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Among the mad, p.1
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       Among the Mad, p.1

           Jacqueline Winspear
 
Among the Mad


  Also by Jacqueline Winspear

  Maisie Dobbs

  Birds of a Feather

  Pardonable Lies

  Messenger of Truth

  An Incomplete Revenge

  AMONG THE MAD

  AMONG

  THE MAD

  A Maisie Dobbs Novel

  JACQUELINE WINSPEAR

  Henry Holt and Company

  New York

  Henry Holt and Company, LLC

  Publishers since 1866

  175 Fifth Avenue

  New York, New York 10010

  www.henryholt.com

  Henry Holt ® and ® are registered trademarks

  of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

  Copyright © 2009 by Jacqueline Winspear

  All rights reserved.

  Distributed in Canada by H. B. Fenn and Company Ltd.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Winspear, Jacqueline.

  Among the mad : a Maisie Dobbs novel / Jacqueline Winspear.—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8216-6

  ISBN-10: 0-8050-8216-6

  1. Dobbs, Maisie (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women private investigators—England—London—Fiction. 3. World War, 1914–1918—Veterans—Great Britain—Fiction. 4. World War, 1914–1918—Psychological aspects—Fiction. 5. London (England)—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6123.I575A46 2009

  823'.92—dc22

  2008032576

  Henry Holt books are available for special promotions

  and premiums. For details contact: Director, Special Markets.

  First Edition 2009

  Designed by Victoria Hartman

  Printed in the United States of America

  1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

  Dedicated to my wonderful Godchildren:

  Charlotte Sweet McEwan

  Charlotte Pye

  Greg Belpomme

  Alexandra Jones

  Keep True to the Dreams of thy Youth

  Friedrich von Schiller

  1759–1805

  “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

  “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here.

  I’m mad. You’re mad.”

  “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

  “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

  —LEWIS CARROLL,

  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

  A short time ago death was the cruel stranger, the visitor with

  the flannel footsteps . . . today it is the mad dog in the house.

  One eats, one drinks beside the dead, one sleeps in the midst of

  the dying, one laughs and sings in the company of corpses.

  —GEORGES DUHAMEL,

  French doctor serving at Verdun in the Great War

  AMONG THE MAD

  ONE

  London, Christmas Eve, 1931

  Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator, picked up her fountain pen to sign her name at the end of a final report that she and her assistant, Billy Beale, had worked late to complete the night before. Though the case was straightforward—a young man fraudulently using his uncle’s honorable name to acquire all manner of goods and services, and an uncle keen to bring his nephew back on the straight and narrow without the police being notified—Maisie felt it was time for Billy to become more involved in the completion of a significant document and to take more of an active part in the final interview with a client. She knew how much Billy wanted to emigrate to Canada, to take his wife and family away from London’s dark depression and the cloud of grief that still hung over them following the death of their daughter, Lizzie, almost a year earlier. To gain a decent job in a new country he would need to build more confidence in his work and himself, and seeing as she had already made inquiries on his behalf—without his knowledge—she knew greater dexterity with the written and spoken word would be an important factor in his success. Now the report was ready to be delivered before the Christmas holiday began.

  “Eleven o’clock, Billy—just in time, eh?” Maisie placed the cap on her fountain pen and passed the report to her assistant, who slid it into an envelope and secured it with string. “As soon as this appointment is over, you should be on your way, so that you can spend the rest of the day with Doreen and the boys—it’ll be nice to have Christmas Eve at home.”

  “That’s good of you, Miss.” Billy smiled, then went to the door where he took Maisie’s coat and his own from the hook.

  Maisie packed her document case before reaching under the desk to bring out a wooden orange crate. “You’ll have to come back to the office first, though.”

  “What’s all this, Miss?” Billy’s face was flushed as he approached her desk.

  “A Christmas box for each of the boys, and one for you and Doreen.” She opened her desk drawer and drew out an envelope. “And this is for you. We had a bit of a rocky summer, but things picked up and we’ve done quite well—plus we’ll be busy in the new year—so this is your bonus. It’s all well earned, I must say.”

  Billy reddened. “Oh, that’s very good of you, Miss. I’m much obliged. This’ll cheer up Doreen.”

  Maisie smiled in return. She did not need to inquire about Billy’s wife, knowing the depth of the woman’s melancholy. There had been a time, at the end of the summer, when a few weeks spent hop-picking in Kent had put a bloom on the woman’s cheeks, and she seemed to have filled out a little, looking less gaunt. But, in London again, the routine of caring for her boys and keeping up with the dressmaking and alterations she took in had not lifted her spirits in any way. She ached for the milky softness of her daughter’s small body in her arms.

  Maisie looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. “We’d better be off.”

