top of page
The Clara Jenkins Adventures

A couple of years ago, I decided to try write a serialised spin-off to the main series and made it available on my blog in weekly instalments.

I later retired it because it was taking me away from writing books for the series, BUT that doesn't mean I want it gathering digital dust forever, so I'm making it available for

Author's Note

When I wrote this, Clara and Lucas began their romance at the start of the first book in the series (The Problem With Dead People).


I later decided that it'd make a lot more sense if they got together in their teens but it didn't work out, so I changed a couple of things in the series books when I did a new edition... But I'd already pulled Clara's adventures from sale, so never bothered to update them.


One day, I may revise The Clara Jenkins adventures to match the rest of the series, but for now, you can read their early romance (or lack thereof) as I originally imagined it.

Another Author's Note

Before I retired The Clara Jenkins Adventures, I'd shared over 20 episodes, and written a few more that never saw the light of day. As you can probably imagine, this will take a lot of time to upload, to please be patient as I gradually add them all to this page :)

Episode 1:
Everyone Makes Mistakes

For the first time in her life, Clara Jenkins felt like she’d bitten off more than she could chew. It all sounded like such a marvellous adventure a few weeks previously when she accepted an artist’s job at the Illustrated Police News. A chance to leave sleepy little Castlebury Magna and live in the hustle and bustle of London. A chance to have fun and not know what the future holds. An opportunity to be grabbed with both hands in case another never came her way. But looking up - a very, very long way up - at the imposing Gothic red brick building that housed her new workplace, she couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t the biggest mistake of her life. After all, there was nothing wrong with Castlebury, with its quaint cottages and surrounding fields. Everyone knew everyone and would always stop to pass the time of day. All her friends were there, and most of her family. And Lucas of course, but the less she thought about him, the better. Not that she didn’t want to think about him, exactly. He’d been her best friend for as long as she could remember - but that was the problem. He was her friend, when she wanted more. She tried to deny it, even to herself, but part of her was running away from her feelings. She’d been dropping hints for years and was no further along, despite a couple of hopeful moments that passed all too quickly and never came to anything, so she could only conclude the attraction was on her side only. Although sometimes, she did wonder if her love was entirely unrequited... She had a sudden, overwhelming urge to head straight back to the grimy boarding house she was calling home for now, pack her suitcase, and get the next train home. It was very appealing. This was all too much, too fast. Yes, that was the problem. Almost certainly the problem. It wasn’t that she was scared, oh no. She’d not even had her eighteenth birthday yet, who was she to think she could make progress in the big smoke? She should come back in a few years. Another opportunity would present itself - at the right time, and now certainly didn’t feel like the right time. The right time wouldn’t make her sick with nerves... would it? No, of course not. When something was right, it felt right, like there was no other option. And there were certainly options Clara would rather take. A weight lifted from her chest as she decided. She’d head home with her tail between her legs and beg Doug for her old job back, even it if meant sitting across from Lucas every day for the rest of her life. The silly boy muddled her head something terrible, but knowing he was miles and miles away instead of five minutes - two, if she ran - made her heart ache worse than the prospect of their remaining nothing more than friends. Clara turned to walk away - and crashed headlong into a chap, knocking a pile of papers from his hands. Stuttering apologies, she scrambled to retrieve the papers fluttering in late October breeze, and handed them back to the undeniably handsome young man. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said, giving her an attractive, lopsided grin that made his ice blue eyes twinkle and Clara’s heart flutter. Which was odd but… not unpleasant. Interesting. ‘Tommy Kilbourne,’ he said, clearly unaware of the effect he had on her. He tucked the papers under his arm and held a hand towards her. ‘Are you new here?’ ‘Clara Jenkins,’ she replied, shaking his hand. ‘And yes, I think so.’ ‘Aren’t you sure?’ ‘Yes. No. Maybe.’ Clara sighed. ‘I just wonder if I made a mistake, that’s all,’ she said in a quiet voice. ‘Ah,’ said Tommy sagely. ‘You’re Wolfie’s new girl, right? The one from the village in the middle of nowhere?’ ‘Uh...Wolfie?’ ‘Dorcas Chesterfield,’ said Tommy which was indeed the name Clara had been given. ‘But everyone calls her Wolfie.’ ‘Why?’ Someone called Tommy’s name rather crossly. He winced and looked over Clara’s shoulder. She turned and saw a stout middle-aged woman clad in a man’s tweed suit with pencils and paintbrushes protruding from the untidy bun at the back of her head. She yelled at Tommy to leave the nice young lady alone right now and get back to his desk, or there’d be trouble. Tommy gave Clara a shy, apologetic smile. ‘I think you’re about to find out,’ he said. ‘See you around - I hope.’ With that, he scurried towards the building, tipping his hat to this mysterious Wolfie whilst staying well away from her. ‘Are you all right, my dear?’ called Wolfie as she approached Clara. ‘I apologise for Mr Kilbourne, he - well, he’s a bit of a dog, truth be told, and you mustn’t believe a word he says.’ ‘Really?’ said Clara, curiosity about this good-looking young man who seemed shy and sweet putting all thoughts of running away from her head. He couldn’t deserve such a terrible introduction, surely? ‘Why?’ ‘If you don’t know, we should have a little chat sometime,’ said Wolfie, coming to a standstill beside Clara. ‘Oh,’ said Clara, cheeks blazing in the cool autumnal afternoon as she remembered her mother’s warnings about men in the city. ‘But he seems so nice...’ ‘They all do, until they don’t,’ said Wolfie. ‘Can I help you? Or are you just stood here admiring the scenery?’ Clara’s blush deepened. This Tommy fellow was admittedly rather handsome, but she’d not been staring... much. Had she? ‘Come on, girl, out with it,’ said Wolfie. ‘I can’t imagine you’re standing around hoping to crash into handsome young scoundrels, so why are you here?’ ‘Oh, I, um...’ said Clara, stumbling over her words in her panic. ‘I start work here tomorrow,’ she managed at last. ‘And I thought I’d find the building today so I’d have no problem in the morning.’ ‘Very sensible,’ said Wolfie with an approving nod. ‘Just the kind of gal we need around here.’ She scanned Clara’s attire - a smart black woollen skirt and cream blouse under a black coat, black shoes, and a sensible black hat. ‘But not looking like that. Come along, Miss Jenkins, let me take you to tea and we’ll discuss your new role.’ ‘Er… How did you know my name?’ ‘Psychic gift,’ said Wolfie, grinning mischievously. ‘That and you’re the only new recruit starting tomorrow in the art department. Did you know you’ve got a large blob of blue paint on your hand?’ Clara quickly put her hands behind her back. ‘Sign of a true artist,’ said Wolfie with a grin, holding up her own ink-stained hands. ‘I assume Mr Kilbourne told you who I am?’ ‘Yes, Mrs Chesterfield.’ ‘Miss,’ said Wolfie. ‘But please, call me Wolfie, everyone else does. So, Miss Jenkins,’ said Wolfie, taking Clara’s arm and leading her back into the street. ‘Are you looking forward to starting your new job tomorrow?’ Clara hesitated. She’s been debating running away, but was that still an option, or had meeting Wolfie and the apparently dangerous Tommy made things less terrifying, and more exciting? ‘My guess is no,’ said Wolfie, correctly interpreting her silence. ‘But you, Miss Jenkins, don’t strike me as someone to run away from a challenge. You’re going places, I can tell - but only if you’re brave. Are you brave, Miss Jenkins?’ Clara took a deep breath and looked at her new boss. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I am brave, I think.’ ‘No, no, my girl,’ said Wolfie. ‘You don’t think you’re brave, you are brave. Probably braver than you realise. You’re here on your own, aren’t you?’ A lump formed in Clara’s throat and she nodded mutely, tears welling in her eyes and threatening to spill down her cheeks. ‘Now, no need for that,’ said Wolfie kindly, handing her a hankie. ‘You’re not alone anymore, you’ve got me looking out for you. That’s why they call me Wolfie, you see. I’m like a mother wolf, looking out for all the little pups in the office who need someone on their side – and I’m not afraid to snap at the heels of certain fellows, who I’d say have the morals of alley cats, except the cats behave better.’ Clara laughed through the tears, though it wasn’t really very funny, and Wolfie grinned. ‘Come along, Miss Jenkins, let’s get to know each other over a nice pot of tea,’ she said, steering her new recruit along. ‘And then we’ll get you kitted out so the chaps forget they’re talking to a pretty young lady. That’s the trick, you see, make them forget you’re a girl and they’ll start treating you like one of the boys.’

Episode 2:
New Friends, Old Warnings

Less apprehensive than yesterday, but with her stomach flip-flopping as she walked up the well-worn sandstone steps of the Illustrated Police News offices, Clara wondered what her first day would bring. No such worries on the first day at her old place. She’d walked straight up to Doug Brodie, a well-known and reasonably well-liked figure around the village, and requested a job at the Castlebury Gazette when she left school at fourteen. Lucas, having done the same and being three years older than her, had told her what it was like to work there. With hindsight she suspected he’d embellished his tales for dramatic effect, but regardless her first day at the Gazette came as no surprise - and besides, she had Lucas to keep her company. She tried to put her friend out of her mind as she stepped into the swirling rush of people behind the door. It was ten to nine and already people darted around, shouting to each other and scurrying from one place to another. Clara attracted little attention, which was her intention, and she slipped unnoticed through the crowd until she saw a familiar face waiting at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Clara, my girl,’ cried Wolfie, waving as she spotted her new friend. ‘Come along, I want you to meet the team and get settled at your new desk.’ Clara followed her up three flights of stairs and into a large, open office filled with row upon row of simple desks, the clatter of typewriters, and the chatter of reporters and artists. ‘We’re in the group at the other end of the office,’ said Wolfie, steering Clara past momentary flickers of interest from the mostly male reporters. Tommy caught her eye, and smiled in a way that made her heart flutter. ‘No, we’ll make those introductions later,’ said Wolfie, rolling her eyes and hurrying Clara along by the elbow. ‘If you’ve got any sense at all,’ she added in a whisper, ‘you’ll steer clear of Mr Kilbourne, and the others.’ Eventually they reached a small group of desks lined up to make the most of the sunlight streaming through the large windows. Half a dozen pairs of eyes rose in half-interested greeting before turning back to their drawings. ‘Come along,’ said Wolfie, clapping her hands until she had their full attention. ‘We have a new member of the team joining us today. I want you all to say hello to Miss Clara Jenkins.’ A half-hearted chorus of hellos was duly made. ‘Now really,’ said Wolfie, folding her arms and tapping her toe impatiently. ‘You can do better than that.’ ‘Of course we can,’ said a pretty girl, barely a year older than Clara, bouncing to her feet and approaching Clara with an outstretched hand. ‘Sorry, I was putting the finishing touches in, critical moment and all that. I’m sure you understand. The name’s Bobby, Roberta if I’m feeling posh, but that doesn’t happen often.’ ‘Nice to meet you,’ said Clara, shaking Bobby’s hand. ‘Yes, it is rather,’ said Bobby, beaming. ‘To meet you, I mean. I’m not that big-headed.’ She looked over Clara’s shoulder and said rather louder, ‘I leave that sort of thing to the reporters.’ Clara glanced in the same direction and noticed a handful of chaps suddenly becoming much more interested in their work. She smiled; it seemed like the girls held their own in this place. Not that she ever let the boys get the upper hand back home, of course, but Clara hadn’t known quite what to expect, coming to a place like this. It was always going to be different than the cosy little Castlebury Gazette office, with Doug who played surrogate father to his two young employees, and Lucas who was, well, Lucas. ‘You’re next to me,’ said Bobby, shoving a stack of paper and pens to the side. ‘Isn’t she, Wolfie?’ Wolfie looked pointedly at the empty desk on the other side of the little area, and shrugged. ‘If you’re happy with that, who am I to argue?’ she said. ‘Thanks,’ said Clara quietly, as Bobby swung a chair into place for her. ‘Don’t mention it,’ whispered Bobby. ‘Us small-town girls have to look out for each other, don’t we?’ ‘Oh?’ said Clara, curious. ‘Are you from a village too?’ ‘Well, more like a country estate,’ said Bobby, a shade embarrassed. ‘Daddy’s place, actually, and he’d certainly not be too chuffed at me working for a living. Dear me, no.’ ‘Oh,’ said Clara, who hadn’t the luxury of choosing. ‘But he’s not around anymore,’ explained Bobby. ‘Trenches took him, and two brothers, and the death duties did for us. Mummy desperately wants to sell the old pile of rocks, but grandmamma isn’t having a bit of it. Wants us to live there in genteel poverty whilst the damn place falls down around our ears.’ ‘I see,’ said Clara, who had only ever experienced the regular kind of poverty and didn’t actually see at all. ‘Well,’ said Bobby, leaning back in her seat and grinning. ‘She’s not the only one who can be stubborn, and I ran away from school to get a job here.’ ‘How awfully brave,’ said Clara, a little awestruck. Bobby was like a heroine from an adventure book. ‘One does what one must,’ said Bobby, though the sparkle in her eye said she quite agreed with her new friend. ‘They were apoplectic back home when they found out, but that soon stopped when I started sending money home. Funny, that.’ ‘Er, yes,’ said Clara, thankful she had her family’s full support for the move. Lucas seemed the most put out, though he probably just wasn’t keen on having Doug’s somewhat grumpy demeanour all to himself. ‘So, what about you?’ said Bobby, setting up a jam jar with pencils and dip pens for Clara and hefting a drawing board into place. ‘Where are you from??’ ‘Oh, a little place, nowhere grand,’ said Clara modestly. ‘A few dozen houses, a church, couple of farms, a handful of shops. Nothing special, but it’s cosy.’ ‘I see,’ said Bobby. ‘Not much to hang around for, then?’ Only her mum, her brother Henry, the little community that had loved her and helped her grow. There was the river, which was pretty in spring and a welcome place to cool off in summer, and the medieval church with its stained glass and magnificent carvings. She’d miss going into shops and being greeted by name, but she supposed she’d get that soon enough in her new home, and really, Castlebury Magna wasn’t so far away - only two hours or so by train, and a phone call if she was desperate. The only thing she’d truly miss seeing every day was Lucas, and she couldn’t miss out on an opportunity like this for some boy, could she? No matter how much she liked him. ‘You could say that,’ said Clara aloud, but from the look on Bobby’s face, she’d realised there was a chap in the picture somewhere. ‘Uhuh,’ she said, teasingly. ‘No sweetheart pining away for you back home?’ ‘Not... exactly,’ said Clara, wondering if Lucas was thinking about her at all. Not that he was her sweetheart, exactly, but… Well, he was probably busy and not sparing a thought for her, and that was that. ‘Regardless, I should say you’ve got one, if I were you,’ whispered Bobby, glancing at the reporters again. ‘Some fellows think girls should swoon at their feet, and having a sweetheart in tow is a little extra armour against their amore, if you catch my drift.’ ‘I do,’ said Clara, wishing she didn’t. ‘But I’m a terrible liar.’ ‘Oh, you’ll learn,’ said Bobby, grinning. ‘And if that fails, just keep telling them to get lost in stronger and stronger terms until they take the hint or you have no choice but to stab them with a palette knife.’ ‘Um,’ said Clara, a little unsure she’d heard what she thought she’d heard. ‘You have experience...?’ ‘‘Fraid so,’ said Bobby. ‘Still, hopefully it won’t get that far for you, especially not if you tell them - what did you say your chap’s name was?’ ‘Lucas,’ said Clara, trying to remember if she’d actually mentioned his name at all. ‘But he’s not really -’ ‘Tell them Lucas is on the rowing team for Oxford or something,’ continued Bobby, waving away Clara’s protests of mere friendship with Lucas. ‘Something that makes him sound like a right beefcake, and preferably a very vengeful beefcake, and they should leave you well enough alone.’ ‘Oh,’ said Clara, wondering again if she’d made a mistake in coming here at all, though that wonder was a lot smaller than yesterday. At least now she had two friends, and that Tommy chap seemed nice as well... ‘Say,’ said Clara, deciding to get a second opinion on him. ‘What can you tell me about Tommy Kilbourne? Surely he’s not as bad as Wolfie makes out…’ Bobby snorted. ‘You’ve been here five minutes and you’ve already heard about his lousy reputation? That should tell you everything you need to know about him.’ ‘Well, I only know what Wolfie said about him,’ said Clara. ‘Which wasn’t much, and what not very flattering. And she only told me anything at all because I ran headlong into him yesterday and sent his papers flying everywhere, so we’d already kind of met.’ ‘Hmm,’ said Bobby, unconvinced. ‘I doubt Wolfie told you anything untrue, or unjust. He’s trouble, that boy. You’ll be wise to steer well clear of him if you can.’ ‘And if I can’t?’ ‘Try harder.’ Clara let the topic turn to something a little less interesting, and when she was sure neither Bobby nor Wolfie were looking at her, she stole a glance at the angelic-faced young man with the wicked reputation - only for him to quickly glance away from her. Interesting. Not that she was interested in him romantically, of course. No, Lucas had occupied those thoughts too long for them to be easily relinquished to a stranger. But there was more to this young man than met the eye, and Clara resolved to find out what it was.

