Monday Sampler: Ten for the Devil by Deborah Mitton

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In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Monday’s Sampler features an excerpt from Ten for the Devil, a historical mystery by Deborah Mitton. 

As one reviewer said: This is truly an edge of your seat kind of thriller, set in a costume period of English gentlemen, society balls and proper traditions. All of that is under attack when the evil Seth comes of age. I loved the references to Edgar Allen Poe and the foreshadowing. This new author has quite a career ahead of her!

The Story

Ten For The Devil is a labyrinthine murder / revenge / obsession ride from an idyllic English village to the industrious shipbuilding port of Saint John, NB, in the new country of Canada, over a span of fifty years.

Chief Inspector Michael McLaughlin has believed that his nemesis was dead, but discovers that Seth Shaw is alive and in the very city that Michael and his family are visiting. His love ones at risk, Michael closes in on a collision course with a serial murderer while the city is in flames.

The lives of the families – friends, of both our murderer and Michael are intertwined. A dark tale of obsession, revenge, murder, seduction, a love curse, reparation and survival.

The Sampler

CITY OF ST. JOHN, LOWER CANADA
THE GREAT FIRE – JUNE 20, 2877

Deborah Mitton
Deborah Mitton

It could very well be the greatest day in Michael McLaughlin’s life, or his last.
With the first whiff of smoke in the air, Michael’s mind dropped into a deep daydream so real that he was tempted to reach out and touch his grandfather’s hand in the parsonage’s parlour. The fireplace that had warmed them on that damp English evening bathed the room in gold and amber. His mother, still young and beautiful, was busy with her needlework. Her eyes often lifted to watch him read. His grandfather, although deep in thought as he prepared his Sunday sermon, gladly stopped his work to answer his only grandchild’s questions. Michael felt safe and loved.

Fond childhood memories were few, however, for shortly afterwards their lives changed, and Seth Shaw was the cause. Michael’s life since then had been a near total obsession to bring Shaw to justice. His evil deeds had touched everyone Michael had held near and dear to him, and destroyed many of them. At thirty-one years of age, Michael had no family of his own, and could count his friends on one hand with digits to spare. Today was the day he intended to take back his life.

Michael had been sitting in a pub on Prince William Street for what seemed to be hours, waiting for his informant to let him know Seth’s whereabouts. He paid little attention to the conversations around him, but he was aware of the town’s fire alarm, followed by word of a fire starting in old Joe Fairweather’s building in York Point that afternoon. He watched the door from the security of his seat at the back of the pub. Many citizens had paused upon hearing the alarm, but the chatter of those who ventured into the pub indicated the fire would not amount to much. The patrons were deeply involved in discussions of previous fires that had plagued their city. No one seemed to be concerned, and Michael was preoccupied with his own thoughts and feelings.

In Michael’s profession as Chief Inspector with Scotland Yard, he was accustomed to dealing with unsavory characters. He met many in the back alleys of London and quite a few equally unsavory though admittedly better-dressed ones in the parlours of England’s elite. The man he was about to meet would rank among the worst.

Shawn McBride entered the tavern, shifting his eyes from one patron to another with hostile suspicion; any eyes that found his darted away in fear, such was his reputation among a certain element in St. John. He was a cautious man by nature and today was no exception. After sizing up the room, he began to look around for the lamb he hoped to fleece.

Michael stood and waved his hand, directing Shawn to his table, which was mostly hidden from view at the back of the pub. Heads turned as Shawn proceeded to the back booth; he was a very peculiar-looking rough character even for this pub.

The barkeep arrived at Michael’s side and asked if he could bring him anything else. Shawn looked up at him.

“I’d like a pint of your finest, guv,” he said with a deep raspy voice and a wink at Michael. Michael nodded his assent to the barkeep, who quickly returned with a pint for the newcomer, the whole time thinking the two of them the most unlikely pair he ever had seen. One was evidently a highborn gentleman if his clothes and manners were evidence, and the other vermin from the gutter itself. His thoughts turned to the middling pound or two earned this day, and as if in answer to his prayers, more of the curious fire watchers entered the pub. Soon, fully engaged with his new customers, he forgot the two in the corner.

“Were you followed?” The question was more of a demand than one needing an honest reply. Michael spoke quietly; he was acutely aware of his surroundings and who might overhear their conversation. His naturally deep voice had a tone that implied danger, but his perfect English diction made clear that he was well educated.

“No, sir. No, sir. I was careful. I was, to be sure. I remembered your instructions to a T, I did. No one has anything to worry about when old Shawn McBride is on the job, no sir. As silent as a mouse I was, sir.”

Michael pushed the pint of ale towards the filthy hands of his thirsty guest, who nodded his thanks before proceeding to down the contents in a single gulp. Wiping his lips with the back of his gloved hand, whose long gone fingers exposed dirty ragged nails, he placed his empty pint back on the table. Michael turned and signaled the barkeep for another of the same.

