Ashes To Ashes - C.J. Archer

Chapter 1

London, winter 1889

If anyone had been in Grand View Lane on that freezing December night, for a mere moment they would have seen a shadowy figure hanging from the garret window at the back of the derelict house, before dropping to the second floor window ledge. With the agility of a monkey, the black-clad figure repeated the exercise to reach the window ledge on the first floor, and finally landed silently on the greasy cobblestones below. The phantom-like figure wore no cloak or coat to hinder his movement, and his black shoulder-length hair was tied with a ribbon at his nape. There were no witnesses to this feat, however, and that was the way Lincoln Fitzroy preferred it.

Despite its name, Grand View Lane wasn't grand, and the only views it offered during the day were of damp brick walls and an empty cart with a broken axle, leaning drunkenly against the low wall at the end of the lane. It was difficult to see in the dark, but Lincoln had memorized its position and could make out its shape well enough. There was nobody else about. It was too cold, too dark, and too dangerous to be out in the middle of the night in a part of London that the Ripper had made infamous a year before.

He melted into the shadows and waited. He'd purposefully come an hour earlier than the arranged time. That way he could see if an accomplice entered the lane and hid ahead of Lincoln's informant. Lincoln wasn't taking any chances.

The fog crept in like a slow moving spirit. That's how Charlie had described ghosts to him—misty clouds that formed the shape of their living selves.

Charlie. She would be asleep now, tucked into a warm bed at the School for Wayward Girls many miles away. Safe.

He shoved thoughts of her aside before they took root and became too stubborn to remove. He had to concentrate.

The fog dampened the already frigid air. He breathed through his nose into his upturned jacket collar, to hide his frosty breath, and curled his gloved fingers into fists to keep the tips warm. He shivered and silently cursed the bitter weather. It wasn't lost on him that he never used to feel the cold. He never used to feel anything.

Once again he had to force himself to concentrate. He listened. Mary Dwyer, the prostitute who occupied the garret room he'd just come from, must have found a client. Her over-enthusiastic gasps almost drowned out the drunkard singing in the adjoining street. Lincoln should pay her more next time he needed to use her room as an entrance to the lane. It was too easy for someone to pretend to be a customer but instead use the room as Lincoln had done and attack from above. An hour of her time should suffice.

The singing drew closer, clearer. It wasn't slurred enough for a drunkard. If anyone had been listening as intently as Lincoln, they would have noticed. The singer entered the lane without pausing and his singing stopped altogether. Lincoln rolled his eyes. If his men had dropped their disguises so quickly, he'd have made them do extra work around the house and more training. They hadn't made such an amateurish mistake in weeks.

The informant disturbed the fog, parting it like a sea, only to have it settle behind him again once the flap of his cloak subsided. He wore a cap pulled low to cover his face and didn't lift the brim, even when he stopped near the cart. His breaths were loud in the silence and formed clouds at his mouth.

"You here?" he whispered.

Lincoln waited without speaking or moving. He reached out with his seer's senses but felt no other presence. It wasn't all that reliable. So he listened, too. There were no other sounds. Mary Dwyer had finished and would go in search of another customer soon. She might even catch the singer on his way out, if he was the sort to be tempted by cheap, yellow-haired, toothless hags. Lincoln didn't know. He knew as much about the man as he needed to know, including the fact he went by the name Billy the Bolter. His usual informant had set up the meeting, after telling Lincoln that Billy claimed to have overheard a conversation where one man offered another a large sum of money to kill a third. If there was any chance that Billy could identify the procurer, Lincoln would do whatever it took to get