Table of Contents
THE SEBASTIAN ST. CYR MYSTERY SERIES
What Angels Fear
When Gods Die
Why Mermaids Sing
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First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, November 2008
Copyright © The Two Talers, LLC, 2008
All rights reserved
OBSIDIAN and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
Harris, C. S.
Where serpents sleep: a Sebastian St. Cyr mystery/C. S. Harris.
eISBN : 978-1-436-29167-5
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In memory of
Dr. Robert D. Harris, December 1921-August 2007.
Scholar, mentor, friend.
“…who knows where serpents sleep?”
MONDAY, 4 MAY 1812
The girl stared out the window, one hand sliding up and down her shawl-covered arm in a ceaseless, uneasy motion. Outside, a thick fog leached the light from the dying day and muffled the sounds of the surrounding city.
“You don’t like the fog, do you?” Hero Jarvis asked, watching her.
They sat together in a pool of golden light thrown by the lamp on the plain tea table where Hero had laid out her notebook, pen and ink, and the standard list of questions she’d drawn up to ask. The girl jerked her gaze back to Hero’s face. This one was older than some of the other prostitutes Hero had interviewed, but still young, her face still smooth, her skin clear, her green eyes sharp with intelligence. She said her name was Rose Jones, although in Hero’s experience women in this business seldom gave their true names.
“Who does like fog?” said Rose. “You can never tell what’s out there.”
The girl’s accent was disconcerting: pure Mayfair, without a trace of Cockney or any country inflection. Studying the girl’s fine bone structure and graceful bearing, Hero knew a flicker of interest mingled with something both more personal and less admirable that she didn’t care to examine too closely. How had this girl—surely no more than eighteen or nineteen years old and so obviously gently born and bred—ended up here, at the Magdalene House, a refuge run by the Society of Friends for women who wished to leave prostitution?
Reaching for her pen, Hero dipped the tip into her inkwell and asked, “How long have you been in the business?”
A bitter smile touched Rose’s lips. “You mean, how long have I been a whore? Less than a year.”
It was said to shock. But Hero Jarvis was not the kind of woman who shocked easily. At twenty-five years of age, she considered herself immune to the excesses of sensibility that afflicted so many of her sex. She simply nodded and went on to her next question. “What sort of work did you do before?”
“Before? I didn’t do anything before.”
“You lived with your family?”
Rose tipped her head to one side, her gaze assessing the other woman in a way Hero did not like. “Why are you here, asking us these questions?”
Hero cleared her throat. “I’m researching a theory.”
“It is my belief that most women enter prostitution not because of some innate moral weakness but out of economic necessity.”
A quiver of emotion crossed Rose’s face, her voice coming out harsh. “What do you know about it? A woman like you?”
Hero set aside her pen and met Rose’s gaze without flinching. “Are we so different?”
Rose didn’t answer. In the silence that followed, Hero could hear the voices of the other women drifting up from downstairs, the clink of cutlery, a quick burst of laughter. It grew late; soon Hero’s carriage would return to take her back to Berkeley Square, to the safety and comfort of her privileged world. Perhaps Rose was right, in a sense. Perhaps—
The sound of a fist pounding on the front door below reverberated through the house. Hero heard a woman’s startled exclamation, mingled with a man’s harsh growl. A cry of outrage turned suddenly to a scream of terror.
Rose leapt from her chair, her eyes wild. “Oh, God. They’ve found me.”
Hero pushed to her feet. “What do you mean? What’s happening?”
She could hear the voices of more men now, the crash of overturned furniture, the smashing of crockery. Women shrieked. Someone pleaded, tearful, her voice trailing off into a whimper that ended abruptly.
“They’re here to kill me.” Rose whirled around, her gaze sweeping the room to fix on an old walnut cupboard, which took up most of the near wall. “We must hide.”
From below came the sound of running feet and a woman’s scream transformed, hideously, into a throaty gurgle. Rose yanked open the cupboard door. Hero reached out a hand, stopping her. “No. That’s the first place they’ll search.”
Crossing the room, Hero threw wide the casement window that overlooked the mist-swirled alley below. The window opened onto the sloping roof of what was probably the kitchen or a washroom. “This way,” said Hero. She sucked in a quick breath, the damp, coal smoke-tinged air biting her lungs as she threw one leg over the low sill and ducked her head through the frame.
Covered with moss and condensation and soot, the slate roofing tiles felt treacherously slippery beneath the smooth leather soles of Hero’s kid half boots. She moved cautiously, one hand braced against the rough brick of the house wall as she turned to help Rose through the narrow opening.