  They donned coats and hats and wrapped up against the chill wind that whistled around corners and blew across Fitzroy Square as they made their way toward Charlotte Street. Dodging behind a horse and cart, they ran to the other side of the road as a motor car came along in the opposite direction. The street was busy, with people rushing this way and that, heads down against the wind, some with parcels under their arms, others simply hoping to get home early. In the distance, Maisie noticed a man—she could not tell whether he was young or old—sitting on the pavement, leaning up against the exterior wall of a shop. Even with some yards between them, she could see the grayness that enveloped him, the malaise, the drooping shoulders, one leg outstretched so passers-by had to skirt around him. His damp hair was slicked against his head and cheeks, his clothes were old, crumpled, and he watched people go by with a deep red-rimmed sadness in his eyes. One of them stopped to speak to a policeman, and turned back to point at the man. Though unsettled by his dark aura, Maisie reached into her bag for some change as they drew closer.

  “Poor bloke—out in this, and at Christmas.” Billy shook his head, and delved down into his coat pocket for a few coins.

  “He looks too drained to find his way to a soup kitchen, or a shelter. Perhaps this will help.” Maisie held her offering ready to give to the man.

  They walked just a few steps and Maisie gasped, for it was as if she was at once moving in slow motion, as if she were in a dream where people spoke but she could not hear their words. She saw the man move, put his hand into the inside pocket of his threadbare greatcoat, and though she wanted to reach out to him, she was caught in a vacuum of muffled sound and constrained movement. She could see Billy frowning, his mouth moving, but could not make him understand what she had seen. Then the sensation, which had lasted but a second or two, lifted. Maisie looked at the man some twenty or so paces ahead of them, then at Billy again.

  “Billy,
go back, turn around and go back along the street, go back . . . ”

  “Miss, what’s wrong? You all right? What do you mean, Miss?”

  Pushing against his shoulder to move him away, Maisie felt as if she were negotiating her way through a mire. “Go back, Billy, go back . . . ”

  And because she was his employer, and because he had learned never to doubt her, Billy turned to retrace his steps in the direction of Fitzroy Square. Frowning, he looked back in time to see Maisie holding out her hand as she walked toward the man, in the way that a gentle person might try to bring calm to an enraged dog. Barely four minutes had passed since they walked past the horse and cart, and now here she was . . .

  The explosion pushed up and outward into the Christmas Eve flurry, and in the seconds following there was silence. Just a crack in the wall of normal, everyday sound, then nothing. Billy, a soldier in the Great War, knew that sound, that hiatus. It was as if the earth itself had had the stuffing knocked out of it, had been throttled into a different day, a day when a bit of rain, a gust of wind and a few stray leaves had turned into a blood-soaked hell.

  “Miss, Miss . . . ” Billy picked himself up from the hard flagstones and staggered back to where he had last seen Maisie. The silence became a screaming chasm where police whistles screeched, smoke and dust filled the air, and blood was sprayed up against the crumbling brick and shards of glass that were once the front of a shop where a man begged for a few coins outside.

  “Maisie Dobbs! Maisie . . . Miss . . .” Billy sobbed as he stumbled forward. “Miss!” he screamed again.

  “Over ’ere, mate. Is this the one you’re looking for?”

  In the middle of the road a costermonger was kneeling over Maisie, cradling her head in one hand and brushing blood away from her face with the kerchief he’d taken from his neck. Billy ran to her side.

  “Miss . . . Miss . . . ”

  “I’m no doctor, but I reckon she’s a lucky one—lifted off her feet and brought down ’ere. Probably got a nasty crack on the back of ’er noddle though.”

  Maisie coughed, spitting dust-filled saliva from her mouth. “Oh, Billy . . . I thought I could stop him. I thought I would be in time. If only we’d been here earlier, if only—”

  “Don’t you worry, Miss. Let’s make sure you’re all right before we do anything else.”

  Maisie shook her head, began to sit up, and brushed her hair from her eyes and face. “I think I’m all right—I was just pulled right off the ground.” She squinted and looked around at the melee. “Billy, we’ve got to help. I can help these people . . . ” She tried to stand but fell backward again.

  The costermonger and Billy assisted Maisie to her feet. “Steady, love, steady,” said the man, who looked at Billy, frowning. “What’s she mean? Tried to stop ’im? Did you know there was a nutter there about to top ’imself—and try to take the rest of us with ’im?”

  Billy shook his head. “No, we didn’t know. This is my employer. We were just walking to see a customer. Only . . . ”

  “Only what, mate? Only what? Look around you—it’s bleedin’ chaos, people’ve been ’urt, look at ’em. Did she know this was going to ’appen? Because if she did, then I’m going over to that copper there and—”

  Billy put his arm around Maisie and began to negotiate his way around the rubble, away from the screams of those wounded when a man took his own life in a most terrible way. He looked back into his interrogator’s eyes. “She didn’t know until she saw the bloke. It was when she saw him that she knew.” Maisie allowed herself to be led by Billy, who turned around to the costermonger one last time. “She just knows, you see. She knows.” He fought back tears. “And thanks for helping her, mate.” His voice cracked. “Thanks . . . for helping her.”

  “COME ON IN HERE, bring her in and she can sit down.” The woman called from a shop just a few yards away.