Episode 3:
Lucky Charm

How could it only have been six days since she’d made the long, lonely journey to London? It felt like a lifetime ago! Clara sank with relief onto a bench as she waited for the boys to alight from the Castlebury Magna train, which was due shortly. She was exhausted. Happy, but exhausted. The work was challenging but enjoyable, her colleagues were mostly nice, and she had a firm friend in Bobby, which was rather pleasing. And against all recommendations, she’d been enjoying short, passing conversations with Tommy Kilbourne, and learned that he was working on a long-term series of reports on a gang known as The Hanging Swords. Not being quite as green as everyone thought she was, Clara took all his claims with a pinch of salt, but Bobby confirmed this was indeed the assignment Kilbourne had been working on these past six months. That was another very good reason to steer clear, if you asked her. Clara disagreed. It sounded terribly thrilling, and after nearly eighteen quiet years, she felt owed a little excitement, even if it was second hand. She promised Bobby and Wolfie that she wouldn’t fall under Tommy’s spell, explaining how she was interested in Tommy’s work and therefore wanted to be friends with him. She knew how to handle chaps, she’d said - and besides, she’d got Lucas as a defence. The mention of Lucas put the dampers on Tommy, but she suspected that wouldn’t last, particularly after she admitted things were rather new with Lucas. Technically a lie, but if there was the slightest flicker of hope, surely that counted as "very new", didn't it? But that was a problem for another day. The steam train puffed into the station at last, Henry and Lucas leaning out of a carriage window looking for her. She waved until the spotted her, and as soon as the train stopped they were out the door, nimbly weaving through the crowds. They cannoned into her, hugging her like it had been six years, not six days, since they’d seen her off on the train. ‘Hello trouble,’ said Henry, ruffling his little sister’s hair affectionately as he released her. Lucas hugged Clara properly and all was right with the world again. Not that it was wrong, as such, but somehow life was always better with him around. ‘Good to see, you, old thing,’ he whispered in her ear, his breath on her neck sending a thrill across her skin, then he too released her from his embrace. She linked her arms through theirs, Lucas on her left and Henry on her right, and steered them towards the exit. ‘You’d think I’d been gone a year, not a week,’ she joked, though the was rather pleased with the greetings. ‘I told you she wouldn’t have missed us at all,’ said Henry to Lucas, over her head. ‘Yes,’ replied Lucas, also talking over Clara’s hat. ‘Perhaps it’s a wasted journey.’ ‘Not if we go to the theatre,’ suggested Henry. ‘True,’ said Lucas. ‘They’ll be happy to see us - at least whilst we’re handing our money over.’ ‘Don’t be silly, of course I’m glad you’re here,’ said Clara, knowing full well they were only teasing. ‘And be nice, I’m exhausted. It’s hard work, this newspaper business.’ ‘You managed all right at the Gazette,’ objected Lucas. ‘Yes, but it’s a bit quieter there,’ she said. ‘And I’ve got a lot to learn.’ ‘In that case, let’s take you out for some refreshments,’ said Henry. ‘There must be a tearoom around here somewhere - unless elegant young ladies around town only drink coffee nowadays?’ ‘They probably do,’ said Clara. ‘But I’m not one of them.’ ‘Not yet,’ said Lucas, giving her arm a squeeze and making her pulse race a little faster. Within minutes, they were sat in the nearest Lyons tearoom, waiting on service, Lucas taking the seat next to Clara, Henry the one opposite. ‘Back in a mo.,’ said Henry, getting up again. ‘Just off to the little boys room. Order me a pot of tea and a fruit scone if the waitress gets here before I’m back.’ Lucas watched his friend leave, then dipped his hand into his coat pocket and pulled out a small velvet pouch. ‘It’s not much,’ he said, pushing it across the table to Clara. ‘But I wanted to get you something for luck. And, um, so you don’t forget us, now you’re off in the big city.’ ‘You silly goose,’ she said, opening the bag and tipping the contents into her hand. ‘How could I forget about you?’ Lucas blushed, but Clara barely noticed as she examined the fine silver chain in her hand, a Viking ship pendant suspended from it. It was rubbed in places, and there was more than one scratch, but it couldn’t have mattered less. ‘It’s beautiful,’ she said, smiling at a relieved Lucas as she undid the clasp. ‘Thank you.’ ‘Let me help,’ he said, taking the chain from her unresisting fingers and fastening it around her throat, sending little sparks of electricity through her whenever his fingertips brushed her skin. ‘Look, Henry,’ she said as her brother returned. ‘Lucas got me a good luck charm, seeing as he can’t be my lucky charm in real life anymore. Not all the time, anyway.’ ‘Did he?’ said Henry, frowning at his best friend, who went rather pink. ‘When did you do that? And how long have Viking ships been lucky?’ ‘That’s not quite what I said,’ protested Lucas, blushing a little deeper now. ‘And it was a last-minute thing. I saw it in the newsagents this morning, you know how Featherstone keeps some trinkets in the window on the off chance someone might be in the market for second-hand jewellery.’ ‘Luck is what you make of it, anyway,’ said Clara, fidgeting with her gift. ‘So if I say it’s my lucky charm, it is.’ ‘So there,’ said Lucas, sticking his tongue out at Henry, who shrugged. ‘If you say so, sister dear,’ he said, looking around to try and catch the eye of the waitress. ‘I do,’ said Clara firmly. ‘Thank you, Lucas, it’s very thoughtful of you - unlike some people,’ she added, glaring playfully at Henry. ‘Oh shush, I’m buying you tea,’ came the reply. ‘Be nice, or I’ll change my mind.’ *** After refreshments had been consumed - and paid for by Henry, naturally - the trio wandered through the streets, laughing and talking and having a jolly good time of it. Clara almost forgot the boys had to go home without her, until Henry commented on the time slipping away. ‘Oh, of course,’ said Clara, a shade sadly. ‘I’ll walk you back to the station.’ ‘No, we should walk you home,’ said Lucas. ‘It doesn’t do for a girl to walk through London on her own.’ ‘How do you think I got to the station this morning?’ There was a pause, before Lucas said, ‘Well anyway, we should check out your lodgings, make sure you’re not living in squalor.’ ‘Hear, hear,’ agreed Henry. ‘I’ve heard what these boarding houses are like.’ ‘You’re very sweet, both of you,’ she said, rolling her eyes and smiling. ‘But it’s not squalid - although it is a little drab. But it’s only for a week or two, until I can find a proper flat, so I can live with it for now.’ ‘Very sensible,’ agreed her brother, nodding sagely. ‘We can brighten it up a little, I’m sure,’ said Lucas, looking over his shoulder. ‘Wait here a second.’ He darted through the crowd, returning a few minutes later with a small bunch of violets. ‘It’s not much,’ he said, handing them to Clara, who inhaled their heady fragrance with delight. ‘But, you know, time’s pressing and all that.’ ‘They’re lovely, thank you,’ said Clara, beaming at him. Henry, meanwhile, was giving his oldest friend a very curious look. ‘What?’ said Lucas defensively. ‘I can’t imagine Clara living in a place without a splash of colour, can you?’ ‘No,’ said Henry, suspiciously. ‘But flowers, Lucas? I’ve never known you buy a girl flowers before.’ Lucas gave a somewhat forced laugh and turned bright pink, which was unlikely to be forced at all. ‘Your sister hardly counts as a girl though, does she?’ he said, punching her lightly on the shoulder. Clara though he protested a little too much. After all, he’d just bought her jewellery and flowers. All that was missing was chocolate and privacy, and it was practically a big date. ‘No, I suppose not,’ said Henry, relaxing again. ‘And you’re right, they are jolly.’ The boys walked Clara home, Lucas keeping a little more distance from her than usual, which was both vexing and rather pleasing at the same time. They hugged her goodbye on the doorstep, the landlady not allowing any gentleman callers at all, whether they claimed to be her brothers or not. Clara pulled two violets from the bunch and threaded one carefully through Henry’s buttonhole, and the other through Lucas’s. ‘So you don’t forget about me,’ she said, hoping Lucas would realise she’d echoed his earlier words back to him. A curious look flickered over his face, so he might have made the connection. That or he was wondering why it sounded familiar. It was hard to tell with him sometimes. ‘Chance would be a fine thing, my dear,’ said Henry, startling Lucas. ‘Especially as you gave mum that photo of you before you left.’ ‘She requested it,’ argued Clara. ‘It’s pride of place on the mantlepiece,’ said Henry, clearly a little put out. ‘Silver frame and everything.’ ‘No more than I deserve,’ returned Clara, rather cheered at the thought she might not be barking up the wrong tree with Lucas after all. ‘And she can see you every day if she wants.’ ‘At least one of her children cares enough to stick around,’ he teased, ruffling her hair again. He glanced at his watch, gave her a final squeeze, and told Lucas to hurry or they’d miss the train home. Lucas smiled at her, a little more shyly than usual, and gave her one final, slightly awkward hug goodbye, before falling into step beside Henry. Clara watched them walk away, and was thrilled to catch Lucas stealing one final look in her direction before turning the corner. Interesting, she thought, sniffing her flowers again and hoping the landlady would lend her a jam jar to put them in – all except one, which would be carefully pressed in a book as a memento. I wonder where I can get some violet scent from before I next take go home - and I wonder if he’ll notice…

Episode 4:
Reasons To Hope

Clara wore her "lucky" Viking ship necklace every day for the next fortnight and, much to her surprise, it did seem to bring her luck. Imagined or real, it didn’t matter. She got on well at work - still learning the ropes of course, but the ropes were easier to handle each day - and she’d had a few sketches published, which was terribly exciting. She carefully clipped the printed versions out of the paper and pasted them into a scrapbook so she could show everyone at home. She ought to keep a diary, but despite encouragement from family members and schoolteachers over the years, Clara always felt silly writing to herself, so the habit never stuck. Why would she ever read it back anyway? However, a visual diary could be different. Perhaps not a diary as such, but a sketchbook which she added a drawing to each day... She was pondering this matter and the form it should take, when she almost ran headlong into Tommy outside the office gates. ‘Making a habit of this, aren’t we?’ he quipped. ‘Huh?’ said Clara, who hadn’t noticed him at all. ‘Oh yes, I suppose so. Miles away, sorry.’ ‘Somewhere nice, I hope?’ asked Tommy, offering her his arm, which she took absentmindedly as they walked across the courtyard. ‘What were you thinking about?’ ‘Sketchbooks,’ she said. ‘Know where I can get one?’ ‘Ye-es,’ said Tommy, once he got over the disappointment of not being the object of Clara’s daydreams. ‘In fact, I’m heading over that way later today, I’ll pick you one up if you like.’ ‘Thanks, but if you give me the address I’ll go myself,’ said Clara. ‘Oh,’ she added, noticing the hurt on his face. ‘I just like to have a look myself, that’s all. I’m particular about the paper I draw on.’ ‘I see,’ said Tommy, unconvinced. ‘Well, in that case, why not come out on the assignment with me? I can wait until your lunch break if it helps, I’ve not set up the meeting yet.’ ‘Oh yes,’ said Clara, delighted. ‘I’d love to see what the reporters do.’ ‘But I should warn you,’ said Tommy, glancing over his shoulder. ‘The report I’m working on today... Well, it’s rather sensitive. Sensitive, and possibly dangerous.’ ‘Really?’ said Clara. ‘In what way?’ ‘Well,’ said Tommy, slowing their pace as they approached the building and still looking around him. ‘Have you heard of The Hanging Swords Gang?’ ‘The group you’re writing a series of articles on?’ she replied. ‘Other than that, I don’t really know anything. No one wants to talk about them.’ ‘Some things are better not knowing about,’ said Tommy after a pause. ‘Come on, I need to know what I’m heading towards,’ she said coaxingly. ‘I can keep a secret.’ ‘I don’t want to get you into any trouble,’ he said, his resolve wavering. Clara suspected it wasn’t a strong resolve to start with. ‘You won’t,’ promised Clara. ‘I’ll keep my distance whilst you’re doing your research, but you should still tell me who these Hazel Swans are.’ ‘Hanging Swords,’ corrected Tommy with a smile as they entered the building and made for the staircase. ‘They’re a nasty group of people, to be honest,’ he said. ‘Are you sure you want to know?’ ‘Of course I do,’ she said. ‘In fact, the more you tell me I shouldn’t know about them, the more I want to know.’ Tommy grinned. ‘We’re not so different, you and I,’ he said. ‘And to be honest, they’re just a rag-tag bunch of criminals who have ideas above their station. They mostly just bully people into doing their bidding. Not me, of course,’ he added, seeing the look on Clara’s face. ‘They’re nothing to do with me really, I’ve just got... a pal or two in the gang. I’m their press officer, in a way - unofficially, of course - and I make sure that they don’t get too much bad coverage in the papers.’ ‘Why do you do it?’ asked Clara. ‘And why do they want to control their press?’ ‘I like getting the best stories,’ said Tommy. ‘And I get the best stories from the best sources - namely, my mates in the gang. And the gang want to make sure that they get just the right amount of bad press to make their victims pay up, or whatever it is they want them to do, but not so much that the public demands something is done about them. Naturally, I get handsomely rewarded from both sides,’ he added with a wicked grin. ‘You’re a double agent.’ ‘Something like that,’ agreed Tommy. ‘So as I say, it could get a little sketchy - no pun intended, considering your errand - and I’d rather not have you too close.’ ‘Oh,’ said Clara, downcast. ‘I was looking forward to some cloak-and-dagger business.’ ‘I never said you couldn’t tag along,’ said Tommy. ‘I just want you to know why I’ll not be introducing you to my contact, and why you should keep a discreet distance.’ ‘No problem there,’ said Clara, cheering up again. ‘I’ll probably get distracted by the art materials and forget what you’re doing anyway.’ They parted company at the top of the office stairs, with Tommy saying he’d pick Clara up at lunchtime. ‘Why is he taking you to lunch?’ asked Bobby accusingly as Clara took her seat at their shared desk. ‘I need a new sketchbook, and Tommy is taking me to a place he knows,’ said Clara, ignoring the insinuation from her friend. She was fond of Bobby, really she was, but Clara didn’t care for how much her friend disapproved of Tommy. It made her wonder if there was some history between them, but Bobby clammed up every time Clara hinted at this suspicion. She’d have to try getting the details from Tommy, if she really wanted to know. She wasn’t sure she did. ‘Why didn’t you ask me?’ said Bobby indignantly. ‘What does he know about sketchbooks, anyway?’ ‘Probably nothing,’ replied Clara soothingly. ‘I just mentioned I needed a new one, and he said he’d be near an art shop later and he’d show me the way if I wanted. I thought it sounded fun - yes, I know you can’t stand him,’ said Clara, interrupting Bobby’s interruption before she could make it, ‘- but really, he just needs a friend. I think he’s lonely.’ ‘He has plenty of friends,’ said Bobby. ‘Mostly of the female variety, if you catch my meaning.’ ‘So I’ve heard,’ said Clara. ‘His charms work on other people, but that doesn’t mean they’ll work on me, does it?’ ‘See they don’t,’ replied Bobby curtly, tossing her golden curls haughtily. ‘I feel responsible for you, and Wolfie will hang, draw, and quarter me I let you take up with that man.’ ‘I’m not "taking up" with him,’ said Clara indignantly. ‘I’ve got a sweetheart back home, remember?’ ‘Hmm,’ said Bobby, unconvinced. ‘Don’t you forget it either, all right? Mr Kilbourne is very good at making people forget things. Their underwear, for instance.’ Clara raised her eyebrows. ‘Personal experience?’ ‘No,’ said Bobby, too quickly to sound truthful. ‘I’ve heard stories, that’s all. And anyway,’ she said, clearly keen to change the subject. ‘You have a sweetheart, do you? I thought things were still up in the air with Lucas?’ ‘They still are, I suppose,’ admitted Clara, her cheeks glowing. ‘But let’s just say, I have reasons to hope.’ She absent-mindedly played with the fine chain around her throat, pulling the “lucky” charm briefly above the neckline on her blouse. ‘What’s that?’ said Bobby, smiling. ‘A gift from Lucas? That’s a very pretty reason to hope, if you don’t mind my saying so.’ Clara dropped the chain like it was red hot. ‘Yes, well,’ she mumbled, looking away. ‘I’m not quite sure what to think about it, to be honest.’ ‘Uhuh,’ said Bobby, mischief dancing in her eyes. ‘Well, regardless of what you think, Lucas is a better bet than Tommy. Remember that.’ ‘Don’t worry,’ said Clara. ‘I won’t forget any time soon.’ Tommy walked from the office telephones back to his desk, winking at the ladies on the way past. ‘Hmm,’ said Bobby, scowling at him, which apparently amused him. ‘Make sure you don’t forget. A woman needs to keep her head around a man like that.’ ‘Thanks for the warning,’ said Clara. ‘But I’m a one-man kinda girl, and he’s most certainly not my one man.’

