Excerpt from Book 4 of A Mystery of Old San Francisco: No Darkness as like Death:
San Francisco, September 1867
“Mr. Greaves, you should be resting after your tiring journey.” His landlady looked at Nick with a pity so deep that if the emotion were a hole in the ground, the depth of it would reach the center of the earth. Mrs. Jewett wrapped her patterned Oriental robe around her stout frame. “It’s after eight and dark as pitch outside. What were you doing out there?”
Nick reached down to pat his dog’s head. Riley sat obediently at his feet, his brown-and-white tail wagging, sweeping across the floor in the entry hall. “You didn’t need to check on me, Mrs. Jewett. I took Riley out for a stroll around the neighborhood. That’s all.”
“That dog of yours.” She clucked her tongue against her teeth. “He has missed you.”
“I was only gone for six days.” Six miserable days.
“It was seven days, Mr. Greaves, and I missed you, too. There. I’ve said it.”
Nick. The replacement for the son she’d lost in the war. A pitiful replacement, frankly.
“I’m glad somebody beside my dog did.” Mina didn’t, but why should she? Their relationship was well in the past, and it needed to be left there.
“Bah, don’t be saying foolish things like only your dog misses you.” Mrs. Jewett peered at him. “I’d guess that lady friend of yours also missed you. Although she hasn’t come around here in months.”
She didn’t mean Mina. And Nick didn’t want to discuss Mrs. Davies with her any more than he wanted to talk about his father’s funeral. The reason he'd been gone for seven days.
“I’ll be heading upstairs now,” he said, evading the topic. “Good night. Come on, Riley.” The dog got to his feet, his tail wagging happily.
“It’s not right for you to always be alone, Mr. Greaves,” said Mrs. Jewett, stopping Nick.
“I’m not alone. I’ve got you and Riley.”
“Bah.” She swatted him on the arm, her smile dimpling her cheek. She must have been a handsome woman in her youth. She was a handsome woman still. “I’ll be turning the lamp off here, then. Will you be wanting breakfast in the morning?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
A fist pounded on the front door. Riley took to barking.
“Whoever is that at this hour?” asked Mrs. Jewett. “Hush, there, Riley.”
“Let me answer it,” said Nick.
A street cop waited on the top step, the star sewn to the left breast of his dark gray coat eerily bright in the flare of the gas lamp at Nick’s back.
“Sorry to disturb you, sir, but we got a message at the station for you.” He tipped his cloth cap at Mrs. Jewett, who’d come to stand behind Nick.
“Can’t it wait until the morning, Officer?” she asked. “Mr. Greaves returned today from his father’s funeral. He needs to rest.”
“Can’t wait, ma’am. Sorry,” he replied. “There’s been a body found, sir. A Mr. Ambrose Shaw. Found in his room at the Hygienic Institute. Could be suspicious.”
Excerpt from Book 1 of the Bess Ellyott Mysteries: Searcher of the Dead
London, Michaelmas 1592
“Tell me his name.”
The crone had eyes as pale as chips of ice. So pale and clear that the irises nearly faded into the whites. Bess found she could not return the woman’s gaze but instead searched for aught else to stare at. The rush mats upon the tiles of the hall floor. The orange depths of the hearth fire. The herbs Bess had strung to dry, her mortar and pestle at the ready upon the oak table yet forgotten in her distress. The tapestry of a hunting scene, the fleeing stag that always seemed to move when candlelight flickered across the surface. The steps adjacent to the hearth that led to the upstairs chambers, where silence hung as heavy as her thoughts.
However, she looked but briefly at the body stretched upon the settle where he had taken his final repose. A cushion had tumbled to the floor, and his arm dangled as if to reach for it. The cushion embroidered with birds he had so favored. Because you stitched it, Bess, with those fine long fingers of yours . . .
“Martin,” she said, her voice breaking. But the crone would assume the break came of grief, which it did most certain, and not also of fear. “Martin Ellyott. My husband.”
The woman scratched his name—when had someone of her impoverished circumstance learned the art of writing?—upon a scrap of paper. She had no penknife with her, and the nib of her quill was dull, leaving the markings blunt and large. Her knotted fingers struggled to hold the writing instrument, and as Bess had yet to light a lamp, she squinted in the dimness to see what she wrote. Their surname was misspelled; Bess did not correct her.
With a groan, the old woman rose from the stool Bess’s servant had brought for her and went to the settle. Bess looked away as she examined him. Heard coals settle on the grate. She wanted to cry, but her eyes had ceased shedding tears and burned from dryness. More tears, she knew, would come later.
“No pustules upon him,” the woman muttered.
“It was not plague,” Bess replied. “He had pains in his stomach and nausea. Troubles of the bowels with great purging. Fever,” she added, a hasty afterthought in her attempt to be convincing. “No pustules.”
The crone nodded, and the edges of the kerchief she’d wrapped around her head slid across her furrowed cheeks. “The bloody flux, then.”
Bess’s pulse skipped. “Yes.”
The old woman returned to her paper. Next to Martin’s name she inscribed “bloody flux.” Thus it would be recorded on the bill of mortality forever and ever. Leaving Bess alone to suspect the true cause of his death. Leaving her to escape from the one who had brought death to her house and dread to her heart.
God help me.