A pair of horses tugged impatiently at their harnesses, as they stood in front of the waiting coach. With its shining black coachwork and dark velvet curtains, it had been in the same position for the last two hours. The restless animals snorted vapour into the freezing night air and pawed the ground with their hooves. The normal bustle of London’s Cleveland Street had subsided as night fell, and a blanket of virgin snow coated the grimy streets, giving them the look of a Pickwickian themed Christmas card. A pale yellow light spilled from the upper windows of a grand house, and illuminated the falling snowflakes that swirled past the coach. The sound of music drifted down from an open window.
In a nearby alley, Mary Kelly, a young prostitute with blonde hair and a face that had not yet completely lost its innocence, huddled against the cold. She’d taken shelter in the alleyway behind Cleveland Street hoping to pick up some trade from the house’s occupants when they left through the back entrance later that evening. The establishment, known as “The Club” was frequented by people of high standing, and had a reputation built on total discretion. As she rubbed her hands together and tried to keep warm she wondered if her wait was going to be worth it. One of the girls she’d talked to earlier had said that amongst the rich and famous in the club that night there was a member of royalty.
Mary knew that the club catered for both sexes and thus had to be even more discreet as a result. She thought it highly unlikely that a member of the royal family would risk being exposed as a homosexual and endure the ensuing scandal. So she didn’t give it much thought. She didn’t care if all the Kings and Queens of Europe were having tea in the house tonight as long as some rich toffs were open to her charms.
She stamped her feet in the freezing alley, wishing she could meet a rich man who would take her away from the sordid existence life had chosen for her. Even though she had given up her trade and recently married, she’d been forced back onto the street to make ends meet. She knew that if her husband found out he’d beat her black and blue. But then she’d been beaten before, and sometimes paid a lot of money for the pleasure, but when it was from your own husband it was just unpaid abuse.
She promised herself as soon as she had enough to clear her debts and put some extra aside to start a family, she would turn her back on this life for good. Mary had never envisioned herself in such a situation, but fate had dealt her few cards and none of them were much use. But she had been blessed with good looks, and with that being her only advantage, life led her down the obvious path.
She’d left her hometown of Limerick in Ireland with six brothers and a sister and moved to Wales. There, she’d met a kind man, a coal miner, and was married at sixteen. It didn’t last long, because two years later she found herself a widow, after he was killed in a pit explosion. With no money and no way to support herself, she and her cousin had drifted into prostitution in Cardiff. The life was hard and the money available in such a run down area was poor. She’d heard tales of vast sums to be made in London and had taken the risk and moved to the West End.
With the advantage of her still fresh looks, she was able to get work with a French Madame in Knightsbridge. Within a few months she’d met a wealthy client who’d promised her she could earn enough money to set up her own business in Paris. At first things seemed to be going well, and with her looks and her mix of Irish and Welsh accent, the customers were more than happy to pay a little extra. Within a few months she had enough money to rent a small apartment in the Montmartre district of Paris and made plans to become a Madame in her own establishment. She went to a new nightclub nearby called Le Chat Noir, to see if there were any girls interested in joining her new venture.
She had stayed late watching the Cabaret, and in particular the amazing shadow play of Henri Rivière. When she returned home in the early hours of the morning she discovered that her apartment had been broken into, and all of her money was gone. She later learnt that her original client, and benefactor, had become jealous of her success and determined to ruin her plans. With no money again, she was forced to leave Paris and ended up back in London.
By now, there were so many Irish immigrants in the East End of London it became known as “Little Dublin” so she sometimes affected a Welsh accent to stand out amongst the many Irish prostitutes she had to compete with. She’d also changed her hair colour and name more times than she cared to remember. She just needed enough rich gents to empty their pockets for her and she’d be finished with the business once and for all.
The black coach with the dark velvet curtains was now the only coach remaining at the rear entrance to the club. The driver dozed in his seat, face muffled behind his cloak to keep out the cold. Inside the carriage, a man leant forwards and drew on a cigarette. The light from outside caught his face, revealing an aquiline nose and dark, intelligent eyes set in a hard countenance. Even sitting he had an alert quality and a military bearing.
He knew that babysitting for the Royal family was an inescapable part of his duties, but he was a man of action, used to taking decisive steps to control situations. Sitting in the cold while the rich and privileged indulged their habits didn’t please him at all. He’d joined the Secret Service a few years back, at a time when protecting members of the Royal family had assumed national importance. Since the Fenians had started their campaign of violence against the British people, the undercover work of the service had grown considerably. Once absorbed into the service, like most of his kind, he became a codename, and was now only referred to as Triton.
