The Black Country

The Black Country by Alex Grecian Page A

Book: The Black Country by Alex Grecian Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alex Grecian
Tags: thriller, Historical, Mystery
entered the room. Hammersmith was speechless, and Campbell seemed happier to see the inspector than either of them would have expected. Bennett Rose, looking sleepless and bleary-eyed, emerged from the door at the back of the room and counted heads, then returned a moment later with two cups of hot tea and a plate of tiny sweet cakes. The men stripped off their wet overcoats and hung them on hooks near the fire. They stacked their boots on the hearth, where they steamed. Hammersmith noticed a small wooden box filled with straw on the stones near the fire. He glanced at Day and saw the inspector watching him with a mischievous smile.
    “What happened to your face, Sergeant?”
    Hammersmith touched his cheek and winced. “I’ll tell you all about it,” he said. “But how are you here ahead of us?”
    “I’ve been here for hours,” Day said. “Or perhaps it only seems like it’s been hours.”
    “But I lost you in the woods,” Campbell said.
    “Yes, about that,” Day said. “Why did you leave me?”
    “I apologize. I thought I saw something and wanted a better look. I expected you to stay where you were, but you left me.”
    “What did you see?”
    “I’m sorry?”
    “In the woods. What did you see that caused you to run off?”
    “It was nothing.”
    “What did you think it was?”
    “There was nothing there, so what does it matter?”
    “Was it a man with a hole in his face? More than a scar, a great gaping maw where his jaw might ordinarily be expected?”
    Behind them, at the kitchen door, Bennett Rose gasped and dropped a cup. It clattered on the stone floor and rolled for an instant before shattering against the wainscoting. Rose dropped to one knee and began mopping up tea. Hammersmith jumped up and went to help, and Day noticed that the sergeant was covered in muck from head to toe.
    “You do look as if you’ve had an adventure,” Day said.
    “We’ve spent half the night looking for you.”
    “I had my compass, my knife, a good pair of boots. You needn’t have worried.”
    “We thought you were lost.”
    “I was. But then I wasn’t. As soon as I heard the whoosh of flames from the furnaces, I knew I was close to the tree line, and I simply followed the noise out.” Day swiveled in his seat as Hammersmith returned to the fire. Bennett Rose was already on his way back to the kitchen, holding the fragments of the broken cup in the palm of one hand and a sopping dishcloth in the other. “Mr Rose,” Day said, “why were you surprised just now?”
    “No time for talk, sir. I should take care of this mess.”
    “Was it because you recognized my description of the man in the woods?”
    “Man in the woods, sir?”
    “Mr Rose, you surprise me. For an innkeeper, you’re a terrible liar.”
    Rose shook his head and hurried away through the kitchen door. Hammersmith turned to Day and raised an eyebrow.
    “Shall I follow?” he said. “I may be able to make him talk.”
    “No,” Day said. “Let him be. He wants to tell us what’s troubling him, but he hasn’t quite got his courage up yet. Let him sleep on it and he may tell us about it in the morning.”
    Hammersmith glanced back at the kitchen door. “It’s morning now, isn’t it? In the technical sense, I mean.” But he walked reluctantly to where Day and Campbell sat by the fire. He took a brocade-covered chair across from the inspector.
    “I believe you’ve just now ruined Mr Rose’s chair, Sergeant,” Day said. “He may decide not to talk to us, after all.”
    Hammersmith held his arms out in front of him and looked down at himself. “I’m dry. The mud should brush out of the upholstery without difficulty.”
    “Ah, of course. You think of everything.”
    “You seem a bit tetchy.”
    “Not at all. But you did leave me in the woods, after all.”
    “Actually, I believe you left us in the woods.”
    “Quite so.”
    “I only came back to refill the oil in our lanterns.”
    “You were going back out

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