Garrett Investigates - By Elizabeth Bear

Introduction to “The Tricks of London”

Even Detective Crown Investigator Abigail Irene Garrett was young once. This isn’t quite that—but it is an outside view of her from early in her career, when she still had a great deal to prove. Set in London, it shows far more of the inner workings of the Enchancery than any of the other stories, including those collected here and those available in other volumes.

The Tricks of London

London, April 1879

One foot up and the other foot down

That’s the way to London town

—Nursery rhyme

“That’s the third damned dead whore in seventeen days,” Detective Inspector Rupert Bitner said, his educated tones incongruous to his choice of words. He slurped tea loudly from the chipped enamel lid of a vacuum flask. Before Detective Sergeant Sean Cuan could warn him of the narrow figure approaching through the shadowy line of uniformed constables behind, Bitner continued, “And why we’re out here in the rain because somebody’s doing us a favor, can you explain that to me?”

“Hello, Crown Investigator,” Cuan said, louder and sooner than necessary. He pushed past Bitner, the wings of his greatcoat brushing the senior investigator’s legs, and dropped his hastily capped fountain pen into his own coat pocket. Cold rain dripped from the rim of Cuan’s tipped umbrella and somehow worked past the brim of his bowler to trickle down his collar. He firmed his jaw to hide the flinch and extended his right hand.

“This is DI Rupert Bitner. I’m DS John Coen. We’re with CID.”

Introducing the DI first wouldn’t mollify Bitner enough—nothing would sweeten his mood after an encounter with one of the Crown’s Own, especially this one—but it might help blunt the edges. Unfortunately, reciting their ranks made it a little too plain that the newly established Criminal Investigations Division was modeled closely on the Crown Investigators—and that Garrett ranked them.

Cuan cleared his throat and finished, “We’re certainly relieved to see you.”

Someone leaning out one of the lamplit windows two or three stories above catcalled. Someone else hollered at him to shut up. Cuan didn’t look up to mark from which rooms the noises issued. The Detective Crown Investigator squinted at his hand as if unfamiliar with the appendage, but after a moment she transferred her blue velvet carpetbag to her left hand and laid her dainty glove across his palm before withdrawing it just as quickly.

She didn’t carry an umbrella, as if impervious to the rain, but Cuan noticed her dress was sturdy, warm wool rather than silk or organdy. Her back was straight in her corset and her expression never flickered, even when Bitner snorted and slurped more tea, deliberately discourteous.

“DCI Garrett, Detective Sergeant.”

Of course Cuan knew it. She was the sole woman in her service, possessed of a notoriety that outstripped both her beauty and her expertise—neither of which was inconsiderable. As evidenced by the way Cuan’s voice caught in his throat on a stammer when she arched the smooth eyebrow over one alert pale eye. He looked away quickly, but not quickly enough to miss noticing how the corner of her mouth curved now as it hadn’t before. Apparently, his discomfiture was more amusing than Bitner’s rudeness.

Perhaps that was something to build on.

She turned, her walking dress mud-stained and swaying soddenly at the hem. He watched with some approval as she neatly sidestepped whatever filth some vagrant hurled from an unrepaired window above. She might seem serene, but her awareness was honed to a fine enough edge that the missile barely splashed her hem.

“I do hope you haven’t dripped tea on my crime scene,” she said tiredly to Bitner, then crouched in polished boots as if heedless that her navy skirt puddled on filthy stones. She set the carpetbag down beside her. It made more noise on the cobbles than her boots did, and Cuan wondered how she managed that. Maybe the same way she managed to move like a sylph, despite corset bones.

“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” Bitner said. “But there’s no sign of thaumaturgical interference in these cases. You’re rather wasted here.”

“We do mundane crimes too, when they’re unusual,” she said. Her voice stayed mild and light. Cuan wondered how much practice went into that, and if it were more or less than had provided her perfect posture. “Did he leave any footprints before the rain got to them? This is a lot of blood for there to be no traces.”

Bitner blew across the top of the tea, still steaming despite the patter of raindrops on its surface, and slurped ostentatiously Copyright 2016 - 2021