Triton had caught Queen Victoria’s eye years earlier, when, as an Irish Special Branch officer under William Melville, he infiltrated the Fenian Brotherhood and prevented an assassination attempt on the royal family. He’d learnt of a plan to attack the royal yacht Victoria and Albert II, with the Queen and Prince on board. Owned by the Royal navy the yacht was a 350ft steamer launched in 1855. With 240 crew there would have been a catastrophic loss of life had the Fenians succeeded in their plan.
The Fenian brotherhood were funding John Holland, an Irish teacher based in Cork, who was developing a new kind of submersible weapon. He’d submitted his first design to the Royal Navy in 1875 but they had turned it down as unworkable. The Fenians however, continued to fund his experiments until in 1881 the first submarine nicknamed “The Fenian Ram. Was launched.” Triton had been undercover in the organisation for just over six months when he learned of their conspiracy.
They’d planned to fill the craft with explosives and dive below the royal yacht before detonating it beneath the hull. As the time approached to carry out the mission, it became obvious that once the craft was under the water there was no guaranteed means of escape. The Fenians didn’t want to wait. There was only one option. A suicide team, men prepared to risk their lives for the cause and possibly die as martyrs. There was no time to alert his superiors. Triton had to make the decision on his own.
He’d volunteered for what was seen as a suicide mission, and was accepted along with two other Fenians. Once below the surface, he overpowered the other crew-members and managed to surface next to the yacht where they were arrested. As a result of his bravery he’d been awarded the George cross and become one of the Queens favourites. This situation made things awkward with his superior William Melville. A strong willed individual, Melville was not used to playing second fiddle to a subordinate.
Triton felt that his royal babysitting duties that night were Melville’s way of re-establishing his authority over him. Looking after Victor Albert, The Duke of Clarence, generally known as Eddy was a tedious occupation for a man of his abilities, but it wasn’t something he could easily get out of.
Eddy had often proved to be a loose cannon and had been described as being “abnormally dormant” by some members of the royal family. Triton leaned back in his seat as a group of men and women left the club. His mind may have been dormant he thought, but Eddy made up for his lack of mental activity in other areas. He’d been watching over the Prince all week and he’d been to the Cleveland street club three nights in a row. He had to admire his stamina in that department. He’d waited for Eddy outside brothels before, but this one was different.
All forms of sexual depravity took place behind those expensive and discrete doors. Once, while incredibly drunk, the duke had told him that he was as red blooded as the next man, but that he got a bit of a kick watching men with men, especially if he was entertaining a woman at the same time. Triton couldn’t help but be nervous of that particular situation. The fact that Eddy had added voyeurism to his list of perversions didn’t make his job any easier. Being seen with prostitutes was something that society could gloss over – but even a whiff of homosexuality could be the kiss of death to the standing of the royal family.
He’d seen Eddy with one particular woman on several occasions, and he’d also heard her speak with a strong Irish accent. His job was to safeguard Eddy from a security point of view, and adding an Irish component into the situation could only make things worse. He pulled out his fob watch and checked the time. Eddy had already been in there for two hours, surely he wouldn’t be much longer.
Mary snapped awake at a sudden sound. Her fingers, numb from the cold, fumbled to wrap her coat closer around her. She’d moved round to the back of the club where she knew the more discreet clients came and went. The back door of the club had burst open, sending light spilling out across the street. Mary heard a barking laugh echo through the night. She’d have recognised that laugh anywhere. It was Fay. She was always up for the main chance.
Irish born, Fay had a pale translucent beauty, with a mane of auburn curls that cascaded down her back like a chestnut waterfall. With her coarse laugh and fiery green eyes, she was a big hit with the toffs. Mary knew that Fay had many tempestuous relationships with her various man friends, but her talents in the bedroom always brought them back for more.
Whatever it was that she did, she was more of a success than Mary had ever been, and this was something that irritated her more than usual at this moment in her life. Fay stood swaying in the brightly lit doorway. Behind her a man had stepped out at the wrong moment and provided a glimpse between the two open doors. He quickly slammed the inner door shut. But within those seconds Mary was afforded a glimpse into another world. A world of fine wines on silver trays, elegantly dressed women, and naked men coiled against each other like greek statues.
The flash of decadence was so quick it felt like an illusion, but Mary knew this was one of the busiest brothels in London, and the most expensive. She clenched her teeth and tried to stem her jealousy as Fay kissed the man that clung to her as they exited the club. And then he turned towards the light.
He had sensitive features and a neat, waxed moustache. She realised with a start that the rumours were true. Fay had hit the jackpot. The man that stood in front of her was Eddy, The Duke of Clarence and heir to the throne of England.