Episode 5:
The Paintbox

Clara hoped her birthday would pass unnoticed in the office, but was sadly mistaken. On her desk were several small, neatly wrapped gifts, a handful of cards, and a small bunch of flowers. ‘Happy birthday,’ chorused the team as she approached her desk. ‘Thank you,’ she said shyly, secretly rather pleased. ‘I’ll, um, open these at lunchtime...’ ‘Nonsense,’ said Wolfie, slapping her on the back. ‘We can spare you five minutes on your birthday.’ ‘Besides,’ added Bobby, a sly look on her face. ‘We’re all dying of curiosity over who some of these presents are from.’ Clara felt her cheeks turn scarlet. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I thought they were all from you...’ ‘Most of them are,’ said Bobby, holding up a small gift tied with a pink ribbon. ‘But this one isn’t.’ Clara took the gift as though it might explode if she didn’t handle it correctly. ‘I’ll, um, start with this one then, I suppose,’ she said, all too aware of the eyes on her. It was a neat little parcel, five- or six-inches square, and an inch or so deep. It rattled slightly when she moved it, and the ribbon felt like silk, which was an extravagance she couldn’t account for. Who of her acquaintance would - or even could - afford such a needless luxury, when twine would have done the job just as well? She briefly wondered if it was from Lucas, but the handwritten tag was far too neat to be his hand. Besides, why wouldn’t he wait until she went home at the weekend to celebrate there? ‘Well, come on girl,’ said Wolfie, cutting through Clara’s puzzlement. ‘Open it and find out who it’s from.’ Wishing she wasn’t under such scrutiny, Clara tugged the end of the ribbon loose, unwrapped the brown paper, and uncovered a small wooden box with a tiny brass clasp. Opening the lid, she found jewel-like pans of watercolour paint, shimmering in the morning light streaming through the large windows. The name of a very exclusive, and very expensive art supply manufacturer was on an elaborate label affixed to the inside of the lid, along with a note: "So you can make the world even more beautiful than you already do. TK x" Clara’s colour deepened. She’d admired the box of paints when Tommy took her to the art supply shop a week or two ago, but hadn’t been able to justify the price. It was sweet of him, of course, but far too much for a mere friend to give. When Clara announced who the gift was from, Wolfie clucked her tongue disapprovingly and Bobby said a few choice words about Tommy. ‘You can’t accept it, of course,’ said Bobby. ‘You’ll only encourage him.’ Clara knew this was true, but still... When else would she get such a beautiful set of paints? She looked pleadingly at Bobby, who remained firm in her insistence. ‘All right,’ sighed Clara. ‘But I should thank him for the thought, even though I’ll insist he takes it back to the shop.’ With a heavy heart and a worried knot in her stomach, Clara made the long journey across the office to return the gift. ‘Tommy,’ she said as she approached. He turned and gave her such a happy smile it almost broke her heart. ‘Thank you for the birthday present,’ she said. ‘But -’ ‘Oh, don’t be silly,’ said Tommy with a groan. ‘They’ve been telling you all sorts of things about me again, haven’t they?’ he added, looking over her shoulder and saluting the watching art department. ‘But I say it’s a pretty sorry situation when a chap can’t get his friend a birthday gift without arousing suspicions.’ ‘It’s rather an extravagant gift, Tommy,’ said Clara. ‘Not the kind a mere friend would get, if you see what I mean.’ Tommy shifted uncomfortably in his seat. ‘Well, I wouldn’t know about that,’ he said. ‘I don’t have many friends, you see.’ Clara rolled her eyes. ‘Oh Tommy, that’s not true.' ‘It is,’ insisted Tommy. ‘I have plenty of acquaintances, and I know how to get on with people, but there’s very few people I’d actually consider a friend.’ ‘And you consider me a friend?’ queried Clara. ‘We’ve only known each other a few weeks.’ ‘Well, yes,’ said Tommy, leaning back in his chair. He looked around to make sure they weren’t being overheard. ‘You’re not like these others, Clara,’ he said in a hushed tone. ‘I can talk to you. I feel we’re kindred spirits in a way.’ ‘I bet you say that to all the girls,’ said Clara in an unimpressed tone, knowing this to be true - at least, according to Bobby and Wolfie, who were more likely to know than she was. ‘See, that’s what I like about you,’ said Tommy, avoiding the question. ‘You don’t take any nonsense. Well, all right, I’ll level with you,’ he said, leaning forward onto his desk and looking at her seriously. ‘Perhaps part of me hopes something more than friendship might blossom between us, but I’m not going to employ any of my… usual tactics.’ Clara raised an eyebrow at him. ‘I admit, my reputation as a lothario is well deserved,’ said Tommy. ‘But people can change.’ ‘Can they?’ asked Clara sceptically. ‘Given the right incentives,’ said Tommy. ‘But my point is, some things are too important to be rushed.’ ‘I have a boyfriend,’ said Clara suddenly, and untruthfully. ‘As you already know.’ Tommy gave a sad little half smile. ‘I do know,’ he said. ‘Which is another reason I’m not rushing things. I’ve done many bad things in my time, Miss Jenkins, but stealing a woman isn’t one of them. At least, not one who doesn’t want to be stolen, and then it’s practically an act of charity.’ ‘And I’m very happy with Lucas,’ said Clara firmly, feeling like a rotter as Tommy winced. ‘Look,’ she said, taking pity on him. ‘I like you too - as a friend,’ she added, feeling even worse for grinding Tommy’s hopes further under her heel. ‘And if you’d like to continue as friends, I’d like that too. You’re fun to be around, and I know you’ve been looking out for me. But I’m not interested in anything else, all right?’ Tommy nodded glumly, and Clara sighed as she held out the paintbox to him. ‘No, no,’ he said, waving it away again. ‘Keep it, I insist. As a gift from a friend. Nothing more.’ ‘Thank you,’ replied Clara hesitantly, slipping the box into her coat pocket along with the note that accompanied it. After all, it seemed churlish to refuse a gift from a friend, and despite Tommy’s lousy reputation, Clara liked him and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. It pained her that it seemed unavoidable. She got the impression he was covering a deep sadness, and how could she abandon someone like that? Of course, she got an earbashing from her other friends when she returned to her workstation, no matter how much she told them Tommy promised it was a gift of friendship, nothing more. Both Wolfie and Bobby went and had words with Tommy, but Clara wouldn’t be moved on the subject. Tommy was her friend, and that was that. Nothing and no one would change that - not even Henry, who loudly voiced his opinion on the subject a few days later when Clara returned home for a visit. The note, which had languished quite forgotten in Clara’s pocket since her birthday, fluttered to the floor as she pulled her mittens from her coat pocket. Henry picked it up and, having read it, frowned in annoyance. ‘Clara, dear,’ he said, handing the note back to her. ‘How is it you’ve been in London two or three months, and you already have an admirer?’ Clara blushed. ‘Tommy’s just a friend,’ she said. ‘Of course he is,’ said Henry sarcastically. ‘I must have written this same thing to Lucas a dozen times over the years.’ ‘Tommy got the wrong end of the stick for a while,’ she admitted. ‘But we talked about it, and agreed that we’re friends, and that's all we’ll ever be. I made myself very clear on the subject,’ hoping that she had. Surely Tommy couldn’t have misunderstood her? ‘Hmm,’ said Henry, disapprovingly. ‘Perhaps I ought to have a word with this Tommy chap and make sure that we’re all very clear on the subject.’ ‘There’s really no need,’ insisted Clara, grabbing Henry’s arm to stop him from going down to the station and buying a ticket to London there and then. ‘I have plenty of people looking out for me at work, who will make sure Tommy understands the line of friendship is not one that should be crossed.’ ‘I’m glad to hear that,’ said Henry, relaxing a little. ‘And if you’re sure I don’t need to have a word -’ ‘I’m sure,’ said Clara quickly. ‘Humph,’ said Henry, who clearly was in the mood to exercise his right as older brother to be protective of his sister. ‘I feel sorry for him, truth be told,’ admitted Clara. ‘I don’t think he’s got many friends. He seems... lonely.’ ‘It’s an act of charity, is it?’ asked Henry suspiciously. ‘Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that...’ ‘All right,’ said Henry. ‘You’re a big girl now, I suppose. I’m just not sure I like you having male friends, that’s all.’ ‘You never bothered much about Lucas,’ argued Clara. ‘And he’s my best friend.’ ‘True, but Lucas is Lucas, isn’t he? He’s about the only chap I do trust you with. You’re like a sister to him, you know that, and he’ll always look after you.’ Clara forced a smile. ‘Yes,’ she said quietly. ‘I suppose so.’ She changed the subject to something not requiring much concentration, and mused glumly on Henry’s words. Was that all she was to Lucas, a surrogate little sister? Clara didn’t think so, but she knew Henry would not be pleased that the only fellow he trusted with his precious baby sister had stolen her heart. And the thought of hurting her brother like that was unbearable. Oh dear. Things were suddenly even more complicated than before…

Episode 6:
Black Sheep

Clara had barely sat down at her and Bobby’s desk before she was being called to her feet again. ‘Miss Jenkins,’ said Wolfie from the other side of the room. ‘A moment, please.’ Despite knowing she’d not done anything she shouldn’t - probably, and at least not so Wolfie would have noticed - Clara felt a wave of anxiety pass over her. ‘Yes, Wolfie?’ she said as she approached her manager’s desk. ‘Can I help you?’ ‘How do you feel about going out on assignment with a reporter?’ said Wolfie, in a tone that made it seem like this rather thrilling prospect was something doom-laden and to be avoided. ‘Really?’ said Clara eagerly, imagining the excitement of being up close to a story as it was unfolding, or at least being discussed. Hadn’t she been waiting for this moment since she arrived? Hadn’t she enviously spied the reporters returning from assignment, cheerfully discussing the interesting things that had happened? Hadn’t she - But wait. Artists didn’t often go out into the field with a reporter. They had to imagine the scene from the descriptions provided, descriptions that usually were exaggerated beyond belief and "corrected" when realism was attempted. This was highly unusual, so she said so. ‘Yes,’ agreed Wolfie. ‘Although it’s not unheard of.’ She leant her elbows on the desk and looked at Clara over clasped hands. ‘You, however, were specifically requested. I wonder if you can guess who by?’ Clara sighed and closed her eyes. She thought she’d dealt with that. ‘Mr Kilbourne?’ she guessed, earning her a disapproving nod. ‘Indeed,’ confirmed Wolfie, her mouth set in a grim line. ‘You can refuse if, you’d prefer. No one would blame you. We’d encourage it, in fact.’ Clara nibbled her bottom lip. She’d been keeping her distance from Tommy all week since his extravagant birthday gift and the discussion about their friendship. She hoped he’d not noticed anything was amiss, pretending she’d got prior engagements when he offered to take her to lunch or to walk her back to her flat, but this was surely confirmation that he knew she was avoiding him. The kind thing to do would be to refuse to go. To make an excuse - Wolfie would be sure to provide one if requested, she made no secret about wanting to keep Tommy well away from her girls - and make it plain that she really wasn’t interested in pursuing a relationship with him. Yes, that would be the sensible thing to do. But it was chance to see more of the world, something that was impossible chained to her dip pen and desk. Hadn’t she come to London for adventure and excitement? She wouldn’t get that stuck in an office, exhausting herself with work until it was time to go home and heat a can of tomato soup on the gas burner and fall asleep on the sofa whilst reading a book. Perhaps, she told herself, I could use this time with Tommy to clarify the situation. Maybe he’s all right with just being friends, and this is his way of showing it? ‘Well, Miss Jenkins,’ prompted Wolfie, her hand reaching for a pen and paper to write a note to Tommy, refusing permission to take one of her team out of the office. ‘Shall I tell him you’re indisposed today?’ ‘No,’ said Clara, all worry fading away as she decided. ‘I’ll go. It’ll be interesting, and maybe I can convince Tommy that some things just aren’t meant to be, and that’s that.’ Wolfie’s hand fell back into her lap. ‘Clara, my dear,’ she said gently. ‘You’ll only give him false hope. He’ll never stop sniffing around you if you don’t nip this in the bud now.’ ‘But,’ said Clara, who had made up her mind and didn’t want it changing. ‘This gives me a chance to do that. And it’ll be interesting,’ she added. ‘Not upsetting Tommy, I don’t want to do that. Despite what you think of him, he’s a good chap. Just misguided, that’s all. No, I mean it’ll be interesting to see a reporter at work. I came to London to have as many interesting experiences as possible, and this seems like one.’ ‘Hmm,’ said Wolfie disapprovingly. ‘Then keep your wits about you, or knowing that boy he’ll give you some very interesting experiences, if you know what I mean.’ Clara blushed. ‘Please don’t worry,’ she said. ‘I’ll not be another notch on his bedpost. But this is an adventure, I’d be a fool to pass it up.’ Wolfie sighed. ‘All right then,’ she said. ‘Get your things and off you go - but tell him I can only spare you until lunchtime. I don’t want him turning on the charm and making you forget your good intentions.’ Clara beamed. ‘I won’t, Wolfie. Thank you.’ She grabbed her coat, hat, and sketching things before Wolfie could change her mind. Moments later, Clara and Tommy were walking along, not quite in awkward silence, but not far off it. The conversation was stilted at best, but more accurately described as deeply uncomfortable. ‘Look,’ said Tommy at last. ‘I’m sorry. I overstepped by getting you that gift. If it makes you feel better, I’ll take it back to the shop and we’ll never speak of it again.’ ‘Oh, you can’t do that,’ said Clara guiltily. ‘I’ve already used it.’ Tommy looked rather pleased about this, and Clara would have commented had he not spoken first. ‘So,’ he said cautiously ‘will you stop avoiding me now?’ ‘I’m not avoiding you,’ Clara lied. ‘I’ve been busy, that’s all.’ Tommy scoffed. ‘It’s like that, is it?’ he said, drifting away from her. ‘Well, all right.’ ‘It is?’ ‘Not really,’ he admitted. ‘I don’t like being lied to.’ ‘Tommy -’ ‘No, it’s okay,’ he said. ‘I shouldn’t have said all those things I said. I’ve made things awkward between us. Believe me, that was the last thing I wanted to do.’ He smiled at her sadly. ‘I’ve had my heart broken before, you know,’ he said. ‘And it’s mended. This time will be no different. I’ve lived with heartache my whole life.’ Clara felt thoroughly rotten, and was about to say something - anything, that might make things better, when he held up his hand to stop her. ‘But I meant it about feeling like we were meant to be good friends,’ he said. ‘And that I don’t have many real friends, not ones I can actually talk to and trust.’ By this point, Clara felt about two inches tall. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘It’s just - well, I’ve never really had anyone try to, to woo me before, and I don’t really know how to handle it.’ Tommy gave her a sharp sideways glance. ‘I thought you had a boyfriend?’ ‘I do,’ said Clara quickly. ‘Sort of. Well...’ She sighed, and decided Tommy deserved the truth - at least, if she wanted to mend fences with him, she shouldn’t really lie to him, should she? ‘Lucas and I... it’s complicated.’ ‘Oh?’ said Tommy, looking a little too cheerful for Clara’s liking. ‘How so? A problem shared is a problem halved – and we are friends again now.’ Clara paused, trying to find the right words. ‘We’re not technically a couple,’ she admitted at last. ‘But we will be. I hope. At least, we should be.’ She couldn’t help but smile as she spoke. ‘He’s been my best friend for years, you see, and… Well, I think we could be more than just friends.’ ‘What’s stopping you?’ ‘Henry.’ Tommy fixed her with a quizzical look. ‘My, you are a dark horse, Miss Jenkins,’ he said. ‘Two fellows after you? Myself excluded, of course. I’m not one to press my suit where it isn’t wanted.’ Clara laughed, choosing to glide over the last part of this speech. ‘No, it’s not like that,’ she said. ‘Henry is my older brother, and Lucas’ best friend. They’re more like brothers than friends really, and Henry wouldn’t like it.’ ‘So don’t tell him,’ said Tommy with a shrug. ‘You and Lucas sneak around for a while, see if things work out or not - and if they do work out, tell Henry when it’s too late for him to object.’ ‘And if they don’t?’ ‘Then Henry never needs to know.’ ‘Huh,’ said Clara, who had never considered this before. It seemed a rather neat solution. Except for one thing. ‘Lucas is the worst liar I’ve ever met,’ she said with an affectionate smile and shake of the head. ‘Worse than you?’ ‘He could never keep a secret from Henry, especially not something like that,’ continued Clara, ignoring this comment. ‘Have you had any encouragement from Lucas?’ asked Tommy, drawing her arm through his almost absentmindedly. ‘If not, it’s a moot point. Time to move on to pastures new, sort of thing.’ ‘I’m fairly certain he feels the same as I do,’ she said, a happy smile creeping onto her face as she remembered some of the encouraging moments she’d had with Lucas. ‘Only fairly certain?’ ‘Quite certain.’ ‘Hmm,’ said Tommy thoughtfully. ‘And does he know you have feelings for him too?’ ‘I hope so,’ laughed Clara. ‘But it’s complicated, isn’t it? Even if we sneak around for a while, as you suggest, Henry will still be furious with us when he finds out.’ ‘Yes, but the course of true love never did run smooth,’ said Tommy. ‘So I hear,’ said Clara, wondering if he was talking about her and Lucas, or himself. ‘You know, I’ve not really talked to anyone about this before, not even Bobby. Not like this, anyway.’ ‘That’s exactly what I mean about us being good friends,’ said Tommy. ‘We can talk to each other properly, about big, serious topics. I can’t do that with many people.’ ‘You should,’ said Clara. ‘You’re a sweet chap, Tommy -’ ‘Oh, stop,’ he said, pretending to be embarrassed. ‘No, I don’t mean that, carry on,’ he added, grinning at her. ‘And if you’d let people see the real you,’ continued Clara. ‘I’m sure they’d like you just as much as I do.’ ‘If not more,’ said Tommy, making her feel rotten again. ‘The thing is,’ he said, looking around anxiously. ‘I’m not sure about that. The real me... Well, he’s not always very nice. I can turn on the charm when I want, but beyond charm, I don’t know how to get people to like me.’ ‘I like you,’ said Clara. ‘Are you turning on the charm with me?’ ‘A little,’ he admitted. ‘But only because I don’t know any different. I’m a mess, Miss Jenkins. I’m so used to playing pretend that I don’t know myself half the time.’ ‘Interesting,’ said Clara, frowning at him. ‘Why are you telling me this? I assume, seeing as you’ve already told me you don’t have any real friends to talk to, that you haven’t said this to anyone else.’ ‘No,’ he said, sounding surprised. ‘But you’re easy to talk to. And I’ve rather blotted my copy book with everyone else, so it’s nice to talk to someone who doesn’t know all my dirty little secrets.’ ‘Hmm,’ said Clara thoughtfully. ‘Well, I suppose I’ll find out about them at some point - you know how people at work like to gossip - but on the understanding that I am most certainly off limits in a romantic sense, I think you and I should be friends again.’ ‘We weren’t before?’ ‘Well, I suppose we were,’ said Clara. ‘But I was worried about giving you the wrong idea.’ ‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ said Tommy breezily. ‘I can get the wrong idea all by myself, without being given it.’ ‘That’s not quite -’ ‘I’m joking, my dear, I’m joking,’ he said, although there was a sad look in his crystal blue eyes. ‘But I could do with a friend. It’s terribly lonely being a black sheep, you know.’ ‘Why are you a black sheep?’ asked Clara. ‘That’s a very long story,’ said Tommy, ‘and seeing as we’re nearly at our destination, I doubt we’ve got time.’ Clara suspected she was being fobbed off, and decided to discover whatever was making her friend unhappy. But in the excitement of the interviews and the sketching required by work, Clara forgot about it until she was back at her desk and Tommy at his. He sat at a distance from his colleagues, studiously tapping away at his typewriter, shrouded in smoke from his pipe with a thoughtful frown on his face. As though he could sense her eyes on him, he looked up and gave her a smile and nod, before turning back to his work. It’s a shame Tommy is so lonely, she thought, turning back to her illustration of the sea monster supposedly witnessed in the Thames yesterday evening by a chap on the way back from the pub. Perhaps I can help bring this black sheep back into the fold?

