, ramblers, locals and tourists were crowded around her, laughing and talking over pints of ale, gin and tonics. She felt a tightening in her throat where the killer had tried to strangle her. The warmth was close to suffocating after the chill of the mountainside.

Suddenly, she spotted something distinctive. All of her attention was focused on the red anorak draped over the back of a chair, her field of vision closing in so that it was the only thing she saw. Lu didn’t know what she was doing, but the coat was drawing closer to her. She was walking towards it like a woman in a dream, a waking nightmare. Her hand reached out and brushed against the slick plastic material.

A man turned, casting a casual look around the pub. Beyond him she saw mouths open in laughter, teeth bared in aimless chatter and lips pressed to the rims of pint glasses. But in the man’s face there was utter shock, perhaps even fear.

“Murderer!” Lu shouted, stabbing at the man with her finger. “He’s a murderer!”

The hubbub died down to a soft murmur. Every tongue in the place was stilled and each pair of eyes fixed itself on Lu’s quivering face. She was exhausted and emotionally drained, but elation leapt in her breast when she realised that the killer had been caught.

“You’re her.” The man said, narrowing his brows and taking a hesitant step back. “You’re the madwoman who chased me down the mountain.”

“Don’t play dumb!” Lu snapped, stepping after him. “I saw you throw her off the cliff. I saw you kill your girlfriend.”

People muttered darkly on all sides, moving away so that a wide circle formed around Lu and the killer. A wall of stern faces and suspicious scowls surrounded them.

“My girlfriend is back home. What are you talking about?”

The man took out a mobile phone and starting pressing buttons. Lu heard a dial tone ring a few times and a woman’s voice answered. Voices grumbled  and, as she looked around for support, Lu saw that their angry stares all fell on her. Her hands began to shake with mingled frustration and embarrassment.

But she had come too far to give in. She knew what she had seen. If she hadn’t seen it, she would have taken her own life. Witnessing that innocent woman’s death had given her a purpose, a reason to go on living. She refused to let it go.

“Then it was another woman.” Lu said, and then turned to the onlookers. “It was a woman in a bright blue anorak. He killed her because she wouldn’t marry him. Trust me, I saw it!”

She had thought the pub patrons’ glares were the worst of it, but they weren’t. Now people turned away, whispering to each other in tones of sympathy. Lu didn’t want them to feel sorry for her, she wanted to be believed.

A rough hand touched her arm and she jerked backwards. The killer was standing close, near enough to her that she could smell hops on his breath. He gestured to something, pointing at her chest. She looked down with the patron’s muttering loud in her ears.

“Poor thing, it’s sad really.”

“Probably unhinged. Someone should do something.”

“Is there anything we can do?”

Lu looked down and saw the bright blue anorak she had put on that morning.

You can read the first Scafell Pike here.