“Thank you kind sir, you are a true gentlemen, you are, yes sir. Never let it be said that Shawn McBride didn’t know a gentlemen when he met one.” The bartender delivered the pint and, after taking the coins Michael laid out on the table, left to return to his new customers.

What Michael’s composed countenance did not betray his fiery eyes did. Across the table, Shawn was in no hurry to get on with their business, hoping to prolong the conversation long enough for another pint or two.

“All right, McBride. As I stated in my letter I will give you a small fortune if you will tell me what I wish to know; the whereabouts this day of your captain and quickly, man,” Michael’s deep voice urged.

He remembered a drawing of the wee people from the old country in one of his childhood storybooks and decided that Shawn McBride was an unhealthy, ugly version of one. He stood about five foot three inches with a sallow complexion and greasy rusty-red hair that poked out of a makeshift ponytail. His poorly kept red beard, blackened by grease and spilled ale, surrounded his thin lips, which were parted to reveal a few rotten, tobacco-stained teeth. His eyebrows were fuzzy red caterpillars over beady black eyes. When Michael questioned him, they arched up, further confirming their insect-like appearance. The effect would have been comical if Michael did not suspect his companion to be a murderer.

Shawn’s attire, too, had seen better days. His tight, faded forest-green jacket had a few poorly sewn patches covering assorted tears, and his pants, which may also have been dark-green at one time, were now faded and held up around his waist with a worn rope.

Michael sat as far from his guest as he could, a white handkerchief over his nose to mask the stench of Shawn: an almost unbearable combination of fish, stale ale, seaweed, and body odour. It was obvious that McBride and soap were not acquainted, but he was accustomed to his own odour and not in the least offended by the manners of his sponsor. He did not care how Michael behaved as long as Michael had his money. He extended his hand out for same, rubbing his fingers together; in the universal sign for money.

Michael brought out his leather purse, which contained a small ransom in gold coins, and placed it on the table, pulling it back as quickly as Shawn lurched forward to take it.
“First, your information, man, spill it now. Where can the captain be located today?”

Shawn replied in his, husky, dry voice, never once taking his eyes off the purse, “I heard the captain tell the first mate that he was going to the offices of William Thompson and Company on Water Street in case anyone needed him or should something go wrong at dock-side. He also said that he would be back before the sun went down today.”

“Why would Seth go there?” Michael grabbed the wrist of his companion with a gloved hand and applied pressure to his bones. Shawn squirmed but did not pull away, only smiled his mostly toothless grin, and continued, “I wouldn’t call the captain by his Christian name, sir, no sir. Fear him, I do. He would go there, sir, as he has a longtime acquaintance with Mr. Thompson himself, sir.”

“Who is this Mr. Thompson, and what would the captain want with him?” Michael demanded.

“Why sir, everyone knows that Mr. Thompson is the finest shipbroker in the city and a fine gentleman he is too, sir, always giving to the widows and orphans and the like. A fine gentleman, just like you.” Shawn smiled at Michael.

The obvious attempt to ingratiate himself did not soften Michael. He tightened his grip on Shawn’s wrist. “Answer my questions, and hurry, man. I’m tiring of this game.”

Michael’s eyes were dark. Shawn knew a storm was brewing and turned his own eyes back to the prize.

“The captain’s fortunes have fallen on hard times. He lost a ship around the Horn and another to a wicked storm that I’m sure the devil himself stirred up…for the cargo was opium, sir. Drugs he hoped to sell in the Americas, sir. All hands and cargo were lost, and along with them, his fortune.” This last part Shawn spoke in a whisper, as if he actually could call up the devil by speaking of the evil deeds of his captain.

Michael was disgusted but not surprised that Seth would attempt to profit from human weakness. “Did others know that he was an opium runner?”

“No sir, he kept that a secret, sir. The crew was all sworn to secrecy. Captain likes to play the gentleman, sir, keep nice company and all that. Anyone that puts that at risk knows, well, sir, they might not be seen again. Alive, that is.”

Shawn’s eyes were skittering up and down the pub’s aisle and it did not take a genius to figure out that he was now wondering if he might in the end, pay too big a price for his tale. Thoughts of another pint abandoned, he was quickly becoming eager to leave. What good was a purse of gold if you were not alive to spend it?

For the first time, Michael smiled. He let go of Shawn’s arm and tossed the leather purse to him before leaning across the table, face to face, with Shawn, to issue a final warning.

“If anyone were to find out that you and I spoke this day, it wouldn’t be the captain you’d need to fear. Do you get my point, Shawn?”
Looking directly into Michael’s eyes, Shawn nodded, tucked his loot inside his jacket, and slipped off the chair and out the door.

Shawn left the pub thinking that the devil could take both the captain and the fancy man. He spat upon the ground to seal the curse.

 

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