Episode 7:
A Little Trouble Never Hurt Anyone

‘Grab your coat, Jenkins,’ said Tommy as he sped past Clara’s desk the next morning. ‘Corpse in the river.’ ‘Wait, what?’ said Clara, pushing her chair back and hurrying to catch up with him. ‘I can’t just leave.’ ‘Oh, sure you can,’ said Tommy, collecting his notebook and pen from his own desk and dropping a Homburg hat onto his head. ‘I do it all the time.’ ‘And what do you mean, "Corpse in the river?"’ she asked, watching the flurry of activity that was a rather excited Tommy Kilbourne preparing to go out on assignment. ‘Can’t see how that’s misleading,’ said Tommy, patting his pockets before finding his pipe in a desk drawer. ‘Dead woman, Thames, she’s in it. Corpse in the river, see?’ ‘Oh. But,’ said Clara, looking back to her part of the office and noting a disapproving Wolfie scowling in their direction. ‘But Wolfie needs me in the office today.’ ‘Nonsense,’ said Tommy. ‘I have permission from the Big Boss to take whichever artist I fancied with me, and you’re the best, so hop to it.’ ‘Um...’ ‘It’s all right, I’ll deal with the wolf,’ he said. ‘You get ready whilst I step into the lion’s den, or the wolf’s cave, or whatever it should be.’ Clara gathered her pencils and sketchbook as she eavesdropped on the heated discussion behind her. ‘Take Derek,’ said Wolfie. ‘He’s not got anything on today, and he’s just as good an artist as Miss Jenkins.’ ‘But he hates me,’ complained Tommy. ‘You shouldn’t have slept with his wife, then.’ ‘She said she was widowed! I was just as surprised as he was when he walked in on us.’ ‘Not the point,’ said Wolfie. ‘I can’t spare Miss Jenkins. She’s in the middle of a piece for this evening’s paper.’ ‘Let Derek finish it,’ said Tommy. ‘He’ll only be miserable and do shoddy work with me anyway.’ ‘We both know this isn’t about the quality of work,’ said Wolfie, dropping her voice so Clara really had to strain her ears. ‘I know your game, Kilbourne, and you’re not going to play it with her.’ ‘Do you think I’d limit myself to office hours?’ said Tommy, his voice equally low. ‘Of course not. This simply comes down to the fact that Clara - Miss Jenkins, is a more suitable artist for the job. This needs a woman’s touch, someone sympathetic.’ ‘And what lies have you told her to gain her sympathy?’ ‘None whatsoever,’ said Tommy. ‘And what Miss Jenkins and I say to each other is none of your business anyway. Besides,’ he said, raising his voice to normal levels again. ‘Old Briggson said I could take whoever I thought best, and she’s the best. So take it up with him.’ There was a tense pause. ‘Miss Jenkins,’ called Wolfie. ‘Come here, please.’ Clara obeyed, and was surprised to be instructed to accompany Mr Kilbourne on his assignment, but to report back to Wolfie by 2pm sharp. ‘Thank you, Wolfie,’ said Clara, amazed. She’d not expected to be allowed anywhere, let alone with Tommy, and she hurriedly gathered up her coat and hat to protect her against the December chill whilst Tommy waited for her with a grin on his face. ‘Ever seen a dead body before, Jenkins?’ he asked as they trotted down the stairs and into the breathtakingly cold world outside. ‘Ah, didn’t think so,’ he continued as Clara fumbled over her answer. ‘Can’t say it’ll be pretty, but you’ll soon get used to it.’ Minutes later, as she gazed at the cold, grey face lying on the grass in front of her, she wasn’t so sure. She was glad she’d overslept and had no time for breakfast - but there was a job to be done, and she was going to do it. That is, if the police officer would let them past. ‘No can do, sir,’ he said stiffly as Tommy requested to see the body. ‘The coroner isn’t finished with her yet. Not that I can see why the Illustrated Police News is interested in a suicide anyway.’ ‘Are you sure it’s suicide, though?’ queried Tommy, peering around the policeman and getting his view blocked repeatedly. ‘She’s in a funny state for that if you ask me.’ ‘Good thing I weren’t asking you then, ain’t it sir?’ said the policeman coldly. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, I have a job to do...’ ‘What’s her name?’ said Tommy, undeterred. ‘I can’t divulge that information, sir. You know that.’ ‘Of course, George, of course,’ said Tommy, scribbling in his notebook. ‘And why haven’t the police discovered the poor lady’s identity yet?’ ‘I never said that,’ replied George. ‘And no first names when I’m working, you know that.’ ‘Sure, George, sure. Won’t happen again.’ ‘Kilbourne...’ Tommy gave the officer a cheeky grin. ‘Sorry George, my little joke. So you don’t know who she is? Looks rather well-to-do if you ask me.’ ‘Still wasn’t asking you anything,’ said the policeman. ‘Now, if you’d move along so we can get our work done...’ Tommy returned to Clara and pulled her away from the gathering crowd. ‘That lady didn’t kill herself,’ he said in a hushed tone. 'I'd bet my shirt on it.' Clara tried to peer around him but he blocked her view. ‘Don’t look, you’ll draw attention to us,’ he groaned. ‘You really are green, aren't you?' 'Um...' 'What we’ll do is go back over there,' continued Tommy. 'And ask to make some observations in our professional capacity – you do that, George can’t resist a pretty smile - and play along with their suicide theory. We’ll take it from there.’ ‘Take it from there how?’ asked Clara. ‘She clearly didn’t throw herself in the river,’ whispered Tommy. ‘Her clothing is torn, she’s covered in bruises, and she’d got a nasty cut on the side of her head that I’d guess she got before going for a swim.’ ‘Should we be getting involved?’ asked Clara doubtfully. ‘I don’t want to get into any trouble...’ ‘Nonsense, a little trouble never hurt anyone,’ said Tommy, turning to wave at the police officer. ‘Now, let’s do our jobs, shall we?’

Episode 8:
You're not psychic, are you?

Clara did her job, doing her best to detach from what she was looking at and focus on the shapes that would form the basis of her drawing. It was much easier to ignore the corpse when she was thinking about it in terms of ovals, oblongs, and triangles, and within a few minutes of Tommy appeasing the grouchy police officer, a beautiful drawing of an ugly subject formed on Clara’s sketchbook. She was just putting the finishing touches to the pencil sketch when a shriek from the crowd tore her attention away. ‘Mistress,’ cried the woman, forcing her way through the crowd and only just being caught by the policeman before she ran straight to the body. ‘Oh, mistress, what did you do?’ ‘You know this woman?’ asked the police officer. ‘Yes,’ sobbed the woman, struggling to free herself. ‘She’s Elizabeth Peasemarch, I’m her maid. I knew - I knew she was unhappy, but this... I never expected her to go through with it....’ ‘All right, miss, all right,’ said the officer soothingly. ‘Come and tell me all about it.’ Tommy gave Clara a significant look, then drifted within eavesdropping distance of the police interview - although, as the woman was distraught and very loudly so, even Clara could hear what was going on. ‘I guess Tommy was wrong,’ muttered Clara, shading the cut on the woman’s head. It was odd how torn her dress was, but Clara supposed it caught on some detritus in the Thames, and there were a lot of bruises on her face, which also seemed strange - weren’t bruises caused by bleeding under the skin? Did dead bodies bleed? That didn’t sound right, but maybe she just hit a rock as she went in… She shook her head and firmed up a line or two. Tommy’s talk of murder was getting to her, and she didn’t want to get into trouble with a policeman here. With Lucas constantly getting them into trouble with the local bobby back home, she wasn’t keen to start her London adventure off on the same foot. ‘All right, time to go,’ muttered Tommy, materialising at Clara’s elbow. ‘But -’ she started to protest. ‘Nope,’ he said, chivvying her along. ‘We’ve got a murder to solve.’ ‘But the policeman said she killed herself,’ said Clara, when they were out of earshot of the officer of the law. ‘And the maid seemed to agree.’ ‘The maid certainly said so,’ agreed Tommy. ‘But she’s lying.’ ‘Why would she do that?’ ‘Oh, any number of reasons,’ said Tommy, sauntering along and tipping his hat occasionally as they passed acquaintances. ‘There’s the outside possibility that she’s innocent, of course...’ ‘You think the maid did it?’ said Clara sceptically. ‘When the policeman thinks the poor woman drowned herself?’ ‘Well, maybe not the maid, but she knows something she’s not telling old Georgie back there – who, incidentally, will do almost anything to avoid work. Believe me, if a nice, neat solution comes George Smith’s way, he’ll take it.’ ‘But how can you be sure it was murder?’ pressed Clara, wondering if Tommy had a Gift like Lucas’ - a "gift" that had got the poor boy into trouble more than once, but Clara found fascinating. ‘Are you psychic or something?’ ‘What? No,’ scoffed Tommy. ‘No such thing.’ ‘Really?’ said Clara, wondering if he wasn’t protesting a little too much. ‘I heard there’s some research in that sort of thing that’s having some interesting results...’ ‘They can “research” all they like,’ said Tommy. ‘They’ll never convince me there’s "psychics" and ghosts and all that. It’s all nonsense done by charlatans and con artists.’ ‘Huh,’ said Clara, still wondering if this was a ruse to throw her off the scent of Tommy’s own abilities. ‘I believe in it,’ she said, hoping this might encourage Tommy to confess. ‘It’d be rather useful to be able to talk to ghosts, don’t you think? Especially if we’ve got a murder to solve...’ Instead, he fixed her with a disparaging look. ‘Or, or not, I suppose,’ she added, backtracking hastily. ‘Anyone,’ said Tommy, in the tone of someone about to pronounce a great truth to the world, ‘who can’t solve a mystery with logic and common sense alone, has no business calling themselves a sleuth.’ ‘Maybe someone who can speak to ghosts would want to help them, rather than sleuthing for sleuthing’s sake,’ said Clara, feeling she should defend Lucas, despite being the one getting him this abuse in the first place. Not the Lucas knew about it, of course, and would probably never even meet Tommy... but that wasn’t the point. ‘Oh lordy, don’t tell me you think you can talk to ghosts,’ groaned Tommy. ‘Really, Jenkins, I thought you were more sensible than that.’ ‘I am!’ cried Clara. ‘It’s just... Well, let’s move on,’ she said. ‘We have a mystery to solve - using logic and common sense, naturally.’ ‘Indeed,’ said Tommy, looking at her suspiciously. ‘As I say, I don’t think the maid was telling the truth at all. But now we know the dead woman’s name, which is a good place to start. And she was wearing a wedding band, so there must be a husband around somewhere.’ Tommy nodded at Clara. ‘Nine times out of ten, it was the husband who did it.’ ‘She might not have a husband,’ said Clara. ‘My mum still wears her ring.’ ‘I’m sorry about your dad,’ said Tommy softly, pausing a moment to take her hand and give it a sympathetic squeeze. ‘Yes, well, most families lost someone in the trenches, didn't they?’ said Clara breezily before the familiar heartache could start again. ‘We’re nothing special - and that’s what I mean. It’s quite possible she’s widowed but can’t bring herself to take her wedding band off.’ ‘Possible,’ said Tommy, picking up the pace again. ‘But not likely. She’s too young to have been married long. Where would you put her, twenty-one, twenty-two?’ ‘Hmm, true,’ said Clara, picturing the pretty young face laying on the frost-gilded grass, someone not that much older than herself. ‘So what’s the plan, find the husband and confront him?’ ‘Good Lord, no,’ said Tommy. ‘Haven’t you ever done any sleuthing before?’ ‘Well, actually...’ ‘No, I expect not,’ said Tommy, before Clara could explain how sleuthing had been a childhood hobby she, Lucas, and Henry had enjoyed - admittedly not Lucas so much, but that was understandable really. ‘Still, we’ll get you trained up, no problem, and you’ll be well away.’ ‘So, what do we do?’ said Clara, deciding she couldn’t be bothered to argue. ‘Ask around, find out where the poor lady lived, and offer our condolences to the grieving husband,’ said Tommy. ‘Assuming he is grieving, of course. But let’s do that after lunch,’ he said, his eye caught by a bakery. 'I'm starving.' Clara gave a wry smile as he stepped inside pick up a bite to eat. All chaps were clearly the same, couldn’t focus on an empty stomach...

Episode 9:
Now, Miss Jenkins, What did you make of that?

It took some time to track down Elizabeth Peasemarch’s house, but eventually Clara and Tommy found themselves in a street lined with elegant modern houses, probably no more than a dozen years old. It was a neat community, each house with a small, well-tended front garden, no peeling paintwork or mossy brickwork to be seen. Except the Peasemarch residence. The front garden was choked with weeds, straggling rose bushes peeking over the hedge, paint flaking on the cast iron gate, and the door knocker was tarnished and unloved. The house had an aura of being unloved and unlived in. ‘Is this the right place?’ said Clara doubtfully. ‘Mrs Peasemarch was very nicely turned out, I can’t imagine she’d live somewhere like this.’ ‘People keep up appearances,’ said Tommy with a shrug. ‘Sometimes that means skipping meals to afford the latest fashions or walking miles to lunch appointments in fancy restaurants instead of taking a taxi. In this case, I’d say they sacrificed help around the house to keep up with the Joneses in town.’ ‘That or they’ve had a run of back luck,’ said Clara thoughtfully, pulling her sketchbook from her pocket and opening it to the page with Mrs Peasemarch on it. ‘Look, her dress is cut in a style fashionable enough to pass muster, but not this year’s style. The hem is too long, the fabric is all wrong, and the soles of her shoes are worn through, suggesting she’d been wearing the same pair for a long time.’ ‘I wouldn’t know about that,’ said Tommy, admiring the artwork. ‘I’m too interested in what’s underneath a woman’s clothes to think much about what they look like.’ Clara gaped at him. Surely he hadn’t just said that?! ‘Sorry,’ he said, handing the book back to her with a sheepish smile. ‘Forgot who you were for a moment. Come on, let’s find out what’s going on, shall we?’ And with that, he trotted up the weedy garden path and rapped smartly on the door knocker, wiping his hand on his trousers after he did so. Eventually, the maid appeared at the door, her eyes red and puffy, her cap askew over untidy hair. ‘No visitors today,’ she said, her voice thick with tears. ‘Sorry.’ She started to close the door but was prevented by Tommy’s foot. ‘We hate to impose,’ he murmured, turning on the charm for this woman, ‘but we were at the river -’ a loud sob interrupted him, and he reached out and gave her hand a comforting squeeze. ‘I know, it’s terribly difficult for you,’ he said sympathetically. ‘But my colleague and I wanted to offer our sincere condolences to Mrs Peasemarch’s family.’ ‘Your colleague?’ said the maid sharply, pulling her hand back and glaring at the intruders on the doorstep. ‘What are you, private investigators?’ ‘No, we’re from the Illustrated Police News,’ said Tommy, looking faintly amused. ‘That’s why we were there this morning. We heard about the tragic accident -’ ‘It wasn’t no accident if you ask me,’ snapped the maid. ‘It was him what did for her, you mark my words.’ ‘Him?’ reapeated Tommy in an innocent tone. ‘Who’s "him," my dear?’ ‘The master, of course,’ said the maid. ‘And I ain’t your dear, thank you very much.’ ‘Of course not,’ said Tommy with a smile. ‘Why would your master kill his wife?’ asked Clara. ‘It ain’t my place to say, miss,’ said the maid coldly. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, I have a lot to do. Sorting out the mistress’s things for charity, for starters. She won’t be needing them, after all.’ And she closed the door in their faces without so much as a by-your-leave. ‘Interesting,’ said Tommy, turning back down the path and shoving his hands in his pockets. ‘Now, Miss Jenkins, what did you make of that?’ ‘Is this some sort of test?’ she asked, following him. ‘Why not?’ he said, giving her a cheeky grin. ‘At least, I have some ideas, let’s see if you’ve reached the same conclusions.’ Clara thought hard as the pushed the creaking gate open. ‘She seemed awfully keen to get rid of us,’ she hazarded. ‘She’s had a shock, it’s only natural not to want to see people.’ ‘Well, her tone changed when she learned we were from the papers...’ ‘Nah, can’t read into that either,’ said Tommy with a shake of the head. ‘Try again.’ Clara ran back over the short interview in her head. ‘She’s blaming the husband,’ she said at last. ‘But she wasn’t being quiet about it, so he can’t be in.’ Tommy half smiled at her. ‘Which means...?’ ‘Which means... If we want to talk to him, we’ll have to find out where he’s gone,’ said Clara, who felt a slight thrill when Tommy nodded his approval. ‘But he could be anywhere.’ ‘Oh, dear sweet Miss Clara Jenkins, you have a lot to learn,’ said Tommy teasingly. ‘If you were a thoroughly rotten person who had just lost someone you supposedly cared about, what would you do?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said Clara. ‘Go for walk? Meet a friend? Get drunk?’ ‘Bingo,’ said Tommy. ‘Let’s start with the pubs.’ ‘But there’s hundreds in London,’ protested Clara. ‘Where do we start?’ Tommy raised an eyebrow at her. ‘I could just tell you,’ he said. ‘Please,’ begged Clara. ‘I’d like to do something useful today, and I promised to be back in the office by two.’ ‘This is useful,’ insisted Tommy. ‘Everyone deserves truth and justice and all that, don’t you think? And not everyone gets it from the police, believe me.’ Clara looked at him, puzzled. His tone was light, but she sensed deeper meaning behind the words. ‘Who -?’ she started, but Tommy clapped his hands together and grinned. ‘So,’ he said, the dark cloud moving on and sunshine returning as he breezed past whatever gnawed his soul, ‘we’re looking for a pub, but having looked at the chap’s house, what kind of pub do you think we’re looking for? Come along, Jenkins,’ he said as Clara furrowed her brow. ‘You’re a bright girl, you can work it out.’ ‘All right, give me chance,’ she said, waving him into silence. ‘It was a nice house, so we’re probably looking for a nice pub, right?’ ‘But...?’ ‘But... they’re short on funds, so not somewhere too nice?’ guessed Clara. ‘But I don’t know this area, so I don’t know where that might be.’ ‘Oh, never mind about that,’ said Tommy. ‘I know my way around well enough. Stick with me, and you’ll be well away.’ Tommy held his arm out to her, which she looked at hesitantly. ‘We talked about this,’ she said apprehensively. He frowned, looked at his arm, and the mists of confusion cleared. ‘Oh, don’t read anything into that, Jenkins,’ he said. ‘Message received, loud and clear. No, this is purely practical. Can’t have unescorted young women roaming around pubs, even in these enlightened days. So for the purposes of this morning I’m your sweetheart - or brother,’ he hastily corrected, catching the look on her face. ‘Brother works too.’ ‘Hmm,’ she replied, unconvinced. She hooked her arm through his anyway - after all, he did make a good point - and told him to lead on.

