Starter Excerpt from the next Adelaide Becket story.
We’re two weeks out from the release of the next Adelaide Becket story, The Broadcloth Midnight, (or one week, if you’ve pre-ordered directly from me!). So it’s time for a big-ish starting excerpt (as there is no Chapter 1 to give you).
EXCERPT FROM THE BRAODCLOTH MIDNIGHT
COPYRIGHT © TRACY COOPER-POSEY 2021
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Turk’s Row, Chelsea, London. October 21, 1907.
Turk’s Row was an elegant, but short, street lined with larges houses and private gardens behind tall black wrought iron fences, which provoked dusty memories of Adele’s father’s town house in Grosvenor Square. Even the leaves lingering in the gutters and the edges of the footpath were the same, for it had been the end of the season when she had last departed the Mayfair house.
As Adele crossed the road, heading for the house on the eastern side of the frosty garden, she heard the single low toll of a bell, somewhere toward Pimlico. It was midnight and nothing moved on the street but she. Even the leaves were still.
Adele had seen rather too many midnights, lately. Most of them she had greeted while staring at the moonlit, ghostly white ceiling of her tiny bedroom, her hands clasped over her waist, the soft linen of her bed gown beneath her fingers, while her eyes ached but would not close.
Enough was enough. Tonight, she greeted the witching hour in broadcloth and wool, her mind made up.
Adele turned into the narrow alley behind the houses facing the gardens. Even the rear of the houses were neat and tidy, with boxwood hedges delineating each residence’s narrow band of property edging the lane. She moved down to the servants’ entrance at the back of the second house, and reached into her jacket pocket. She put her key to the lock, then paused to glance to either side of her and then directly behind her. She kept her chin down so the brim of the Homburg shaded her face, for the moon was full, tonight, and there were no clouds.
She glanced up at the windows of the houses opposite this one. All the windows were dark. No silhouettes made darker shapes behind the glass, nor did the moonlight illuminate any pale faces.
Satisfied, Adele turned the key, stepped inside and relocked the door. The little entrance contained two sets of stairs, one going up, the other down. Both were narrow, bare wood, worn into mild concaves in the middle from generations of shoes.
Adele climbed upward, not bothering to mask the sound of her boots on the steps. No one lived in the house at the moment—not on the main floors, at least. The family and their staff were in Northumberland for Christmas and would not be returning to London until after Easter, when the proper Season began.
She climbed two floors, then moved along the corridor to a narrow door. On the other side was yet another flight of stairs, even narrower and dark with age and grime. The simple banister rail had turned even darker from the touch of many hands.
At the top was a plain door, which she knocked on. Three swift taps, a pause, then two more.
A squeak of floorboards said her knock had been heard. A key turned, and the door opened. It wavered, half-open, as the floorboards squeaked.
Adele pushed the door fully open, stepped in, then closed and locked the door behind her, before she turned to examine the attic itself. Two windows, both at chest height—for her, at least—and extending nearly to the roof, shed slanted beams of moonlight onto the bare floorboards beneath.
Torin Slane stood to the left of the farthest window, out of the way of the moonlight. He held the precious pair of binocular glasses in his hands, while he watched through the window. There was no other light in the room except for the moonlight, which made his Black Irish skin appear to glow, while the thick black curls of his hair and his even blacker eyes absorbed all the light.
He glanced at Adele as she locked the door. “I was expecting Melville.” His tone was mild.
“And good evening to you, too.” She moved to the other window as she removed her coat. She hung the coat from a nail driven into the wall beside the window. Slane’s coat hung on a second nail.
Adele hung the homburg on the nail over her own coat and rubbed at her forehead, for the hat was slightly too large and the ribbon left an indentation on her skin that itched when she removed the hat.
She smoothed out the broadcloth jacket and straightened her tie, tucking it back into the waistcoat. The trousers were too large about the waist, which made her waist look thicker than normal. That was a good thing in her estimation.