  “Thank you, thank you very much.” Billy led Maisie into the shop and to a chair, then turned to the woman. “I’d better get back there, see if there’s any more I can do.”

  The woman nodded. “Tell people they can come in here. I’ve got the kettle on. Dreadful, dreadful, what this world’s come to.”

  Soon the shop had filled with people while ambulances took the more seriously wounded to hospital. And as she sat clutching a cup of tea in her hands, feeling the soothing heat grow cooler in her grasp, Maisie replayed the scene time and again in her mind. She and Billy crossed the road behind the horse and cart, then ran to the curb as a motor came along the street. They were talking, noticing people going by or dashing in and out of shops before early closing. Then she saw him, the man, his leg stretched out, as if he were lame. As she had many times before, she reached into her bag to offer money to someone who had so little. She felt the cold coins brush against her fingers, saw the policeman set off across the street, and looked up at the man again—the man whose black aura seemed to grow until it touched her, until she could no longer hear, could not move with her usual speed.

  She sipped her now lukewarm tea. That was the point at which she knew. She knew that the man would take his life. But she thought he had a pistol, or even poison. She saw her own hand in front of her, reaching out as if to gentle his wounded mind, then there was nothing. Nothing except a sharp pain at the back of her head and a voice in the distance. Maisie Dobbs . . . Miss. A voice screaming in panic, a voice coming closer.

  “MISS DOBBS?”

  Maisie started and almost dropped her cup.

  “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to make you jump—your assistant said you were here.” Detective Inspector Richard Stratton looked down at Maisie, then around the room. The proprietress had brought out as many chairs as she could, and all were taken. Stratton knelt down. “I was on duty at the Yard when it happened, so I was summoned straightaway. By chance I saw Mr. Beale and he said you witnessed the man take his life.” He paused, as if to judge her state of mind. “Are you up to answering some questions?” Stratton spoke with a softness not usually employed when in conversation with Maisie. Their interactions had at times been incendiary, to say the least.

  Maisie nodded, aware that she had hardly said a word since the explosion. She cleared her throat. “Yes, of course, Inspector. I’m just a little unsettled—I came down with a bit of a wallop, knocked out for a few moments, I think.”

  “Oh, good, you found her, then.” Stratton and Maisie looked toward the door as Billy Beale came back into the shop. “I’ve brought back your document case, Miss. All the papers are inside.”

  Maisie nodded. “Thank you, Billy.” She looked up and saw concern etched on Billy’s face, along with a certain resolve. Though it was more than thirteen years past, the war still fingered Billy’s soul, and even though the pain from his wounds had eased, it had not left him in peace. Today’s events would unsettle him, would be like pulling a dressing from a dried cut, rendering his memories fresh and raw.

  “Look, my motor car’s outside—let me take you both back to your office. We can talk there.” Stratton stood up to allow Maisie to link her arm through his, and began to lead her to the door. “I know this is not the best time for you, but it’s the best time for us—I’d like to talk to you as soon as we get to your premises, before you forget.”

  Maisie stopped and looked up at Stratton. “Forgetting has never been of concern to me, Inspector. It’s the remembering that gives me pause.”

  A POLICE CORDON now secured the site of the explosion, and though there were no more searing screams ricocheting around her, onlookers had gathered and police moved in and out of shops, taking names, helping those caught in a disaster while out on Christmas Eve. Maisie did not want to look at the street again, but as she saw people on the edge of the tragedy talking, she imagined them going home to their families and saying, “You will never guess what I saw today,” or “You’ve heard about that nutter with the bomb over on Charlotte Street, well . . . ” And she wondered if she would ever walk down the street again and not feel her feet
leave the ground.

  DETECTIVE INSPECTOR RICHARD STRATTON and his assistant, Caldwell, pulled up chairs and were seated on the visiting side of Maisie’s desk. Billy had just poured three cups of tea and filled one large enameled tin mug, into which he heaped extra sugar and stirred before setting it in front of his employer.

  “All right, Miss?”

  Maisie nodded, then clasped the tea as she had in the shop earlier, as if to wring every last drop of warmth from the mug.

  “Better watch it, Miss, that’s hot. Don’t want to burn yourself.”

  “Yes, of course.” Maisie placed the mug on a manila folder in front of her, and as she released her grip, Billy saw red welts on her hands where heat from the mug had scalded her and she had felt nothing.

  “How does your head feel now?” Richard Stratton’s brows furrowed as he leaned forward to place his cup and saucer on the desk, while keeping his eyes on Maisie. The two had met almost three years earlier, when Stratton was called in at the end of a case she had been working on. The policeman, a widower with a young son, had at one point entertained a romantic notion of the investigator, but his approach had been nipped in the bud by Maisie, who was not as adept in her personal life as she was in her professional domain. Now their relationship encompassed only work, though as an observer, it was clear to Billy that Richard Stratton had a particular regard for his employer, despite it being evident that she had brought him to the edge of exasperation at times—not least because her instincts were more finely honed than his own. Regardless, Stratton’s respect for Maisie was reciprocated, and she trusted him.

 
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