Episode 10:
A friendly ear

They found the right pub on the fourth try, which Clara thought was nothing short of a miracle. ‘He’s over there,’ whispered Tommy as they stepped into the gloom of The Unicorn and Harp. ‘No, don’t look,’ he added, slightly despairingly. ‘Really, Jenkins, you’ll have to do better than that if you’re coming out with me on assignments.’ ‘I thought this was a one-off?’ ‘Not if I have my way, it isn’t,’ he said. ‘But shush, we don’t want to attract attention.’ Clara wasn’t sure who’s attention they were at risk of attracting. The place was all but deserted, except for a gloomy barman sweeping a greying rag across a battered bar, and a man by the roaring fireplace who was drinking himself into oblivion. ‘You don’t know that’s him,’ whispered Clara. ‘True,’ said Tommy. ‘So let’s find out, shall we? What are you drinking?’ Tommy rolled his eyes at Clara’s order of a tonic water, and suggested she might like some gin in it. She objected, on account of being at work, which was hurriedly shushed, and he ordered them both plain tonic water, grumbling about the lack of alcohol as he did so, and another of whatever the man by the fire was drinking. Two tonic waters and a double brandy purchased on work’s purse, Clara followed Tommy to the fireplace and took a seat next to him. ‘You look like you could use another one of these, friend,’ said Tommy, pushing the brandy across the table. It juddered across the sticky woodwork, and the unknown man turned blank eyes at him and nodded. Without a word, he knocked the liquor back in one and shuddered. ‘Another?’ suggested Tommy. The man shook his head. ‘Trouble with the wife?’ said Tommy. ‘I know all about that.’ ‘You do?’ whispered Clara, and got a stern but slight shake of the head by way of reply. ‘If you’re stepping out with pretty young things like that,’ slurred the man. ‘I’m not surprised there’s trouble at home.’ ‘Oh?’ said Tommy, pretending to be confused. ‘Oh, no, ha-ha, not at all. This is Clara, my... sister.’ ‘Sister, right,’ said the man, clearly unconvinced. ‘We’re in town for business,’ explained Tommy. ‘And we thought we’d have some refreshment before hitting the road again.’ ‘Then you can leave a man in peace,’ growled their new companion. ‘I’m in no mood for company.’ ‘See, I told you,’ said Tommy to Clara, nodding at her to play along. ‘It’s just, she has this terrible compunction to help people, you see,’ he continued, turning back to the man. ‘Oh yes, I do,’ said Clara, in response to the nudge from Tommy. ‘And you look so terribly sad sat here on your own, I thought you could use a friendly ear.’ ‘Or a drink,’ added Tommy, reminding the man that he was enjoying their hospitality. ‘But we know when we’re not wanted.’ Tommy and a slightly puzzled Clara stood to leave, but the man waved them back into their seats. ‘My apologies,’ he said, waving to the barkeep for another round for them all. ‘I’m in no fit state for company, as you can see, but I’ve never been one to shun kindness when it’s well meant.’ He sighed heavily. ‘I’ve just lost my wife, you see,’ he mumbled, putting his head into his hands. ‘Our condolences,’ said Tommy sympathetically. ‘I was distraught when my Elsie left us. Poor woman.’ He sighed so heavily Clara almost believed his story - although, considering how little she knew about Tommy Kilbourne, there could be a grain of truth in it. But someone would have told her if he’d been married, especially if he’d lost a wife... wouldn’t they? He was rather young to have tied the knot, but it was possible... ‘You see,’ said Tommy, sighing again like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders and disrupting Clara’s musings. ‘Poor Elsie got run over by a cart, and became terribly depressed when they said she’d never be able to dance again.’ ‘Oh,’ said the man dully, clearly too miserable to care much for anyone else’s sorrows. ‘Yes,’ said Tommy, undeterred. ‘And she decided to end it all. Found her body washed up downriver near -’ ‘I’m sorry,’ exclaimed the man, standing to leave. ‘I can’t listen to this. You see, my Lizzie went the same way as your Elsie only this morning.’ ‘My dear fellow,’ cried Tommy, making every show of being thoroughly distraught at having upset their new companion. Clara wondered if he’d ever been on the stage - another question to ask later - but there was no time for that now. ‘Thomas, that was terribly thoughtless of you,’ scolded Clara, deciding Tommy had held the limelight for too long. ‘You can’t just say things like that to people. You have no idea what they’re going through.’ ‘You’re quite right,’ said Tommy, moving toward the man, who was crying freely now. ‘Please sir, accept my apologies, and another drink. I was merely trying to commiserate...’ The man composed himself and accepted, and whilst Tommy went to the bar for another round of drinks, the man said, ‘I’m sorry about your sister-in-law, miss. Must’ve come as a terrible shock.’ ‘It did,’ said Clara, quite truthfully owing to having only just discovered she supposedly had a sister-in-law at all. ‘And I’m sorry about your wife.’ The man nodded mutely, another tear running down the side of his nose and dripping onto the table. ‘I had no idea,’ he whispered, voice thick. ‘No idea at all. We were planning so much together. Money was tight at the moment, and things weren’t quite as good as they could have been... but this?’ Clara glanced over her shoulder to see where Tommy was, only to find him leaning on the bar with a tray full of drinks at his elbow, watching her. He made encouraging gestures. So it looked like she was on her own for another few minutes at least. Feeling completely out of her depth, Clara took a deep breath, and asked, ‘So you have no idea why she took her own life?’ ‘None whatsoever,’ replied the man. ‘We were going to do great things, me and Lizzie. We’ve just started a new enterprise, and it takes time for these things to make money. But things were looking up, and Lizzie was going to take on more responsibilities. We were going to move to a smaller apartment for a year or two, minimise our personal spending whilst we built the business.’ ‘What is you import, Mr...?’ ‘Peasemarch,’ said the man. ‘Alf Peasemarch. We’re starting with something safe - cottons, dyes, spices, that sort of thing - but when we’ve got more capital, we’ll move into French fashions. Lizzie’s speciality. She worked at an atelier’s, still did part time, just to keep a roof over our heads until things picked up, but she had plans to strike out on her own.’ He sighed and looked towards the window with unseeing eyes. ‘But something must have happened. What, I can’t imagine...’ ‘I’m so sorry,’ said Clara, giving Tommy a desperate look. He rolled his eyes at her and sauntered over with the drinks. ‘To Lizzie,’ said the man, raising his glass. Clara and Tommy toasted the dead woman along with him. ‘I hope she finds peace now,’ he sighed, gulping down yet more booze. ‘Though as I say, I have no idea what would cause her to do that anyway.’ ‘Perhaps she didn’t,’ said Tommy thoughtfully. ‘I mean,’ he added as the man looked up sharply at him. ‘Perhaps it was an accident. I didn’t mean -’ ‘It could have been,’ agreed the man. ‘If it weren’t for the note. "I’m sorry to do this to you," it read. "But I haven’t any choice." Oh Lizzie,’ sobbed the man. ‘There were choices. We could have worked it out together...’ ‘We should leave you in peace,’ said Tommy, clapping the man gently on the shoulder a couple of times. ‘So sorry for your loss.’ The man nodded sadly. ‘Thank you,’ he whispered. ‘It was good to talk to someone. And best of luck with your business dealings. I don’t know what I’ll do without her,’ he added. ‘Liz was better at business. I just handled the official stuff, but when it came to getting stock, she knew the best. What will I do now?’ ‘If you give us your card,’ said Tommy, ‘perhaps we can pass it on to someone who could help?’ ‘You’re too kind,’ said the man, pulling a tortoiseshell card case from his jacket pocket. ‘Not at all,’ said Tommy firmly. ‘We all need to give and receive a helping hand occasionally. Makes the world go around.’ The man gave a watery smile and Clara and Tommy made their farewells. ‘So,’ said Tommy, walking briskly as they stepped back into the street, tucking Alf’s card into his inside jacket pocket. ‘Think he was telling us the truth?’ ‘I think so,’ said Clara hesitantly. ‘Maybe it was suicide after all?’ Tommy shook his head. ‘Nah, and it wasn’t an accident either.’ ‘But if it wasn’t the husband,’ said Clara. ‘Assuming it wasn’t the husband, anyway,’ she corrected, realising Tommy hadn’t said if he agreed with her or not. ‘Who could it be? A business rival? An ex-lover? Um… a mugger? It can’t be someone hoping to inherit her money, surely that’d go to the husband...’ ‘And we agree it wasn’t him,’ said Tommy. ‘Don’t look so surprised, Jenkins,’ he added, giving her a charmingly boyish grin. ‘You’re better at this sleuthing lark than you think. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you had prior experience.’ ‘Uh,’ said Clara, thinking back to the various adventures she’d shared with Lucas and Henry, thank to Lucas’ gift for seeing spirits. He didn’t think it was much of a gift, of course, but Clara thought it was jolly good fun. ‘No,’ said Tommy, not noticing Clara’s hesitation. ‘I’ve heard enough lies to know when I’m getting the truth or not, and that fellow certainly thought he was telling us the truth.’ ‘Only thought?’ queried Clara, feeling like she recognised the street they were walking down. ‘Well, yes,’ said Tommy, pushing open a rusty garden gate and walking up a weed-ridden path. He rapped the grimy door knocker three times. ‘He just doesn’t know what he told us wasn’t true.’

Episode 11:
Charm And Clues

‘Why are we back here?’ asked Clara, realising they were back at Lizzie and Alf Peasemarch’s house. ‘I want to talk to the maid again,’ replied Tommy, rocking back and forth on his heels and looking up at the building. ‘The next folks to have this place will need to do some work, the Peasemarch’s haven’t been keeping up with the maintenance for some time.’ ‘Uhuh,’ said Clara, raising a sceptical eyebrow at him. ‘You just want to talk to the maid again because she’d pretty.’ ‘No,’ said Tommy. ‘It’s because she’d a murderess. A pretty murderess, admittedly,’ he added, grinning at Clara’s surprise. ‘But a murderess, nonetheless.’ ‘How…?’ started Clara, but she was interrupted by the front door being opened and the pretty, possibly murderous maid appeared on the other side. ‘Oh,’ she said in an unimpressed voice. ‘It’s you.’ Clara couldn’t help but notice a string of pearls around the woman’s neck, and a brooch glittering on her shoulder that certainly wasn’t there earlier. ‘Nice brooch,’ said Tommy. ‘Didn’t notice it this morning.’ ‘The mistress always promised it to me,’ said the maid, drawing herself up stiffly. ‘I’m only taking what’s mine.’ ‘Of course you are,’ replied Tommy with a smile. ‘We wondered if we could have a word about your mistress’s life? For the newspaper article.’ ‘The master won’t like me talking to the press,’ said the maid, going to close the door again. ‘Oh, come on,’ said Tommy ingratiatingly, flashing the maid a charming smile. ‘Only five minutes, just to let the world know what kind of woman she really was. To honour her memory. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?’ he added. ‘To let the world know what a good woman she was.’ The maid coughed, which Clara thought was hiding a snigger. ‘Oh yes, a fine woman indeed,’ said the maid, almost keeping the sneer out of her voice. ‘Always looked after us servants well enough, and kept a nice house, until she didn’t.’ ‘Oh?’ said Tommy innocently. Clara worried how easily her friend could turn on the charm and lie at will. She’d have to keep an eye on that, or she might end up finding herself ensnared by the handsome young man. And as fond as she was of Tommy, Clara didn’t want that. How could she trust a man who could lie at will so convincingly? Not like Lucas, she thought with a small smile. He couldn’t lie to save his life. Which is why she believed him she he said he missed her, and was terrible fond of her, and - ‘Jenkins,’ hissed Tommy. ‘Don’t just stand there, come along.’ Clara snapped out of her daydream to find Tommy had talked their way into the house. She stepped into a dimly lit hallway in dire need of a clean. Mud smeared the Minton floor tiles and leaved gathered in the corners. The hall mirror was covered in fingerprints with a patch rubbed clean in the middle, and dust coated the banisters. ‘Um,’ she said, gazing around. ‘Nice place.’ ‘It would be,’ said the maid, ‘if there were anyone to help me keep it nice. But seeing as I’m expected to cook and clean and show guests in’ - this last point was said with a particular coolness - ‘some things have been falling by the wayside.’ ‘Yes, you mentioned there were financial troubles with the family,’ said Tommy. ‘Did I?’ asked the maid, eyeing him suspiciously. ‘I’d not mention something like that to a couple of strangers.’ ‘No, but we guessed as much,’ said Clara quickly, before Tommy could get them into any more trouble. She smiled apologetically at the maid. ‘Couldn’t help but notice the front garden, I’m afraid.’ ‘Hah, yes, another of my new duties,’ said the maid bitterly. ‘“Oh Maria,”‘ she said in a shrill mocking tone Clara supposed was supposed to represent her employers. “Just weed the path for us, would you?” “Maria, cook dinner, there’s a good girl.” “Maria, the silverware needs cleaning.” Hah, if they’d not spent so much on their rotten, no-good business, they’d still be able to afford a gardener and a cook. But no,’ she continued, clearly eager to air her grievances now she’d started. ‘No, we’ll get rid of them and have Maria pick up the slack.’ ‘That’s very unfair,’ said Tommy sympathetically. He took one of her hands in his and examined it, rubbing his thumb gently across her knuckles as he did so. ‘It’s doing your poor hands no good at all. Look at how your nail is torn just here...’ She withdrew her hand sharply and put her hands behind her back. ‘But you don’t want to hear my woes,’ she said, forcing a smile. ‘You came to hear about what a lovely woman Mrs Peasemarch was. Please, come through to the kitchen. I’m preparing the master’s luncheon, though goodness knows whether he’ll be home for it or not. He’ll be out with that hussy of his, no doubt.’ Tommy shot Clara a warning look. ‘Quite possibly,’ he said, following Maria down the hallway. ‘Will you stay on?’ ‘If I’m wanted, I might,’ said Maria, sitting back down at the table and continuing to shell peas into a pudding basin. ‘Or I may look for employment elsewhere.’ ‘I see,’ said Tommy, sitting opposite her and splitting a pea pod open, running a thumb deftly along it to pop the vividly green spheres into the basin. This raised an appreciative smile from Maria. Clara rolled her eyes; that boy really did know just the way to charm a person. She vowed not to be one of them. ‘You’re not looking for a maid, are you?’ said Maria, looking coyly at Tommy. ‘A nice young man like yourself shouldn’t be washing his own shirts...’ ‘Sadly, no,’ said Tommy, sounding like he meant it. ‘Haven’t a permanent home of my own yet, but when I do, I know where to find the hardest working maid in London.’ He gave her a flirtatious look. ‘The prettiest too, I shouldn’t wonder.’ Maria giggled coquettishly and whilst she was distracted, Tommy glanced at Clara over his shoulder and jerked his head towards the hall to indicate she should be snooping whilst he was keeping Maria occupied. Clara slipped into the hallway, wondering where to look for clues. The door to the downstairs parlour was ajar, so she decided that was as good a place as any to start. The room was sparsely decorated - sparser than Clara would have expected from a well-to-do household. Pressure marks in the carpet told of recently sold furniture, a bright rectangle of wallpaper suggested a painting had gone the same way, and a half-empty bookshelf hinted that some valuable volumes had recently found new homes. Alf wasn’t kidding when he said things were tough, mused Clara, gazing around the room and wondering what she should be looking for. Her eyes drifted across to the empty fireplace and down. She smiled. Perhaps it wasn’t that she was looking for something that was there, but something that wasn’t. Because no one, no matter how stony broke, would sell the hearthrug. Certainly not ahead of things like a rather smart settle and a grand bookcase, or even the row of not entirely terrible pencil sketches on the mantlepiece. Voices from the hallway got her attention. The door opened and a fuming Maria entered, followed by a harassed Tommy. ‘Why are you in here?’ snapped Maria, scowling at the intruder. ‘Oh, um...’ said Clara, looking at Tommy, who made a range of gestures that told Clara what lie she ought to tell. ‘I though you and Tommy - Mr Kilbourne, might appreciate a moment alone,’ she said, earning an approving nod from her colleague. ‘So I slipped out for a minute to, you know, leave you to it, and I saw the door ajar. My curiosity got the better of me, I’m afraid.’ ‘Hmm,’ said Maria, unconvinced. ‘Well, as you can see, it’s not in the best state at the moment. Come back through to the kitchen.’ ‘I was just admiring the sketches on the mantlepiece,’ lied Clara, stepping over to examine the framed drawings a little better. ‘I’m an artist for the newspaper, you know,’ she added conversationally, allowing her eyes to drift from the work of an enthusiastic amateur to the rack of fire irons below. There was a worrying red stain on the stone hearth. ‘It’s always interesting to see other people’s work,’ she concluded with a smile faked for Maria. ‘I see,’ said Maria slowly. She took half a step back towards the door, only to knock into Tommy. ‘Sorry,’ he said, gently ushering the maid back into the parlour and tapping his watch. ‘Jenkins, we need to get back to the office in time for that meeting.’ ‘Right,’ said Clara, stepping around Maria and into the hallway. ‘We’ll leave you to your work.’ ‘Cheerio,’ said Tommy, letting himself out of the front door, shortly followed by Clara, with a suspicious Maria following them. ‘I’ll look you up when I need hired help.’ As they hurried down the path, Clara looked over her shoulder. Maria was watching them leave through a gap in the door. ‘I think she bashed poor Lizzie over the head with a poker,’ Clara whispered as they turned the corner. ‘The hearthrug is missing, I bet she got blood on it.’ ‘I agree,’ said Tommy, dropping back to his regular saunter. ‘So, what do we do now, Jenkins?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said Clara, feeling deflated. ‘Tell the police, I suppose. But she’ll have come up with a story or scarpered by the time we’ve found a copper...’ ‘Ah Jenkins, you still have so much to learn,’ said Tommy, shaking his head with a teasing smile on his face. ‘Come on,’ he added, turning sharply down an alleyway, the glint of the river just ahead. ‘Let’s see if we can find this hearthrug.’ ‘But,’ said Clara, thoroughly puzzled. ‘What if it’s still in the house?’ ‘It won’t be,’ said Tommy, giving her another grin. ‘I know where it is. I told you,’ he added, holding his arm out to her again. ‘You have a lot to learn, Miss Jenkins, and I’m just the fellow to teach you.’ ‘I don’t think you said that last bit,’ said Clara, scowling as she took his arm. ‘Didn’t I? Maybe I just thought it. Still, off we go.’

