The Montgomery Murder has been shortlisted for four awards: the Stockton Children’s Book of the Year Award; the East Sussex Children’s Book of the Year Award; the London Borough of Hillingdon Children’s Book of the Year Award, and the Manchester Children’s Book of the Year Award
In the mean streets of Victorian London lies the body of wealthy Mr Montgomery.
The police must move fast to catch his killer. They need an insider, someone streetwise, cunning, bold . . . someone like Alfie.
When Inspector Denham makes him an offer he can’t refuse, it’s up to Alfie and his gang to sift clues, shadow suspects and negotiate a sinister world of double-dealing and danger – until the shocking truth is revealed...
The Montgomery Murder
The first two chapters of The Montgomery Murder
It was a foggy day in late November. The gas lamps shone like cloudy balls of light and the horses slipped on the wet streets. Well-dressed Londoners wrapped mufflers over noses and mouths as they rushed home to supper in their warm houses. And four ragged boys, followed by a large dog, emerged from a filthy cellar below the pavement.
The plan had been made…
Alfie grinned and the tight knot of fear in his stomach relaxed – Mutsy always made him laugh. His brother Sammy had just hit the high note of the song and the big, hairy dog joined in immediately, sitting on his back legs with his two front paws in the begging position, his nose lifted towards the sky and howling like a high-pitched fiddle! A crowd was beginning to gather – they always did when Sammy and Mutsy sang.
On this dark and foggy evening, Alfie was relying on dog and boy being the focus of all attention. He had set everything up very carefully. Alfie’s brother Sammy, with Mutsy beside him, were standing on the corner just outside the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden while Alfie himself was about a hundred yards away. Jack and Tom, their two cousins, were in place, also.
‘He’s blind, poor little boy,’ said a woman’s voice. And then Alfie could hear the chink of pennies into the tin plate at Sammy’s feet. Now was the moment to put his plan into action. The shoppers, hurrying home, were gathered around Sammy and Mutsy; nobody would be looking at him.
And then he had a piece of good luck – there was a loud pop, a hissing sound and a smell of gas floated down on the fog. One of the gas lamps had gone out. Great! Slowly and quietly Alfie moved until he was underneath that lamppost. This would be a good place to lurk unseen. The lamplighter had already shouldered his ladder and gone home, so the corner between Bow Street and Russell Street would now stay dark till morning.
Alfie’s stomach was already empty, but it tightened even more with tension. This was his plan and he was the gang leader. It had to succeed. He licked his lips as he glanced around. Jack, his twelve-year-old cousin, was in his place, across the road, just ready to grab the horse’s head.
Eleven-year-old Tom, Jack’s brother, was almost invisible, lurking in the shadowed doorway of a watchmaker. He would have his peashooter ready. Alfie could rely on him. Tom and Jack both had steady nerves and Tom never missed a shot.
And then, the moment that they were waiting for! The horse-drawn van turned from Russell Street into Bow Street. Suddenly a mouth-watering smell of newly baked bread floated above the sour, bitter, coal-smoke stench of the fog. Alfie braced himself. He saw the horse rear and kick – Tom had done his task with the peashooter. Alfie didn’t even look towards Jack – his cousin could always handle horses. Instantly he dashed to the back of the van.
It was all working. He could hear Jack’s voice shouting: ‘it’s all right Mister, I’ve a hold of him.’ Now Alfie had his hand in the back of the van. The loaf was so soft and warm that he could almost taste it. Tom was coming towards him. Between them, with luck, they would be able to snatch enough bread to last them for the next few days. No alarm was shouted; the crowd continued to listen as Sammy broke into his comic song, ‘The Catsmeat Man’.
But then Alfie’s luck ran out. A hand was on his shoulder. A gruff voice, … ‘you come along with me, lad’…navy blue uniform…number 22 on the collar… The cops had nabbed him.
The Dead Body
Alfie did not struggle. There was no point. He tried a gentle wriggle; perhaps he could leave his jacket behind, but it was no good. The policeman had a firm grip of one arm and was dragging him along the street. Alfie knew where they were going.