Triton extinguished his cigarette on the floor of the carriage. He watched as the couple staggered out into the crisp night air. It looked like Eddy was going to bring the woman into the carriage. He cursed under his breath. If Eddy had further games in mind then it meant that he would have to travel up front with the driver, and then be responsible for dropping the whore back at the club when the duke had finished with her. He watched as they lingered on the steps. Maybe he was just going to give her a kiss goodnight. Triton waited. Suddenly, a shadow detached itself from the darkness behind his coach, and flew across the road, an arm raised against the light. Triton saw the glitter of steel as it plunged through the air, sweeping in an arc, plunging into soft flesh, again and again. Triton was out of the carriage in a flash, his gun drawn. But by the time he reached the duke, the assailant had vanished into the night.
Eddy stood there stunned, Fay lay on the ground, spread across the soft white mantel beneath her…blood staining the snow crimson. Triton tried to stem the flow as blood pumped out of a slashed artery, but it was no use. The light faded from her emerald eyes, and she was gone. Triton knew he only had seconds to get the duke away from the scene. Her screams would have alerted those inside.
“This way Sir, quickly.” He dragged Eddy by the arm. The Duke looked down at the pale figure at his feet. “Why?” Triton kept him moving. “We’ll find her killer Sir, I promise, but you have to get away from here, for the sake of the nation.”
The duke strained to tear away from him. “Damn the nation! We need to help her…for God’s sake man…” His lower lip trembled, his eyes bright with tears. “I loved her, we were going to have…” He trailed off at the look in Triton’s eyes. Nodded to him and climbed into the carriage, his face a mask of pain. Triton turned back to the door of the club. A tall, worried looking man was peering out at him.
He knew that it was the owner, Ralph Winston, and imagined what was going though his head. If scandal attached itself to “The Club.” He would lose his clientele overnight and would soon be out of business, and penniless. The upper classes relied on the utmost discretion, and the violent murder of a prostitute with royalty outside premises involving homosexual activity wasn’t the sort of publicity anybody needed.
Triton moved into control mode, something he was more used to than the passive role he’d started out in that evening. He shoved the door open and walked straight up to Winston. “Right, get two men and a carriage round here quickly. Have them take the body to Whitechapel and leave her in one of the alleyways off Commercial road.” Winston was staring at him, obviously in shock. Triton shook his shoulder. “Do you understand?” Winston nodded. “Alright, she probably won’t be found until the morning. No one must know the duke was here tonight, and I mean no one, or your business and you will cease to exist.”
Winston was now fully alert. Triton didn’t like to use threats unless it was unavoidable, but he was running out of time, and he still had the duke to consider. Winston pulled himself together. “Yes, of course. I have a private carriage always at my call.” He glanced down at the body of Fay and reached for a silk handkerchief from his pocket. It looked like he was going to be sick. Triton produced a flask of whisky from his coat. “Here, take a slug of that…it’ll help.” Winston held the flask and took a deep sip. The colour returned to his face and he nodded his thanks, before darting back inside.
Triton headed back towards the coach and spoke to the driver. “Paddington station, as quick as you can.” The driver nodded and took up the slack on the reins. Triton jumped into the coach. Eddy was slumped in the corner, his eyes red and swollen, tears running down his cheeks. Triton squeezed his shoulder.
“Sir, we’re going to Paddington, you’ll go to Windsor on the night train. No one must know you were in London tonight.”
Eddy stared at him, struggling to focus. The poor man was still absorbing the horror of the attack. Triton wondered if perhaps he’d had more than alcohol that evening. He knew the use of Opium had become quite fashionable amongst the upper classes and looking at Eddy’s dilated pupils he strongly suspected he’d had some recently. Eddy leaned forwards. Triton could smell the alcohol on his breath, and also a trace of something sweet, like rosewood. He could see the man was having difficulty focusing. It was going to be hard getting him onto the train without being noticed.
Triton thought fast. He had a hat and a cloak in the coach, and maybe with a pair of glasses and a scarf he could get Eddy across the platform without him being recognised. “We were going to call him Edward, or Edwina, if it was a girl.” Eddy was staring at him as if he was in a dream. “She only found out recently, we were celebrating…” His face sagged and went slack. Triton looked at him, the awful realization hitting him like a hammer. The fool had got Fay pregnant, and now she was dead. He produced the cloak and slipped it around Eddy’s shoulders.
“I’m sorry Sir, there was nothing we could do. She’s gone. If anybody had seen you…” He left the statement hanging, because as the coach clattered away from the Club he saw something move in the alley next to it. A pale face framed by blonde hair. His eyes met the woman’s as the carriage swept past, and he knew from her look that she’d seen everything. He slumped back in his seat. Getting the Duke away from the scene had just become the easiest part of the task that now lay ahead of him.