Episode 12:
Friendly Warnings

The sheepskin hearthrug had washed up at the side of the Thames, with a large bloodstain unhappily visible even from this distance. ‘There we go,’ said Tommy, nodding at it with a self-satisfied look on his face. ‘Oh,’ said Clara, impressed and slightly concerned that Tommy knew where the missing rug would be. ‘How did you know it’d be here?’ He answered with a shrug, leaning his arms against the railings alongside the river. ‘They must have got the body into the river somehow -’ ‘They?’ ‘Think Maria could have got the body into the river on her own, do you?’ he said, watching the passing boats. ‘Have you ever tried carrying a dead body that far? They’re not known for being helpful.’ Clara debated asking how he knew this, then decided she might not like the answer. ‘So,’ continued Tommy, not noticing her growing concern. ‘There must have been at least two people. Agreed?’ ‘Agreed,’ said Clara. ‘But who? You said the husband didn’t do it...’ ‘I’ve been wrong before,’ admitted Tommy. ‘But not about him, I’m certain. No, we’re looking for a third party, and my guess would be -’ ‘Hey!’ cried a voice behind them. Clara and Tommy turned to find a man in his mid-thirties storming towards them, dressed in the lilac and gold livery of a hotel or well-to-do household. He stopped some six feet away, and despite his fine clothes Clara could tell he was someone not to be messed with. A scar across his cheek suggested he wasn’t one to back down from a fight, and she hoped they wouldn’t have to find out whether that was true or not. ‘Can we help you?’ said Tommy pleasantly, slipping his hands into his coat pockets and leaning slightly in front of Clara. ‘Stay away from my girl,’ the man snarled. Tommy looked at Clara, faking confusion. ‘Your girl?’ he said. ‘But Clara here is my girl, aren’t you, darling?’ ‘Ye-yes,’ said Clara nervously, linking her arm through Tommy’s. How he was so cool was beyond her, but she was glad he was there. Perhaps having someone a little dangerous on her side wasn’t such a bad thing after all? ‘Not her, idiot,’ snapped the man. ‘Maria Thompson, works for the Peasemarches. She said a pair of reporters are hassling her about her boss’s death, and asked me to sort it out.’ He cracked his knuckles menacingly. ‘I’m more than happy to do that, of course,’ he said. ‘But consider this a friendly warning. And if I see you near her again...’ He drew a finger across his throat in a very unfriendly way. ‘Ah yes, I see,’ said Tommy cheerfully. ‘Well, consider us duly warned, and give Maria our regards.’ The man curled his lip and took a step forward. ‘Don’t do that, friend,’ said Tommy in a low, level voice, pulling a clenched fist from his pocket. Brass knuckles glinted in the sunlight and the man before them froze. ‘Just stay away from her, all right?’ said the man, before turning on his heels and stalking away. Clara sagged against the railings as Tommy returned the knuckle dusters to his pocket. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked, placing a hand on her arm. Clara nodded. ‘Yes,’ she said, although her voice trembled horribly. ‘I’m just a bit shaken, I suppose.’ ‘Yes, getting threatened will do that to you. Still, no harm done, eh?’ ‘I suppose not,’ said Clara, gulping slightly. ‘Although...’ Her eyes dropped to Tommy’s pocket. ‘Hmm? Oh,’ he said, pulling the brass knuckles out again. ‘These? Just a little precaution, in case of situations like this.’ ‘Right,’ said Clara, pretending she couldn’t see how dinged up they were. She hoped Tommy bought them second-hand and hadn’t got them into such a state himself. ‘I’ll get you a set, for Christmas,’ said Tommy with a wicked grin. ‘Assuming this little adventure hasn’t put you off stepping out of the office with me? On assignments, I mean. I know you’re hopelessly devoted to Lucas. It’s sweet - no, I really do think that.’ ‘Hmm,’ said Clara, suspicions raised. She wondered if Tommy knew they’d run into trouble, and wanted an excuse to show off. He seemed the type. ‘Well?’ said Tommy, holding his arm out to her. ‘Are you running back to the office, or staying out on assignment with me?’ Clara nibbled her bottom lip, thinking as they walked along the river. ‘I’m staying,’ she said, and a dazzling smile spread across Tommy’s face. ‘But only because I came to London for adventures. No other reason.’ ‘Of course,’ said Tommy, sounding too triumphant for Clara’s liking. ‘I’ll pick up a set of ladies’ knuckle dusters for you. Less common, but they’re there if you know where to look.’ ‘You don’t have to...’ ‘No, no, I insist,’ said Tommy. ‘It’s the least I can do if I’ll be putting you in harm’s way occasionally. But,’ he continued, before she could protest again. ‘At least we know who helped Maria get Lizzie’s body into the Thames.’ ‘True,’ said Clara, deciding to let the other problem slide for now. ‘Although I can’t work out why.’ ‘Well my dear,’ said Tommy with a smirk, ‘if you don’t know that, you’re sweeter and more innocent than I thought.’ Clara’s cheeks burned. ‘Yes, quite,’ she mumbled. ‘But I can’t imagine helping anyone at all hide a body.’ ‘Not even Lucas?’ said Tommy slyly. Clara smiled at the thought of Lucas needing to get rid of a body. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone another person, and not just because they’d end up haunting him for the rest of his days - although partially that too. Murdering someone would cause the poor chap more problems than it solved. ‘No,’ said Clara. ‘Not even Lucas. Not even my own brother, and if I wouldn’t help him, I doubt I’d help anyone else.’ ‘Interesting,’ murmured Tommy, smirking. ‘Is there anyone you’d help cover up a murder?’ asked Clara, to deflect attention more than because she actually wanted to know. ‘A girlfriend, or family member, perhaps?’ ‘I’d maybe help you,’ he said. ‘I jest, I jest,’ he added quickly as Clara pulled away from him. ‘I told you, I accept your decision to chase the boy next door, no matter how much I wish it was me instead. Although I’d only run as long as it was fun.’ ‘I don’t think Lucas is running, exactly...’ ‘But no, there’s no one I’d help,’ said Tommy, ignoring this. ‘Not unless I were under duress, but then all bets are off.’ ‘I’d maybe help my brother,’ admitted Clara, who had been thinking about this. ‘He’s got me out of some scrapes in the past, it’s only fair I look out for him too.’ ‘I’m sure I’d help a sibling too, if I had any,’ agreed Tommy. ‘Or any family member, really. Poor orphan boy that I am, that consideration doesn’t concern me.’ ‘Oh Tommy, I had no idea,’ cried Clara. How unkind that such a sweet chap is left alone in the world - and then is shunned by everyone he knows! Clara decided to try harder to rehabilitate him at work. No matter how loose their morals, no one deserved to be completely friendless in the world. ‘I don’t talk about it much,’ he said. ‘So keep it under your hat, all right? I got here under my own steam, I don’t want pity or help now. At least, not because of that. Help because someone likes me is different.’ ‘All right,’ said Clara, trying hard not to dissolve into sympathy for her friend. ‘I suppose what we’re saying is, they were probably in it together, and it was planned, rather than a spontaneous thing.’ ‘Maybe,’ said Tommy. ‘As I say, if you ever find yourself with a body on your hands, I’ll be there in a flash to haul it down to the river for you.’ ‘Thanks, I think,’ replied Clara. ‘But what do we do now? Get the hearthrug and take it to the police?’ ‘Nah, let them get their boots muddy,’ said Tommy. ‘I only had mine cleaned yesterday. No, we’ll tell a copper where to find is – eventually. For now, let’s keep and eye on our new friend.’ ‘How will we find him?’ ‘Oh Clara, my dear, you’ll have to do better than that,’ said Tommy teasingly. ‘Where do you think he’ll have gone after threatening us?’ ‘Back to Maria,’ said Clara, after a moment’s thought. ‘Exactly,’ replied Tommy. ‘So where do you think we’re going, hmm?’ ‘Oh, we’re going back that way too,’ said Clara, feeling a little silly for not having realised before. ‘Right,’ said Tommy. ‘And by good luck - or rather, my excellent judgement - we’ve managed to catch him up by virtue of a handy dandy shortcut I know.’ He pointed up a side street, where Clara saw a flash of lilac and gold livery on the other side. ‘Come along, Jenkins,’ said Tommy smartly, unlinking their arms and picking up the pace. ‘We’ve got a villain to catch.’

Episode 13:
Can you keep a secret?

Clara pressed hers back against the brickwork, following Tommy along the alleyway. This was terribly exciting, even if it did make her heart pound and her palms damp. She rubbed her hands on her trousers and leant around Tommy, who placed an arm across her collarbone to push her gently back against the wall. ‘If he spots me, I can look after myself,’ he whispered, keeping his eyes on their quarry. ‘And if he does spot me, you run as fast as you can back to the office. No arguments, no trying to help, just get out of here. Got it?’ Clara nodded mutely. ‘Got it.’ Tommy peeked around the corner again and beckoned Clara to follow. They snuck along, dodging in and out of doorways, hiding behind bushes, and feigning interest in shop windows if they thought the footman might turn around and see them. Eventually, after a very tense, very thrilling trip through London, Clara and Tommy found themselves outside a fancy hotel. ‘That explains the getup,’ whispered Tommy. ‘Who’d have thought a place like that would employ a fellow like him?’ ‘Maybe they don’t know what he’s like?’ replied Clara, keeping her voice low. ‘I don’t think they can,’ said Tommy gravely. ‘What now?’ asked Clara. ‘We wait.’ They stepped out of the shadowy side street into the mid-morning sun, and took a seat on a bench opposite the hotel. Someone had left a newspaper there, so Tommy opened it, obscuring their faces from any casual observer inside The Wisteria Hotel. ‘Is being a reporter always like this?’ asked Clara, peeking around the side of the newspaper. Tommy pulled her back behind the shield of the broadsheet. ‘Sometimes,’ he said. ‘I thought you’d worked at a paper before?’ ‘London is slightly different than Castlebury,’ said Clara. ‘The most exciting thing that happened there was the vicar putting his foot through a rotten plank in the belfry. He was stuck for two hours. It wasn’t funny,’ she scolded, as Tommy sniggered. ‘Well, it was a bit funny, and thankfully he wasn’t hurt, but still...’ ‘Sorry,’ said Tommy, fighting giggles. ‘But yes, things are much livelier here, if that’s the best you can come up with in Castlebury.’ ‘Well, go on then,’ said Clara. ‘What’s the most interesting thing you’ve worked on?’ ‘I’m not sure I should really tell you,’ said Tommy, giving her an attractive half smile. ‘Dangerous knowledge.’ ‘Oh come on, how dangerous could it be? Especially if you’ve published it...’ ‘True,’ said Tommy, turning a page in the paper and shaking it out noisily. ‘Well Jenkins, I suppose if we’re working together permanently -’ ‘Are we?’ ‘If I have my way, we are,’ replied Tommy, twinkling his eyes at her. ‘And you’re having fun, don’t deny it. You’re not made to sit behind a desk, Jenkins. I know you enjoy drawing, but isn’t it more exciting to go out and see what’s happening, rather than waiting for ruggedly handsome reporters to bring you the stories?’ Clara raised an eyebrow at him. ‘Ruggedly handsome?’ ‘How else would you describe me?’ said Tommy. ‘Boyishly charming? Devilishly good-looking? Go on, I’m just dying to hear...’ Clara rolled her eyes at him. ‘You’re something else, Rath- Kilbourne,’ she replied, wincing. Oh dear, she thought. I hope he didn’t notice... The flicker of discomfort on her friend’s face said he most certainly had noticed, and he understandably wasn’t terribly impressed at being called by another man’s name. ‘Yes, well,’ said Tommy with a cough. ‘My point is, I’ve been working on stories about The Hanging Swords, as you know, but - and I’m sure you can keep a secret, so I don’t mind telling you - but I have a contact or two in the gang. In fact, I’m sort of their unofficial press officer’. ‘Oh yes, you mentioned that’ said Clara, suspecting he was trying to impress her. ‘How did that come about?’ ‘I shouldn’t really say,’ said Tommy, with a small, embarrassed cough undermined by the smug look on his face. ‘But a, uh, friend of mine introduced me to her brother, and he suggested to the boss that perhaps I could help them run the kind of stories they want. The boss agreed wholeheartedly, I get to write up interesting stories that help my career, and everyone is happy.’ ‘Uhuh,’ said Clara, not quite believing this claim of being part of the inner sanctum of a ruthless gang. Who in their right mind would pursue such a connection? She could easily believe someone in the gang was leaking secrets to a reporter, particularly if a reporter was greasing palms, but that was different. Tommy's claims just seemed a little fanciful, like a child making up stories to impress. Exaggeration, that was the word, or possibly embellishment. Showing off, as her mother would call it. Still, it was an entertaining story, and it helped make their stakeout more interesting. Tommy told a few more tall tales about his "adventures" with the Swords - helping move loot from a robbery, hearing plots about turf warfare with other gangs, the nonsense about knowing exactly which politicians and police officers were connected to the gang and how they influenced each other - and Clara listened with amusement. What a difference to Lucas, she mused. The tops of his ears turn scarlet if he so much as thinks of a fib, and here I am with a fellow who makes up stories with such conviction I could almost believe he was telling the truth. Absentmindedly, Clara fidgeted with the silver chain around her neck, winding it around her fingers and feeling the weight of the warm silver pendant shift under her blouse. It was comforting, a touchstone to her old life, the reality of Castlebury Magna in the middle of an adventure she’d disbelieve if she read it in a book. Plus, it was a gift from Lucas, and as such was a precious object. No, Clara always knew where she was with Lucas, and that, above good looks and charm and exciting stories, was what she wanted in a fellow. ‘Oh, he’s on the move,’ said Tommy, snapping Clara out of her reverie. She dropped the chain from her fingers, the silver "lucky" Viking ship thudding gently against her breastbone. ‘No, give him a moment,’ said Tommy, putting a hand on her arm to stop her darting straight after the footman. Clara fidgeted, waiting for Tommy to take the lead. ‘All right, let’s go,’ he whispered. They stood and Tommy drew Clara’s arm through his, and they walked along talking and laughing as though they were any other young couple out for a stroll, not reporters hot on the heels of a dangerous man.

Episode 14:
The Chase is on

As expected, Clara and Tommy followed the footman from the hotel to the Peasemarch house. What was not expected, was Maria answering the door dressed in what was presumably her late mistress’s clothes. She wore a mid-calf dress in sky blue silk underneath a chocolate brown felt coat with a fur collar. A cream cloche hat trimmed with a blue ribbon topped perfectly styled curls. Even from a distance, Clara could see a large brooch pinned to the coat and sparkling in the sunlight, and a double strand of pearls around the maid’s neck. Maria greeted the footman with a kiss on the cheek, and he disappeared into the house after her. Some twenty minutes later, they exited again, the footman now wearing a navy-blue woollen suit with a flashy purple tie and a bowler hat pulled low over his eyes, and Maria had changed into a lemon-yellow frock, with matching shoes and beret. They carried leather suitcases and walked down the street hand in hand. Within moments, they’d hailed a taxicab and were on their way. ‘Come on,’ said Tommy, springing into action again and waving at another passing taxi until it stopped. He hurried Clara into the back seat and followed, instructing the driver to follow the car with Maria and the footman. ‘We’re heading towards the train station,’ said Tommy after a few minutes. ‘They’re making a run for it.’ ‘What shall we do?’ said Clara. ‘We can’t just let them get away!’ ‘We’ll find a copper at the station,’ said Tommy. ‘There’s usually one hanging around. I’ll keep an eye on them whilst you find a constable,’ ‘All right,’ said Clara, nerves fluttering in her stomach. ‘What will I tell him?’ ‘The truth, of course - that we’re trying to stop a pair of dangerous criminals from leaving the country.’ Clara was about to protest - after all, she knew just how sceptical policemen could be about things like that – but then the taxi stopped and Tommy all but fell out of the taxi, breaking into a run as he did so. ‘I see them,’ he called back over his shoulder. ‘Go, find a policeman!’ Clara looked around, panic rising. She tried to put the fact that this couple had already killed a woman out of her head, particularly as her friend as now running towards them to – to what? Confront them? Stop them from getting on a train? She didn’t know, but she knew Tommy would need help when he reached them. Forcing her way through the people milling about in the station, Clara scanned the crowd for a policeman. ‘Come on, come on,’ she muttered to herself, scrambling onto a bench to gain height. ‘Why is there never a bobby around when you need one?’ Eventually she saw the tall navy dome of a police officer's hat and leapt off the bench, stumbling as she gained her balance and sprinted across the station. ‘Quick,’ she gasped as she reached the officer. ‘You’ve got to come quick.’ ‘What’s the problem, miss?’ asked the officer in a concerned voice. ‘Over there,’ said Clara, gesturing vaguely as she realised she didn’t actually know where the killer couple and Tommy had gone in. She choked back a sob at the thought of Tommy in a situation he couldn’t charm his way out of. Assuming he’d try to do that, instead of going in guns blazing and try to apprehend them himself. Clara grabbed the policeman by the sleeve and pulled him forward. ‘This way,’ she said, praying she’d spot their quarry as they went. How hard could it be? The woman was wearing canary yellow in November, for goodness’ sake! Clara reached the station entrance and paused again, before taking off in the direction she’d seen Tommy run just a few anxious minutes before. Was that…? Yes, a flash of yellow up ahead, near Platform 6, and voices raised over the approaching steam train huffing its way towards them. There was a scream and Clara saw a figure topple from the platform in front of the approaching, unstoppable train - and another jump down after. She quickened her pace, fearing the worst as the metal-on-metal screech of the train brakes split the air. With fear churning her stomach, she fought through the babbling crowd, terrified of the mangled horror that she’d see when the steam cleared. The policeman arrived shortly after, yelling at the crowd to let him through. As the train settled to a creaking halt and the steam thinned, Clara let out of cry of relief. In the tiny gap by the buffers, Tommy and the footman were struggling, Tommy to keep his grip and the footman to escape his captor. With the train safely in the station, Tommy tripped the footman and twisted his arm behind his back, then placed a knee between the man’s shoulder blades. Much to the displeasure of everyone around him, the policeman blew his whistle before leaping into the gap alongside the struggling men. ‘Thank goodness you’re here,’ Clara heard Tommy say. ‘You need to arrest this man.’ A large gentleman stepped in front of Clara, so she missed what happened next, but when she could see the action again it was clear both Tommy and the footman were each trying to convince the copper that the other man should be apprehended. Clara grinned, then laughed aloud as relief washed over her. This caught Tommy’s attention, and he pointed at her and beckoned her over. ‘Clara,’ he shouted. ‘Clara, come and tell this cop I’m not the one he should be arresting.’ Clara threaded her way through the crowd, her heart leaping at the sight of Tommy with all his limbs still attached. He seemed equally pleased to see her, which gave her a curiously warm glow in her chest. ‘It’s true, Officer,’ she said, pushing this new and unwelcome feeling aside. ‘This man helped cover up a crime. But oh,’ gasped Clara, looking around suddenly, the strange happy glow replaced with dark panic once more. ‘But where’s Maria gone?’

