Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden
Today, in lieu of a review, I’m providing an excerpt of Under a Veiled Moon in support of author, Karen Odden.
Genre/Categories/Setting: Crime Fiction, Historical Mystery, London
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
Excerpt of Under a Veiled Moon
Welcome to my stop on the Blog Tour for Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden. Excerpt provided by @CrookedLaneBks , @AustenProse #AustenProsePR , and the author.
As I reached the bottom step, a shadow emerged from the alley,
and I felt someone approach from behind. My right hand was on my truncheon even before I turned.
Two hands came up in a gesture of surrender. “It’s just me.” Colin’s voice picked over the syllables in a way that told me he was two or three drinks along, but not so far gone that he didn’t care that it showed. His boots scuffed the dirt as he came near, and he lowered his hands and thrust them into his coat pockets. The night breeze, ripe with the scent of smoke and meat from the nearby butchery, blew Colin’s brown curls off his forehead.
He must’ve been lurking in that alley, waiting for me. All that Ma said, all her worry, made me temper my voice. “Why’d you run off, Col?” I asked. “I’d have liked a proper visit with you.”
“Ach.” His shoulders twitched as if avoiding a weight. “Elsie’s always harping at me like a bloody shrew.” His voice slurred over the last word. “But I stayed ’cause of a message I have for ye.”
My guess was Elsie wasn’t shrewish so much as she was worried, same as Ma, but she had a different way of showing it. Smelling the whiskey on Colin’s breath and observing the surly set to his jaw, I was beginning to understand their concern.
I shifted my feet to maneuver him into a position where the light from the window of the nearby pub would fall on his face. I hadn’t been looking at him closely enough of late. My strongest memories were of him as a young boy of six or so, slender and light-haired, his eyes sparkling with interest as I taught him how to whittle a whistle or tie a stopper knot that wouldn’t slip.
Colin’s eyes were as brilliantly blue now as they’d been then, just like his older brother Pat’s, although Pat had never looked at me so warily. “Don’t bark at me, all right?” Colin asked.
I replied evenly, “Am I likely to?”
He pulled a face.
“All right, I won’t,” I promised. “What sort of message?”
“It’s from O’Hagan.”
I stared. O’Hagan.
Those three syllables were all it took to bring me back to thirteen years ago, when I’d been one of O’Hagan’s regular boxers, in a bare-knuckles hall underground, no more than a sweaty pen at the bottom of a ladder, where the dirt wasn’t thick enough to absorb all the blood and cheap rotgut whiskey that fell. I’d boxed for O’Hagan until the night he’d asked me to throw a match, and I’d done something bloody stupid that ended with me fleeing Whitechapel, sleeping rough until I found my feet.
“Why’d he send you, instead of coming to me himself?” I let him see my disgust at O’Hagan’s cowardice.
Colin glanced back toward the house. “He knows you used to live with us. Mebbe he thought you’d listen if I was the one asking.” He sniffed. “Instead of payin’ him no mind like you well might.”
I frowned. O’Hagan and I had declared a truce of sorts years ago. I had never come after him for keeping illegal boxing halls and a fleet of bookmakers, and in return, I’d been able to move about Whitechapel unmolested. I certainly harbored no affection for O’Hagan, but I wondered why Colin assumed I’d ignore him. However, it wasn’t worth asking, with Colin in this state.
“He just wants to meet you,” Colin said. “To talk.”
Guesses about why ran through my head with the speed of a fast current, but I asked merely, “About what?”
Colin’s eyes veered away, and he shrugged. “Might have something to do with the Cobbwallers.”
The muscles across my upper back tightened.
O’Hagan belonged to the Cobbwallers now? I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me that James McCabe’s gang was running boxing halls as well as everything else. But like all London gang leaders, McCabe demanded absolute loyalty and discretion from his members. I couldn’t imagine a circumstance that would cause O’Hagan to discuss anything about the Cobbwallers with me, a policeman.
“Go on,” I said.
“Two Cobbwaller men are dead.” Colin peered at me aslant. “Murdered.”
My stomach lurched. In the wake of the Clerkenwell bombing, police had sought out and killed Cobbwallers. That was a decade ago, but it was a black mark in our history, and no doubt O’Hagan and McCabe remembered it. “Are they blaming police?”
His evasive look sparked hot fear along my nerves. “Colin, you’re not mixed up with the Cobbwallers, are you?”
There was the briefest pause before he drew his head back as if in surprise and shook it dismissively. “Nae.”
That hesitation made me long to press him further, but it was almost as if I felt Belinda’s hand, gentle on my sleeve, counseling patience. There would be time to ask again when Colin was sober.
Besides, if I did as Colin asked, he might confide in me more readily.
“All right.” I stepped forward and put my arm around his shoulder, tugged him close for a second. “Tell O’Hagan I’ll meet him.” As I released him, his eyes betrayed a flash of relief. …
I watched him stride away. He’d been a lively child, impulsive and mouthy and at times reckless of his own safety. Sometimes I’d catch him imitating Pat and me, in the way we’d carry ourselves, or wear our caps or hold a knife. It annoyed Pat to no end, and he’d shoo Colin off, but I didn’t mind. When I was one of the youngest members of Simms’s thieving gang, I’d watch the older boys swaggering and try it for myself later as I walked down a quiet street alone. So I’d give Colin a wink, and he’d give me a roguish smile back. …
Just how close were O’Hagan and his ilk brushing up against these people I loved?
The thought put a thick knot in the soft place underneath my ribs.
Excerpt published with permission by the Blog Tour.
Chapter 2, pp.17-21
From Under a Veiled Moon © 2022, Karen Odden, published by Crooked Lane Books
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