“You look fetching,” Slane said dryly. He raised the glasses to his eyes and studied the garden and the houses opposite this one, sweeping slowly along the length of the open area.
“Melville said we shouldn’t be spotted entering the house more than once or twice.” She tugged at the lapels of her jacket. “No one has seen someone like me enter the house before.”
“Mmm.” Slane’s grunt failed to tell her if he agreed with her, or was upset at her wearing men’s clothing. Or perhaps he simply didn’t care.
Not that it would matter at bit, after tonight.
She studied the house on the other side of the little copse of willow trees. “Steinhauer is home?”
“Not yet,” Slane said. “He went out in a tuxedo and top hat around seven tonight and hasn’t returned.”
“Melville followed him?”
Daniel had been here earlier tonight. He must be as short on sleep as she.
As Slane was on watch until Melville arrived, Adele moved over to the darker interior of the attic, where the walls were higher and the dust thicker. A folding camp bed was set up beside the wall, and an unlit kerosene lamp hung from another nail over it. It had been her intention to sit upon the bed, but the mounded blankets at one end and dirty pillow at the other, on top of the sagging canvas stretched between the frames, changed her mind.
She moved the book and tin mug sitting on the fruit crate beside the bed, turned the crate on end and settled on it. There was a certain freedom which came with wearing men’s clothing. She didn’t have to worry about her hems sweeping over dust and the Lord knew what else might be lying on this floor which the darkness was hiding.
“Are you still not sleeping?” Slane asked, his back to her.
“As I am here at midnight when I have no need to be, then demonstrably, yes.”
“As your temper has not improved, also demonstrably yes,” Slane replied.
She gripped her knees, squeezing. “I need to speak to Melville. He relieves you at two. Daniel relieves Melville at eight in the morning. I relieve Daniel at two o’clock in the afternoon, then you arrive at eight o’clock and the whole cycle begins again. I never see Melville these days. Waiting here for him is the only way I will cross paths with him.”
“And what has Melville done to earn your wrath?” Slane asked.
She squeezed her knees even harder. It was difficult, now, to remember how charmed she had been by Torin Slane’s exotic approach to life and his keen intellect. She had got to know him a little better. She had been disappointed to find that despite his Irish heritage and his extreme political viewpoint, Slane’s attitudes and values were astonishingly, boorishly similar to most men’s. And he had the same indifferent approach to cleanliness and neatness as Melville. The unusable camp bed was a perfect example.
So was the faint, but distinct odor of a used chamber pot, possibly in the very dark corner to her left. She had no intention of investigating to confirm that. She was only thankful that the lid seemed to be well seated upon the pot, preventing more than a whiff of the contents from escaping.
“I have been standing here for over two hours,” Slane said. “If you intend to wait there, you might at least relieve my boredom with some lively conversation.”
“I thought my temper was too chancy for your tastes?”
“I’d rather argue than listen to steaming silence.”
Lady Adelaide Azalea Margaret de Morville, Mrs. Hugh Becket, cannot sleep. After weeks of brooding about the severe drawbacks of her work for William Melville, spymaster, she travels through London at midnight to find Melville and tell him she will no longer work for him.
Instead, Adele finds herself in the company of Torin Slane, the Irish professor and Fenian, and Daniel Bannister, Baron Leighton, as they monitor the house of a possible German agent.
The company and conversation, and the events they witness in the house they are watching, prove illuminating for Adele and for Melville’s continuing search for a master German spy. This novelette is the fifth in the Adelaide Becket Edwardian espionage series.
1: The Requisite Courage
2: The Rosewater Debutante
3: The Unaccompanied Widow
4: The Lavender Semaphore
5. The Broadcloth Midnight
…and more to come.
A historical suspense espionage novelette.
And don’t forget–if you order direct from me on the SRP site, you get your copy of the book a week early. That is, next Thursday!