Episode 15:
A Narrow Escape

Clara drifted through the crowds, ignoring the shouts from Tommy, still down near the train tracks. She’d deal with him later, and it’d take the trio of men a while to get back onto the platform anyway. Climbing onto a bench, she scanned the crowd for any glimpse of yellow, to no avail. Maria had clearly taken the opportunity to melt away into the crowd, and Clara hadn’t the first idea where to start looking for her. She nibbled her bottom lip, debating what to do. Should she look for Maria, or go back and help Tommy get out of the pickle he got himself into? The latter option won out, partially because Clara hadn’t the first idea what to do if she found Maria, but also because it didn’t seem fair to abandon Tommy and leave him battling the law when she had all the adventure. After all, they were in this together, right? As she got back to the platform, Tommy, the footman, and the police officer were all dusting themselves off, having climbed somewhat awkwardly up the service ladder. A set of handcuffs were clamped around both Tommy and the footman’s wrists. ‘Tommy, did you annoy this nice police officer?’ she scolded as she approached. ‘He was disturbing the peace, miss,’ said the officer primly. ‘I was apprehending a dangerous criminal,’ argued Tommy. ‘I was minding my own business and this lunatic leaps on me out of nowhere,’ complained the footman. ‘You’ve got to believe me, officer...’ ‘I’m taking them both down to the station for further questioning,’ said the policeman. The handcuffed men groaned. ‘Officer, please,’ said Clara. ‘Tommy was only trying to help.’ ‘Help?’ cried the footman. ‘He nearly flattened me!’ ‘I saved your life,’ retorted Tommy. ‘You’d have been crushed under the train if it weren’t for me. And what thanks do I get? A swift punch in the gut, that’s what.’ ‘That never happened,’ said the footman quickly. ‘He, he pushed me under the train!’ ‘Then how come you’re still alive?’ asked Clara. The policeman shut his eyes, clearly losing patience. ‘I think I can help sort this out,’ said Clara, before they could get into any more trouble. ‘Have you checked this man’s pockets?’ ‘No,’ said the policeman defensively. ‘Why should I?’ ‘Because,’ she said, pausing to lick her suddenly dry lips before she took a gamble. ‘Because if you do, you’ll find some of Elizabeth Peasemarch’s jewellery.’ ‘Who?’ asked the cop. ‘The woman they fished out the Thames this morning,’ said Tommy helpfully. ‘Oh,’ said the officer, turning to the man. ‘I see. Turn out your pockets, sir.’ Clara’s heart thudded uncomfortably at the base of her throat as she watched the footman reluctantly pull a string of pearls, a gold brooch, and a small Morocco leather ring box from his pockets. The box was monogrammed, a gold E twining elegantly around a P. ‘I can explain,’ he said. ‘These are yours, I suppose?’ said the officer icily. ‘I’m looking after them for a friend.’ ‘Of course you are,’ said the officer sceptically. ‘Come along, you can explain yourself down at the station.’ The officer went to move off and Tommy coughed politely. ‘If you don’t mind,’ he said, holding his wrists out. The cop hesitated a moment, then unlocked the handcuffs. ‘You’re welcome,’ said Tommy, rubbing his wrists and winking slyly at Clara, who smiled and rolled her eyes at him. ‘Just stay out of trouble, sir,’ said the police officer, taking the complaining footman by the arm and leading him away. ‘We’ll need you to come down to the station and make a statement.’ ‘Right-oh,’ said Tommy. ‘I’ll just let these bruises from the bracelets fade a bit first, shall I?’ The officer glared at him, and led the thief away. ‘Well,’ said Tommy, turning to Clara with a dazzling grin. ‘How’s your first day out of the office?’ ‘It’s been... interesting, that’s for sure,’ said Clara, taking his arm and walking towards the exit. ‘You had me worried for a moment,’ she added, swallowing the lump in her throat. ‘When I saw you fall in front of the train...’ ‘Really?’ said Tommy, flashing her another heart-stopping grin. ‘I don’t think I’ve had anyone worry about me for a very long time. Well, not about my personal safety, anyway.’ ‘Oh, I don’t believe that,’ she said, as they left turned down a quiet side street that would take them back towards the office. ‘No, it’s true,’ said Tommy. ‘You’ve heard how they talk about me at work.’ Clara raised a sceptical eyebrow at him. ‘The rumours are false, are they?’ ‘Not exactly,’ he admitted with a laugh. ‘But they mightn’t be quite so disapproving. It’s just a bit of fun, after all. You’ll not begrudge a chap for enjoying himself, will you?’ ‘I’m sure some people would.’ ‘But you?’ pressed Tommy. ‘You wouldn’t think less of me, would you?’ ‘Why do you care what I think?’ laughed Clara. ‘You hardly know me.’ ‘Not yet,’ said Tommy. ‘But one day, I hope I will, Jenkins. You’re the first person who hasn’t dismissed me out of hand in a very long time, and I hope - Well, let’s just say it’s nice to have a friend at last.’ ‘It’s not really that bad, is it? I can’t believe you don’t have a friend in the world...’ Tommy looked at her gravely. ‘I find it hard to trust people,’ he said. ‘I -’ He swallowed hard, all traces of joviality gone from his boyish face. ‘Things haven’t always been easy for me,’ he said. ‘I might tell you about it someday - or I might not. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to talk about it, to be honest. Some things are better best forgotten, right? But just know that when I say I trust you, that’s something not many people hear. And something about you, Miss Jenkins, makes me want to trust you. It might take time, but, if you’re willing to take a chance on me, maybe one day I’ll be able to share my troubles with you.’ He exhaled deeply. ‘And it’d be good to share them with someone,’ he added, almost to himself. Clara looked at him, frowning as she tried to decide whether a single word of that was true. It went against everything she’d heard about the man. Either it was a very clever line, or the truth. ‘All right,’ she said, jolting Tommy from his thoughts. ‘I’ll take a chance on you, Tommy Kilbourne.’ ‘Really?’ he said, the boyishly handsome smiles returning. ‘Yes,’ replied Clara, trying to ignore the strange flutter in her belly. ‘Everyone deserves to have someone believe in them - but just know that if you ever break my trust, it can never be repaired.’ ‘I understand,’ he said solemnly, squeezing her arm. He looked at her from the corner of his eye, a smile playing on his lips. ‘Were you really worried when I went onto the tracks?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, shivering at the thought. ‘I thought - well, I thought it was curtains for you.’ ‘And that bothered you?’ ‘Of course!’ she exclaimed, halting in her tracks. ‘I shouldn’t like anything bad to happen to you, I hope you know that.’ Tommy paused too, turning to face her. He slipped his arm from of hers, took her hand, and kissed her on the lips, filling her world with the smell of shaving soap, pipe tobacco, and coffee, and taking her quite by surprise.

Episode 16:
A Wrong Turn

It was quite lovely, but it was wrong. Not that she objected to being kissed as such. It just wasn’t Tommy she had in mind. ‘Oh,’ she said, taking a step back from him and freeing her fingers from his gentle grasp. ‘I think we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. I meant it when I said I just wanted to be friends.’ ‘Ah,’ said Tommy, running a hand around the back of his neck. ‘I thought maybe, after everything that happened today...’ ‘Was taking me on assignment today a ploy?’ said Clara, suppressing a sigh. And to think, she’d been having such fun up until this point... ‘A little,’ he admitted. ‘But I really did want you with me. This is the most fun I’ve had at work for ages.’ Clara bit her bottom lip. ‘Me too,’ she said. ‘But if it’s going to give you the wrong ideas, I’ll stay at my desk next time.’ ‘No, no, you’ve been perfectly clear,’ said Tommy, looking downcast. ‘This was a mistake,’ sighed Clara. ‘I’m sorry.’ She stepped around him with a heavy heart and the intention of heading back to the office and never leaving her desk again. ‘No wait, I’m sorry,’ said Tommy, falling into step beside her. ‘It got a bit carried away, that’s all. Not that I didn’t want to kiss you, of course, but... Can we forget this ever happened?’ ‘I don’t know if we can, actually,’ said Clara, walking along briskly, not looking at him. ‘I don’t know if you can, I mean.’ ‘I can, I can,’ he promised. ‘I overstepped, and I apologise a thousand times. It won’t happen again, I swear. Can we be friends again? Please?’ Clara turned to look at him, appraising him carefully. He looked so eager to win her back, to smooth over the error made in the spur of the moment, that it was almost heart breaking. She remembered his previous words about having no friends to speak of, and how she was the first person in a long time he’d felt a connection to. She couldn’t turn him back out into the cold... could she? She rubbed her forehead distractedly. ‘Friends only?’ she said in her sternest voice. ‘Friends only,’ he confirmed with a nod. ‘If that’s what you want - and you clearly do,’ as she opened her mouth to reaffirm this. ‘Now,’ he said, holding his arm out to her, ‘let’s get back to the office – friend.’ With much misgiving, she took his arm and they started towards the office in an awkward silence. ‘Come on, we can’t go back like this,’ said Tommy, stopping suddenly and pivoting Clara around him. ‘What do you mean?’ said Clara, concentrating on not tipping over her feet. ‘I mean, they’ll know we’ve had a tiff - a disagreement,’ he corrected, catching the look on her face. ‘And then they’ll never let us go out into the field together again.’ ‘Maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing,’ said Clara, frowning. ‘Do you really think that?’ said Tommy, looking hurt. ‘I thought you’d enjoyed yourself this morning...’ ‘I did,’ said Clara. ‘But perhaps it’s better we don’t see so much of each other for a while.’ Tommy groaned. ‘I thought we’d sorted that out? Come on, let me take you out for a coffee and we can clear the air. I hate leaving things on a bad note with my friends - and we are friends, aren’t we? You - you wouldn’t go back on your word, would you?’ Clara’s heart ached for him. She still wasn’t entirely convinced it was the truth. Tommy would use any trick in the book to win over a girl, but... well, what if it was true? Could she stand to know that she’d turned someone away when all he really needed was a bit of friendship? He seemed terribly lonely, almost to the point of desperation. To walk away now would be like kicking a puppy. ‘All right,’ she said apprehensively, allowing him to lead the way. ‘But just so we can get back to how we were this morning. Don’t go reading too much into it.’ ‘As if I’d do a thing like that,’ he said, a spring in his step once more. ‘Come on, I know a place you’ll love.’ The route took them back past the Peasemarch house again, and Clara couldn’t help but look at the sad, faded beauty of the place and sigh. Tommy followed her line of sight and squeezed her arm gently. ‘He’ll be all right, you know. Alf, I mean. Hearts break, but time mends them. Well, as best as something so irreparable can be mended, anyway.’ He smiled at her sadly. ‘Trust me, I know.’ Clara barely heard him. ‘The front door is open,’ she said, stepping through the rusty gate. ‘Let’s investigate.’

Episode 17:
Concerned Citizens

‘Clara,’ hissed Tommy, grabbing her wrist and pulling her back. ‘You can’t just waltz into someone’s house uninvited.’ ‘I know,’ she replied, freeing herself. ‘I was just going to peek around the door. Make sure everything is all right. Practically my civic duty, wouldn’t you say?’ ‘No, I wouldn’t say,’ said Tommy. ‘There’s codes of conduct, or something. Or at least,’ he said, looking a little sheepish. ‘I’ve already had one brush with death today, I’d rather not have another.’ ‘Fair enough,’ said Clara, turning back to the house. ‘You wait outside.’ ‘Wait, what if you get hurt?’ protested Tommy, grabbing the back of her coat. ‘What will I tell your mother?’ ‘You don’t know my mother,’ said Clara, laughing. ‘I shouldn’t expect you to tell her anything.’ ‘I’d feel obliged,’ said Tommy, drawing himself up nobly. ‘I got you into this, I’d feel terrible if anything happened to you.’ ‘Then come with me’, said Clara. ‘We can’t just leave the front door open, anyone might get in.’ There was a crash from inside the house. ‘It sounds like someone is already in there,’ said Tommy. ‘Probably Alf, seeing as it’s his house, so we should just leave the poor fellow to it. He’s had a rotten day, he doesn’t need us interfering.’ ‘We’re not interfering,’ said Clara. ‘We’re concerned citizens checking on someone who has had a terrible shock.’ Tommy sighed. ‘You’re not changing your mind on this, are you?’ ‘No,’ said Clara, surprised at how bold she was being. A few weeks ago, she’d never have contemplated poking around a stranger's house like that - yet here she was, arguing with someone miles more adventurous and exciting than she was about what the best way to proceed was. Tommy sighed and stepped in front of her. ‘Just stay behind me.’ ‘You’re going in first?’ ‘Of course, Jenkins,’ he said, sneaking towards the door. ‘Your my artist for the day, old Briggson would have my guts for garters if I let you get killed without at least getting a bit murdered myself. Besides,’ he added, slipping his hand into his pocket again and pulling it out again, now with brass knuckledusters in place. ‘I know how to look after myself better than you do.’ Decision made, the pair snuck into the house, keeping their backs pressed against the wall. Clara tried to keep her breathing quiet and smooth, and her heart from beating out of her chest. Now they were there, moving towards whoever was making such a racket upstairs, she doubted the wisdom of their actions. Perhaps they should have found a police officer and left well enough alone? Tommy didn’t have any such qualms. He appeared entirely composed, though Clara couldn’t help but notice sweat beading on his forehead despite the coolness of the day. As they reached the top of the stairs, they saw the door to a bedroom ajar and things strewn about the place. There was a flurry of activity inside, drawers and cupboards being opened and slammed shut, and someone was muttering furiously to themselves. Clara adjusted her viewing angle slightly and gasped. It was Maria, who had changed out of the sunshine yellow silk dress into her faded black uniform, and was hurriedly shoving small boxes and handfuls of necklaces, bangles, and other assorted jewellery into the cupboards, piling folded clothes on top of them. ‘Interesting,’ murmured Tommy. ‘What’s she doing?’ ‘It looks like she’s putting everything back,’ whispered Clara. ‘But why?’ ‘I don’t know,’ replied Tommy. ‘Shall we find out?’ Clara gulped, the thudding heartbeat at the base of her throat almost painful. ‘Well Jenkins?’ asked Tommy, turning to face her with an impish smile on his face. ‘This is your adventure. Forward, or retreat to safety?’

Episode 18:
A Change Of Mind

‘Forward,’ said Clara after a moment’s pause. Tommy smiled. ‘That’s my girl.' He crept along, keeping low, although Clara suspected they could have walked straight up to the door without being noticed. Maria was flying around in a hurry, obviously desperate to cover up her theft. A floorboard creaked loudly under Tommy’s foot. ‘Sorry,’ he whispered, over his shoulder at Clara. The movement in the bedroom ceased. ‘Jimmy?’ called Maria. ‘Is that you?’ Clara and Tommy pressed their backs against the wall, trying not to breathe. A click came from inside the bedroom, and Tommy pushed Clara back down the hallway urgently. ‘Gun, gun,’ he said, pushing her towards the staircase. ‘Go, move, quickly...’ Clara hurried to the stairs, and it was a few seconds before she realised Tommy wasn’t behind her. ‘What are you doing?’ she whispered, turning back towards him. He waved her away urgently - but it was too late. ‘You again,’ said Maria, stepping out of the bedroom, a pistol held out in front of her. ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Well, we were just passing,’ said Tommy coolly, standing up to his full height and turning on his well-practiced charm. ‘And we saw the front door was open, so we just thought we’d check everything was all right.’ Maria rolled her eyes at him. ‘No you weren’t,’ she said. ‘You followed me from the station and are here to blackmail me. All right, what do you want? Money or jewels? I have plenty - but you can only take ones the boss doesn’t know about, or we’ll both get killed. Wicked temper on him, that man.’ ‘Um,’ said Clara, unwisely drawing Maria’s attention - and the muzzle of the gun with it. ‘Why did you come back here? And what do you mean, “the jewels the boss doesn’t know about”?’ ‘Isn’t it obvious?’ said Maria, stepping back into the bedroom and beckoning the interlopers to follow. ‘I’d been seen at the station, so I knew they’d be watching the ports for me. But, if I came back here, I could pretend I’d been here all morning and it was a mistake. Especially if I put everything back.’ ‘Oh, I see,’ said Clara. ‘Yes, I thought you might,’ said Maria, taking a seat on the edge of the bed, the gun slightly lowered but ready at a moment’s notice. ‘And I changed my outfit earlier, you know what people are like for looking at a pretty outfit instead of a face.’ ‘Uhuh,’ said Tommy, his eyes glued to the gun. ‘But let’s come back to the jewels. What jewels are these?’ ‘Yes,’ said Maria, looking amused. ‘You look like the kind of chap who’d be interested in a little extra cashflow now and again.’ Tommy shrugged. ‘Who isn’t?’ ‘Quite,’ said Maria with a tight little smile. ‘That’s what happened, you know. The mistress caught me stealing her jewellery, the ones she thought no one knew about, the ones that were going to help her get away and start a new life. I wasn’t joking when I said Mr Peasemarch had a wicked temper and the mistress had had enough of it. The business was failing, and it was her money that was going.’ ‘We thought it looked like things had been sold,’ said Clara. ‘Downstairs I mean.’ Maria scoffed. ‘They said it was because the things were out of style and they wanted to update, but they couldn’t fool me,’ she said. ‘The business was sinking faster than a torpedoed tanker, and they were doing everything they could to try and stop it - at least, that’s what they claimed. When I found Elizbeth’s stash of jewels whilst dusting, she broke down and told me everything.’ ‘Let me guess,’ said Tommy. ‘She was selling things to supposedly support the business, but keeping a little of the sale price back for herself and converting it into jewellery so when she did leave, it’d be easy to sneak out of the house with a fortune and not be spotted.’ ‘Exactly,’ said Maria. ‘You seem to know how this goes. Not some sort of crook yourself, are you?’ ‘Of course not,’ said Tommy, laughing away the suggestion. ‘But I’ve known a few in my time, and after a while you learn how devious people think.’ ‘In that case, you’ll be able to guess what happened next,’ said Maria. ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d told me, about how she was going to make her escape and start a new life somewhere else, and I thought, why shouldn’t I do that to? Or rather, first. You’ve seen this place, they expect me to work like a dog, and do they pay me any more for it? Do they heck as like. So, me and Jimmy - that’s my sweetheart - came up with a plan. He’s footman at The Wisteria, and smart with it.’ ‘So he started pilfering things here and there,’ guessed Tommy. ‘Little things, easily overlooked, or maybe just out of the lost and found box.’ ‘Yes,’ said Maria, looking at him curiously. ‘Are you sure you don’t do this kind of thing yourself? You’d be very good at it.’ Tommy gave Clara a guilty look, before denying all again. Interesting. She’d have to keep an eye on that... assuming they got out of this alive, anyway. ‘We’d a nice little nest egg going, when Elizabeth caught me with my hands in one of her jewellery stashes. I’d never seen her so angry, and she was going to call the police and - well, I panicked. Grabbed the first thing that came to hand and hit her with it.’ ‘I see,’ said Tommy sympathetically. ‘And then what happened?’ ‘Well, I expected her to get up again,’ said Maria. ‘But she didn’t, must’ve cracked her head on the hearthstone. I didn’t hit her that hard, I swear. I knew the master would be home soon enough, and I couldn’t explain why his wife was dead on the parlour floor, could I? So, I locked the door, ran around to Jimmy, and asked him what to do. He came up with a plan to get rid of the body said everyone would assumed she’d done herself in, no one would ever look twice at us.’ ‘What would you have done without him?’ Maria shrugged. ‘Taken the jewellery and run, I suppose. Better than staying here and getting hung for a mistake. I’m not a bad person really, you know.’ Clara doubted this - good people generally don’t steal from their employers, kill them even by accident, then dump their body in the Thames. ‘Well -’ said Clara, but she was silenced by a stern look from Tommy. ‘Of course you’re not,’ said Tommy soothingly, turning back to Maria. ‘We can see this is all a mistake.’ Maria gulped and nodded. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered. ‘But I’m curious,’ continued Tommy. ‘How did a nice girl like you meet Jimmy "The Knife" Johnson?’ Clara had no idea what he was talking about, but anyone with a nickname like that was probably bad news. She held her breath, and waited for the answer. ‘You know who he is?’ said Maria after a stunned pause. ‘But he’s put all that behind him now, he’s not seen anyone from the Swords in months...’ ‘If he’s told you that,’ said Tommy, ‘then he’s made a fool of you. It was his idea to steal Elizabeth Peasemarch’s secret stash, wasn’t it?’ ‘No, that was all my...’ Maria let the sentence die in the air. ‘He didn’t say it outright, but now I think of it...’ She shook the thought from her head and raised the gun towards Tommy, her hand trembling. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ she barked, her shaking fingers betraying her true feelings. ‘Jimmy loves me, and when the police let him go - which they will, he always talks his way out - we’ll get away from here and start our new life together, just like we planned.’ ‘All right,’ said Tommy, raising his hands aloft. ‘I’m sure Miss Jenkins and I can keep your secret, right Jenkins?’ Clara swallowed and nodded. ‘Yes,’ she whispered, her throat dry and her lips parched. She coughed, licked her lips, and tried again. ‘Yes, we’ll keep your secret.’ Maria bit her bottom lip, clearly weighing up the likelihood of that. She slowly shook her head. ‘No,’ she said after an age, clasping her free hand around the one holding the gun, steadying it as it pointed at Tommy’s heart. ‘Jimmy always says to not trust anyone, only him.’ Clara watched in horror as Maria’s finger curled on the trigger.