The Bow Street Police Station was next door to Bow Street Magistrates Court. He would probably be in front of the bench in less than half an hour. What would be the sentence? Most likely, three months’ hard labour – that was the usual.
He had never been in prison himself, but he knew many boys who had. Hard labour meant breaking stones; running on the treadmill or sewing mailbags for twelve hours of the day and no one was allowed to say a word to any other prisoner. That was the worst of all, a boy called Bob Larkin had told Alfie.
And what would happen to Sammy, his blind brother, and to their two cousins who shared his cellar? Without Alfie, they might all starve. He was the one who organised everything, who had seen the comic possibilities in Mutsy with his large paws and his fringe hanging over his eyes, and the one, who, until this moment, had kept them all out of trouble.
‘In you go.’ The blue light outside Bow Street Police Station gleamed through the fog. ‘Bet you’ve stolen that muffler, you little thief.’ The constable jerked at the scarf around his neck. ‘And that waistcoat, too!’ By now they were inside and Alfie was pushed into an office. His bare feet felt the smoothness of the tiled floor.
Carefully he removed his cap and smoothed down his dark curls. ‘It doesn’t matter about looking poor and having ragged trousers as long as you are polite.’ It seemed like yesterday that his mother had said that, but she had been dead for two years.
‘Caught stealing a loaf of bread from the evening delivery van, Inspector. Make a bow to Inspector Denham, you young ruffian. Shall I take him into the court; the magistrates are still sitting?’
‘Yes,’ said the inspector absent-mindedly. He was studying some papers on his desk, turning them over and knitting his dark bushy eyebrows over them. Then he waved his hand. ‘No!’ he said abruptly. ‘Just leave him with me, Constable, will you.’
What did he want, wondered Alfie, looking at the inspector as the door closed behind the constable. He was a small man to be in charge of all of these burly constables that could be seen every day, patrolling Bow Street and the Covent Garden area. Quick and decisive, though! He never hesitated long over any piece of paper; looked down it, then put it into one of three neat piles on the desk and went on to the next.
The room was cold in spite of the coal fire burning in a small metal grate. Alfie’s sharp eyes noticed that one of the sash cords was broken and the window was sagging down on one side, allowing the freezing damp air to seep into the little room. He stayed very still; looking attentively at the inspector while the man shuffled his papers,. When he looked up, Alfie saw that he had a pair of sharp eyes, as black as Alfie’s own.
‘Live around here, do you?’ The inspector’s tone was casual.
‘That’s right,’ Alfie wasn’t going to give any of his gang away.
‘Know the St Giles district?’ This was unexpected, but welcome. St Giles, a district of tumbledown, wood-built houses, where a single room could house up to four families, was a good five-minute walk from Alfie’s cellar on Bow Street itself. Alfie agreed quickly that he did know St Giles.
‘Come with me.’ Inspector Denham was on his feet. He opened a door at the back of the office and led the way down a long, dimly lit corridor. There was a damp coldness in the air and a strange smell.
‘In here.’ Inspector Denham took a large key from the bunch at his waist and opened a door. The room was almost in darkness; there was just one small, high window. It showed as a pale rectangle on the wall, but gave little light. Inspector Denham clanged the door closed behind them and walked confidently forward. Alfie followed him, his heart thumping.
‘Ah, that’s better.’ There was a hiss and a sudden smell of gas; the noise of a match striking and then the flame sprang up. Alfie took a step backwards and then recovered himself and stepped forward again.
The room was a small one, but it had three occupants. All were lying on high narrow iron beds, covered by a sheet. All were very still. Alfie sniffed the air and knew that the smell was death. He had smelled it often enough. He swallowed once and felt the sweat break out on the palms of his hands.
Why had the inspector brought him in here with these dead men?
The Montgomery Murder published March 2010
The Fatal Fire published August 2010
Murder on Stage published January 2011
Death of a Chimney Sweep published July 2011