Excerpt from Book 5 of A Mystery of Old San Francisco: No Refuge from the Grave:
San Francisco November, 1867
“I cannot cover your debts any longer, Patrick.” Celia Davies watched as her husband tucked the bag of coins she’d given him beneath the bed’s pulu fiber mattress. A mattress that had likely been purchased used from a better class of hotel than the one Patrick had taken up residence in. “Stop sending notes and messenger boys asking me to do so. And cease borrowing from Mr. Griffin. He’s a dangerous man.”
“Well, Celia, you may be a little late in offering me a warning about Caleb Griffin. But I wouldn’t mind hearing how—” Patrick patted the mattress above where he’d stashed the coins. “How you managed this sum. What did you hock to find the cash?”
The anger that had warmed her skin when she’d first stepped into Patrick’s hotel room retreated, replaced by cold mortification. She’d pawned a gold brooch set with pearls, given to her by a patient in gratitude for a successful treatment, and Celia resented that she’d had to sell any of her few, valuable possessions. Done to satisfy the debts of a man who'd abandoned her and did not deserve her help.
“It does not matter where I obtained the money, Patrick, and suffice it to say there shall be no more. Goodbye to you.”
She marched out into the hallway, interrupting a scraggly bearded fellow in the middle of lighting up a cigar.
“Well, hullo, miss,” he said, eyeing her through the tendrils of rising smoke.
Bloody . . .
She squeezed past him and hurried down the steps, tightening her gloves around her fingers, even though the knit cotton wasn’t loose. Do not look back. Do not look back. Because she could feel Patrick’s gaze on her as she fled, daring her to glance up at him where he stood on the landing. Her footfalls were a hollow echo in the uncarpeted staircase. A rapid rat-a-tat against the warped and splintered wood, the sound competing with the shouts of an argument in one of the rented rooms she passed, the bawling of a young child in another, a woman’s cynical laughter from somewhere else entirely. The air around Celia smelled of mold and sewage and spilled liquor. Stank of wretchedness and misery. Patrick Davies, of the dazzling blue eyes and most winning of laughs, had ended up here. Far from Ireland. Far from the bright promise of life in America he’d once sworn he would provide for her.
“Ah, Celia,” he called down, leaning, she was sure, over the balustrade in order to best catch sight of her. “You’re bound, you are, to hurt yourself, rushin’ like that.”
She stumbled on the bottom step and thrust out a hand to catch herself. The oak banister she grabbed was tacky, causing her glove to stick to it. “Why be concerned about me now, Patrick?”
He laughed. “Thank you again.”
Heart pounding, she dashed across the short entry hall, reached for the front door, and threw it open.
“You be careful out there, Cecilia,” Patrick called out before she slammed shut the door. “There are more dangerous folk than Caleb Griffin in San Francisco.”
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.