Episode 19:

The gun misfired. Maria yelled in frustration and flung the gun at Tommy, catching him a heavy blow to the shoulder as Maria made for the door. Clara leapt at the woman and caught her around the waist, bringing them both crashing to the ground. Maria screeched and scratched at Clara, but Clara battled valiantly, hardly noticing what she was doing but determined not to let this supposedly meek and humble maid get away with murder, and attempted murder. Maria, as the larger and stronger woman, freed herself and made for the stairs, but Clara made an awkward leap and caught the woman’s ankles, bringing her crashing to the floorboards. A shadow passed across Clara as Tommy stepped over her and pulled Maria’s arms behind her back. He held the struggling woman’s wrists in one of his hands as he pulled his necktie loose and used it to bind her hands together. ‘Nicely done,’ he said, turning to Clara and giving her a heart-poundingly charming smile. ‘I like a girl with a bit of fight in her.’ Before Clara could argue, Tommy was instructing her to retrieve the gun, using her handkerchief to stop getting her fingerprints on it. Maria was screaming bloody murder, protesting her innocence. ‘Now look here,’ said Tommy, giving her a shake. ‘Just you be quiet, all right? You’ve got two witnesses, one of whom you just tried to kill, and a stack of jewellery with your fingerprints on it. Who do you think the police are going to believe, two upstanding newspaper reporters, or Jimmy the Knife’s girl? If you want my advice, you’ll roll on him and save your own skin before he does the same to you.’ Maria gasped. ‘Jimmy wouldn’t - he’d never...’ ‘Are you sure?’ said Tommy. ‘Sure enough to risk your neck in a noose?’ Maria fell silent, just as the trio heard the front door open and a police officer announce himself. ‘Help,’ screeched Maria. ‘Help, thief!’ Clara froze, uncertain what to do, but Tommy merely rolled his eyes. ‘You silly girl,’ he said to Maria as heavy booted footsteps crashed up the stairs. ‘You’d do well to take my advice, but I really can’t make you. Oh, hullo George.’ This last remark was made to the police officer, who Clara recognised as the grouchy fellow from beside the river – gosh, was it only this morning? - who appeared at the top of the stairs and stopped dumbstruck at the scene in front of him. ‘How many times, Kilbourne, no first names when I’m working,’ George scowled. ‘What’s going on here?’ Tommy explained, and got his tie back after George replaced it with handcuffs. ‘You can explain what you were doing breaking into the house later, down at the stations,’ George called over his shoulder as he led a protesting Maria away. ‘Concerned citizens checking on a suspiciously open door,’ answered Tommy, following his friend. Clara walked a few steps behind, apprehensive about having to make a formal statement to police officers she didn’t know. She’d made a few at the station in Castlebury over the years - only to be expected, she and Lucas had solved several murders of the ghosts that plagued him - but that was different. For a start, in the past couple of years those statements had been made to her brother Henry, but even before that she’d known D.I. Wilberforce Jones well enough not to feel frightened. ‘Hmm,’ replied George, unconvinced. ‘We’ll see about that.’ Tommy dropped back a little to walk beside Clara. ‘Feeling all right?’ he asked in hushed tones. ‘You were awfully brave back there...’ ‘I’m fine,’ said Clara, quite surprised to find that she was. ‘It was quite a thrill, actually, although I was worried when I saw her pull the trigger.’ ‘Me too,’ admitted Tommy. ‘I thought that was it for old Thomas Kilbourne. Chips cashed, and all that. Still, all’s well that ends well, and George is a good sort. He’ll see we were only acting for the best, and make sure me and my girl don’t get thrown in the clink.’ ‘Tommy,’ said Clara warningly. ‘I’m not your girl.’ ‘Of course not,’ he said, giving her an all too flirtatious smile. ‘My mistake. Well, let’s catch Georgie up, make out statements, then head back to the office to write up our adventure. I’ll do the writing, I suppose, but you’ll have some fun with the sketches, I expect.’ ‘Yes,’ said Clara, already thinking about compositions and dramatic elements, the fear and stress of the morning slipping from her mind as she did so. It was rather good fun, looking back on it. As she replayed the morning in her head, she remembered how Tommy had kissed her unexpectedly, and frowned. It had been a thrill, she couldn’t deny it, but... well, it was probably just the novelty of the thing. She couldn’t really be falling for his charms, could she? Some time later, with their statements duly made, Clara and Tommy walked back to the Illustrated Police News offices, chatting and laughing, reliving their adventure. ‘I’m glad we’re friends again,’ he said shyly, nudging her with his shoulder. ‘I shouldn’t like to think of you being angry with me.’ ‘I wasn’t angry so much as... confused, I suppose,’ said Clara. ‘Not confused, that’s not the right word,’ she added hastily, seeing Tommy’s hopes rise again. ‘But - Tommy, I like being your friend, I just don’t think we’re suited to each other at all. Romantically, I mean.’ ‘Hm,’ replied Tommy thoughtfully. ‘Because of what you’ve heard about me?’ ‘No, because I’ve got a boyfriend,’ she said. ‘Sort of, anyway. As you well know.’ ‘Oh yes, I remember,’ said Tommy flippantly. ‘Well, nothing is set in stone until it is, if you see what I mean.’ ‘I’m afraid I don’t.’ Tommy shrugged. ‘You’re not married to him, not even engaged.’ Not even a couple, added Clara’s treacherous inner monologue. Possibly never will be. Am I a fool for hoping like I do? ‘So,’ continued Tommy, ‘I shouldn’t rule anything out until you’ve signed on the dotted line. You can always change your mind about this Luke chap.’ ‘Lucas,’ she corrected, certain Tommy deliberately got his name wrong. ‘And I don’t think I can, actually,’ she said with as much haughtiness as she could muster. ‘You see, when you love someone, you don’t get much choice about it.’ Tommy nibbled his bottom lip, giving her a curious look that gave her butterflies in her stomach. ‘No,’ he said at last. ‘You don’t really, do you? But still,’ he said, brightening up a little. ‘Where there’s life, there’s hope.’ ‘Tommy...’ ‘I jest, I jest,’ he said, waving her warning tone away. ‘No, I hope you’ll be very happy together all the days of your life - assuming you actually get to live your life together, of course.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You’re here, he’s there,’ said Tommy, offering his arm to Clara. ‘How will that work if you’re building a life together?’ ‘Hmm,’ she replied, not liking the question at all. ‘We’ll make it work, I suppose.’ ‘Yes, but how?’ pressed Tommy. ‘Will you go back to your old job at the village newspaper? I assume it’s not quite as exciting as working at a major London publication.’ Ah, The Castlebury Gazette. It was a cosy office to work in, and she’d enjoyed her three years there, but she’d seen more action and adventure in the few short weeks at the Illustrated London News than in her whole life in Castlebury. Could she go back, knowing that there was so much more life to experience? ‘I didn’t think so,’ said Tommy, smirking. ‘So, Miss Jenkins, it looks like you have a decision to make. Do you go back to Lucas and abandon your dreams, or move forward with your life?’ Clara nibbled her bottom lip thoughtfully. ‘Perhaps there’s a third way,’ she said after a while, quickening her pace as they neared the office. ‘I need to talk to Mr Briggson.’ ‘The boss?’ said Tommy, frowning. ‘Why do you need to talk to him?’ ‘You’ll see.’

Bonus Episode:
Happy Birthday, Clara

‘What on earth have you done to your hair?’ Clara winced and pulled her head back into the carriage. She wasn’t even off the train yet and her mum was objecting to her new bobbed haircut. But the train was slowing and unless she wanted to continue north, Clara would have to face the music. Not, she reminded herself, that it was any of her mother’s business how she wore her hair these days. Certainly not now she was eighteen and a grown woman living alone in London. But still, it required a deep breath work up the nerve to step onto the platform at Castlebury Magna. ‘Hullo, Mum,’ she said, opening her arms wide. She was immediately enveloped in the comforting embrace of her much-loved mother, who clucked her tongue disapprovingly down her daughter’s ear. ‘I suppose I’ll get used to it eventually,’ she said, hugging Clara tightly before stepping back. ‘See you at home later,’ she added, giving one last disapproving look to Clara’s birthday treat to herself. ‘Hettie is just decorating the cake, and I’ve got one last gift to wrap.’ ‘I’m banished?!’ ‘Only for half an hour or so,’ her mum replied. ‘Lucas is under strict instructions to keep you away from the house until we’re ready for you.’ ‘But where is he?’ said Clara, frowning as she looked around for him. It wasn’t like him to not meet her off the train. She hoped nothing terrible had happened. As though summoned by her baseless concerns, a rather flustered Lucas scurried into the station, the small parcel in his hand swiftly shoved into his breast pocket. He looked around for a moment and scampered towards them. ‘Sorry, I’m late,’ he said, mostly addressing Mrs Jenkins. ‘I was writing the card, but my pen leaked so I had to go to the stationers to get another - card I mean, not pen, and -’ ‘It’s all right, dear, you’re here now,’ said Mrs Jenkins, smiling at him fondly. ‘Now, she’s not to get there before three o’clock, remember. How you keep her distracted is up to you,’ she added with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and Lucas turned scarlet to the roots of his hair, ‘but I expect to see you both at three sharp.’ With that, she took her leave, along with Clara’s suitcase, and left the young people to their greetings. ‘Hullo,’ said Lucas, looking for a moment like he might peck Clara’s cheek, but then evidently decided against it. ‘You went through with it, then?’ ‘Of course,’ said Clara, her stomach turning over in case he didn’t like it. He’d given his approval before she went to the hairdressers, not that he knew anything about these things, so he couldn’t really object like her mother did... Could he? ‘Do you like it?’ she asked, trying to sound flippant and aloof about the question. ‘Yes,’ he said, examining her hair with a smile on his face. ‘Rather suits you, doesn’t it?’ ‘Tell that to my mother,’ sighed Clara, taking his arm and steering them towards the station exit. ‘Oh, she’ll be all right,’ said Lucas, nudging her affectionately. ‘She’ll love it, when she’d not running around trying to get your birthday party ready.’ Clara groaned. ‘I thought we agreed no party this year? I haven’t the energy, what with work and coming up for the weekend and all that.’ ‘You might have agreed that, and I wholeheartedly agree that birthday parties are the work of the devil, but your mum? She’s a law unto herself, as you know.’ ‘Don’t I just,’ grumbled Clara. She craned her neck to read the battered watch on Lucas’ wrist. ‘Twenty minutes,’ she moaned. ‘Twenty minutes before I have to put on a happy face with a load of people, and eat more food then I ought to.’ ‘You don’t need to put on a happy face with me, though,’ said Lucas, squeezing her arm. ‘You can be as miserable as you like, and I’ll still lo- uh, like you just as much as before.’ Well, if that wasn’t the best gift she could have got! Almost, anyway. ‘True,’ she said, turning the corners of her mouth down dramatically as her heart soared. ‘You’d prefer me like this for the next twenty minutes, would you?’ He laughed as they turned onto the track through the fields, nothing more than grey stubble on the late November afternoon. ‘Well, I prefer a happy Clara, but if being miserable makes you happy, then be my guest.’ ‘But I’m never unhappy with you,’ said Clara, treating him to the widest smile she could manage by way of proof. ‘In fact, let’s show our faces and sneak out early. That way I shan’t mind the party at all.’ ‘You can’t leave your own birthday party early,’ said Lucas, sounding aghast but looking rather cheered by the prospect. ‘I’m sure we can,’ she said. ‘In fact, we could just not go at all. It’s my party, after all. If I don’t want to go, I shouldn’t have to.’ ‘Your mum would be terribly upset,’ said Lucas sternly. ‘She’s been looking forward to this all week.’ ‘Oh, fine,’ said Clara, not really too disappointed. The fresh country air was perking her up again, and suddenly the prospect of making merry with her old neighbours didn’t seem nearly so exhausting. ‘But you’ll have to make these next -’ she checked his watch again ‘sixteen minutes particularly lovely, because I might not see you much for the rest of the day.’ The corners of Lucas’ mouth twitched upwards. ‘And you want to see me?’ ‘Always,’ she declared. ‘At least, any time that suits you, I know you’re very busy being chief reporter at the Castlebury Gazette.’ He laughed. ‘It’s not much of an accolade, I’m the only actual reporter there. Doug doesn’t really count, he never does any work. And it’s hardly the busiest newsroom in the world – but even if it were, I’d make time for you whenever you wanted to see me, you know that.’ Clara smiled and rested her head on his shoulder as they walked. ‘You’ll never get rid of me, with promises like that.’ ‘Who wants to get rid of you?’ he said, resting his cheek against the top of her head. ‘Anyway, let me give you my present, before you have to deal with trial by birthday party.’ He pulled the small parcel from his inner jacket pocket, along with a slightly bent card, and handed them over. ‘Thank you,’ she said, taking them from his ink-stained fingers. She opened the card first, a pretty postcard with a birthday greeting surrounded by a border of violets, which Lucas took back for safe keeping, and gave the parcel a gentle shake. Something moved inside, very slightly, more felt than heard. ‘Well, open it then,’ said Lucas, sounding anxious. ‘We’ve got to be back at your mum’s in... nine minutes.’ Clara undid the twine and carefully unfolded the crinkled, much reused brown paper, to reveal a small box about three inches square, and one inch deep. She pulled the lid off, and inside, nestled in cotton wool, was a small silver brooch in the shape of a violet. She let out a squeal of joy and immediately pinned the brooch to the lapel of her black felt overcoat. ‘I remembered you like violets,’ said Lucas, watching her affix the piece of jewellery in place. ‘And it’s you middle name, isn’t it?’ ‘It is,’ she said, stretching up and kissing his cheek, as close to his mouth as she dared. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered, close enough to feel the warmth of his breath on her cheek. He turned his face and pressed his lips lightly against hers for the briefest moment. ‘You’re welcome,’ he said quietly, smiling softly as her head span, her heart raced, and she felt she might float away. He pulled her arm through his and turned them back towards the village. ‘Wait,’ she said, shaking her head to line her thoughts up. ‘Did you just...?’ ‘Maybe. Was, um… was that all right?’ ‘Yes,’ said Clara, still dazed. ‘Very all right.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, a smile creeping across his face again. ‘Good. Just, uh, don’t tell your brother. I doubt Henry would approve of me kissing his sister, even on her birthday.’ ‘My birthday was three days ago.’ ‘Yes, but I haven’t seen you since, have I?’ ‘True. So, um... that was just a birthday kiss, was it?’ ‘If you like.’ ‘And if I don’t like?’ ‘Well, I can’t have it back.’ ‘No, that’s not what I meant,’ said Clara, trying not to laugh. ‘Good, because I should refuse to take it in any case.’ ‘Lucas,’ said Clara seriously, pausing their walk and turning him to look at her. ‘Why did you kiss me?’ ‘Seemed like a good idea.’ ‘I agree,’ she replied, bobbing up onto the balls of her feet and brushing her lips against his in a kiss almost as insubstantial as their first. ‘Is it my birthday?’ he said, looking thrilled. ‘No, but it’s mine,’ she said. ‘Sort of. So I’m allowed, aren’t I? For my birthday?’ ‘For any day, as far as I’m concerned.’ Clara leant towards him again as his arm wrapped around her waist, drawing her into his chest. She tilted her face up and slowly, very slowly, they inched closer together, their breath mingling in the cold November air. The church clock struck three, and Lucas stepped back with a gasp. ‘Come along,’ he said hurriedly, linking her arm through his. ‘Or we’ll be late, and my name will be mud with your mum.’ ‘Lucas,’ said Clara, digging her heels in. ‘Surely they can wait another minute or two?’ He turned to face her again, wasting no time as he took her in his arms and kissed her slowly, leaving her weak at the knees. ‘And you definitely don’t tell Henry about that,’ he said, eyes shining, a huge smile on his face. ‘About what?’ asked Clara with false, if slightly breathless innocence. Lucas kissed her again. ‘That’s my girl.’ ‘Uh, Lucas,’ said Clara as they set off back towards the village, unable to keep the smile out of her voice. ‘You’ve got smudge, right there,’ she said, indicating on herself where the smear of lipstick was on his face. ‘And who’s fault is that?’ he asked cheekily. ‘Arguable yours, but I’m willing to share the blame.’ ‘Good,’ he said, putting his finger under her chin and gently tilting her lips up to meet his again. Clara took his handkerchief and removed the cherry pink stain on his lips, then took out her compact and repaired her lippy. ‘We’d better hurry,’ he said, tucking the hankie into his breast pocket and starting to jog down the farm track, ‘or they’ll send out a search party and we’ll have to explain why we’re late. Which is none of their business, naturally, but I still don’t fancy doing that.’ ‘Especially if it’s Henry doing the searching,’ said Clara, keeping pace alongside him. Lucas grimaced. ‘Indeed,’ he said. ‘I’d like to celebrate your next birthday too.’ They made it back to the village in record time, slowing to a walk at the top of the road so they could catch their breath. ‘Thank you for my birthday present,’ said Clara, taking his arm again and leaning her head on his shoulder, looking up at him. ‘The brooch is lovely, too.’ Lucas grinned at her. ‘Happy birthday, Clara. Here’s to many, many more.’

bottom of page