Authors: Clea Simon
Table of Contents
CRIES AND WHISKERS
MEW IS FOR MURDER
SHADES OF GREY *
GREY MATTERS *
GREY ZONE *
GREY EXPECTATIONS *
TRUE GREY *
*available from Severn House
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2012 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
This eBook edition first published in 2012 by Severn Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2012 by Clea Simon.
The right of Clea Simon to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
1. Schwartz, Dulcie (Fictitious character)âFiction.
2. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-328-0 (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8215-8 (cased)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
Many thanks to my wonderful first readers: Jon Garelick, Karen Schlosberg, Lisa Susser, Brett Milano, and Naomi Yang. You saved me from numerous inconsistencies and conservatorial no-nos. All errors remaining are mine, not yours. My agent Colleen Mohyde is a constant source of encouragement, as are the wonderfully supportive Sophie Garelick, Frank Garelick, Lisa Jones, and writing buddies Caroline Leavitt and Vicki Constantine Croke. Editor Rachel Simpson Hutchens and her staff are a writer's dream. Purrs out, people. May your days be filled with love.
lood. So much blood. She had not realized that the human corpus could contain so much. But the precious ichor glistened jewel-like no longer. Much like her terror, like the screams frozen in her throat, life's elixir had begun to solidify and darken, staining the red-gold hair a dull brown, its very essence transform'd before her eyes, which too began to dim . . .
It was like a nightmare. Like
nightmare. The room, the bookshelves. The marble statue, dripping blood. Only, instead of her reading of the horror â and then having it appear, laid out in all its dreadful gore â she had stumbled upon it, with no warning. No warning she could have interpreted, that is.
Before her lay Dulcie's worst dream, her vision of predawn terror â down to the cast-iron bootjack, one boot still stuck between its outstretched jaws. Down to the book splayed out on the floor, the title on the front â
Lives of the Saints â
a rebuke to everything she knew. This was it: the nightmare made flesh. The scene she had been forced to view every night this week, until she'd woken up gasping and drenched in sweat.
Only this was worse than her nightmare, because there was no waking from the vision before her. No playful kitten to cuddle until the horror faded, and no purr to lull her back to a more peaceful sleep. No, this was not a phantom of the dark. The time was one in the afternoon. Broad daylight. And the carnage before her was real.
âWhat? What?' Dulcie stood there gasping. Unable to get enough air. Unable to think, especially as the stars began to circle and close in, the darkness taking out her field of vision. Unable to leave . . .
Dulcie, step back.
The unexpected voice, so soft and so calm, startled her into a hiccup. âMr Grey?'
Dulcie, please step back.
' It was, without a doubt, the voice of her late, great cat. Unless, of course, she was hallucinating. â
Trust me, Dulcie. Please.
And so she did, in the process closing her mouth and ending the cycle of hyperventilation that had nearly caused her to pass out. And as she drew back into the doorway, she realized, not everything was exactly as she had dreamt it. There were, in fact, several crucial differences.
The boot stuck in the boot-jack was a high-end cowboy style, with the kind of patterned leather that had begun its life on some large reptile's back, rather than the formal rust and sable two-tone proper to a hunt outfit. The marble bust on the floor, its ear broken off and its pointy nose covered in blood, was not of a Roman senator, but of the great horror writer Edgar Allen Poe. The matted hair, still glossy despite the clotted gore, was black rather than rich auburn. And the body that lay sprawled across the rug was not some horrible but anonymous apparition, the manifestation of angers and anxieties freed only to emerge at night. It belonged to the woman Dulcie had come to meet. The woman who, less than forty-eight hours before, she had publicly sworn to kill.
With her wits finally returning, Dulcie took a further step back and one more again. Catching herself as she reached for the knob, she froze for a moment. Close the door? Leave it open? The heavy wooden door had been ajar when she'd arrived, the afternoon light casting its shadow down the hall. The visiting scholar's suite was isolated for privacy; the only other door off the hall opened on to the junior common room. The odds of anyone coming by were slim. Though someone â Dulcie realized with a chill â had certainly been here before her.
Unless . . . She looked at the Poe and up at the shelf. Could a freak accident, a stray vibration, have sent the heavy bit of statuary tumbling down?
Dulcie . . .
' It was Mr Grey again, the edge of a growl in his tone.
âIt's possible,' she murmured to the dust motes. âI mean, if she were standing in just the right place. And I know
didn't do it . . .'
Her eyes came down to the body again, to the gore fast turning dark on the rug, dulling the blue-black sheen in the raven's-wing hair. âI couldn't haveâ' She choked. The room started to spin again, the stale air thick and cloying.
' A sharp pain like raking claws along her back startled her upright, pulling her eyes away from the floor, the woman . . .
. At the same time, she heard voices, a flight or more down the stairs. Several voices, raised in alarm, and the clatter of feet as people rushed up to the suite.
' The voice was still soft, but now it carried an undeniable urgency. A sense of command. â
And so she did.
h, my,' a small, soft voice said. âOh, my.'
Only two days earlier, Dulcie had been happy. Hard at work three stories below ground in a windowless room that let in none of the glorious late-summer sun, she had gladly given up the warm September afternoon and its accompanying breeze for the pile of burnt-looking papers before her. As the low hum of the air-conditioning system kicked in, keeping the ambient temperature and humidity about right for a salad bar, she should have been utterly blissful. Would have been, in fact, were it not for the fussing of the little clerk standing beside her.
âOh, my,' she heard again. âOh, my.' Coming from anyone else, the muted cry â almost a whimper â could have been the sound of agony, or even despair. Dulcie knew Thomas Griddlehaus, however. As quiet as he generally was, the slight, balding man was not naturally calm and could as easily be stressing out about a misplaced box of paper clips as a family tragedy. He was, like all librarians, a bit of a zealot.
In a good way, of course, Dulcie reminded herself. As the chief clerk of the famed Mildon Collection, Thomas Griddlehaus had a greater knowledge of rare books and documents than anyone Dulcie had ever met, an intimacy he had been more than willing to share with her, a mere graduate student. But as fussy as a cat, with a lot less fur, he could be a tad annoying.
He had, however, helped her authenticate the printed page that now lay to her left. One of only a few that had survived a fire â and the subsequent water damage â in Thomas Paine's original library, it had no cover and no title page. But coming, as it did, from the great statesman's library, Dulcie had no doubt that it was from a mysterious horror novel the American statesman had praised in his letters. A novel, she was sure, that had been written by the author of
The Ravages of Umbria
Doing her best to tune out the bespectacled clerk, she read the printed page again: â
The essential ichor besmirched his raven locks
All life, all essence, lay there, turned now to cooling mass, his heart forever still'd. Her own raced like a stallion into the dark and windswept night. A night as black as sable, as black as the lifeless head that now lay stain'd, upon the library carpet.
From the print, Dulcie turned to the handwritten page before her, maneuvering an oversized magnifying glass above it. A mere scrap of paper, stained and ragged inside its protective polypropylene wrapper, this page contrasted sharply with the sterile surroundings of the rare book collection. It was, however, the reason she was here today, her rationale for sacrificing the last gasp of summer. A sacrifice that would be worth it, if only she could concentrate.