In the Lion’s Den

Barbara Taylor Bradford

The following is an exclusive excerpt from In the Lion’s Den, by Barbara Taylor Bradford. In 19th century London, former shop-worker James Lionel Falconer is now the right-hand-man to Lord Henry Malvern, a wealthy merchant, and he's only just beginning his ascent. But a series of mysterious occurrences might also bring about his undoing: a terrible fire, a secret held by Mrs. Ward (James's former lover), and the fleeing of Alexis Malvern, Henry's daughter.

Detective Inspector Roger Crawford sat at his desk in his office at Scotland Yard, checking off the appointments he had kept that day. It had been unusually busy. But when wasn’t it? Criminals never slept.

Only one left, he thought, staring down at his engagement book. It was Monday, July 7, and the appointment for eight o’clock, Sergeant Mick Owen, would be on time. To the exact minute. Punctuality was his middle name.

A half smile flickered on the inspector’s face for a split second and was gone. He had no idea why Owen wanted to speak to him so urgently, but he had agreed to see him tonight . . . because he was able to do so. Anyway, he had great respect for Owen, who was a superlative policeman, dedicated, diligent, and clever at his job. If he could help him in any way, he would.

Crawford glanced at the alarm clock he kept on his desk. It was one minute to eight. As the hand moved, there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” he called out, and Mick Owen did so.

Roger Crawford stood up, walked around his desk, and shook hands with Owen, greeted him warmly. The sergeant  responded  in kind. They went back at least fifteen years.

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“So what’s this all about?” Crawford asked, stepping back around his desk, adding, “Take the weight off your feet, Sergeant.” He motioned to the chair facing his.

Once they were both settled in their chairs, Mick Owen said, “There was a strange event last night when I was on patrol in Soho with my partner. We might have missed it, me and Jerry Cookson, if a woman hadn’t started screaming at the top of her voice and a man hadn’t called out for the police.”

“And so you both ran to help. What was happening?”

“Two men were being attacked in a nearby dark alley. Imagine our surprise when we reached the man who had shouted for help. It was Billy Watters, the British lightweight boxing champion of the world.”

Crawford nodded, wondering what was strange about this  event. Surely not meeting the boxer.

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Before he could ask this question, the sergeant continued, “We ran down the alley, only to discover that the young men had already dealt with their attackers, who were odd-looking blokes. Dressed entirely in black. It was dark a’ course, but I recognized one of the young men. It was James Falconer, Inspector Crawford.”

Crawford was momentarily startled and instantly sat upright in his chair, leaned forward, his expression alert. “Don’t tell me he had been beaten up again. I couldn’t bear to hear that, not after what happened to him a few years ago.”

“No, no, fortunately Falconer was not injured, and neither was his colleague, Peter Keller. The latter had kicked one of the assailants in the balls with his boot. Falconer had punched the other bruiser on the jaw, and quite a few times. They were down and out of it.”

“I’m relieved to hear that. You cuffed the attackers, took them off to jail, I presume, to be charged?”

Owen nodded. “I needed to come and tell you about it, Inspector, because it was so like that last attack on Falconer. I worried about it all night, couldn’t sleep, in fact. Do you think someone really is out to get Falconer, sir?”

A concerned expression settled on Crawford’s face, and he was silent for a moment, his mind racing. “I don’t know, Sergeant. But it’s strange. I agree with you there. Didn’t Falconer’s friend, Dennis Holden, die from his head wounds?”

Sudden rage swept  through Crawford and he exclaimed,  “Damn and blast! Why wasn’t that case ever solved? I can’t believe it! That some rotten buggers got away with murder, and of a young lad, no less.”

“That’s what I thought. I had to talk to you because it’s bothered me so much today.”

“I need to know as much as you can find out about these two assailants. And I’ve every intention of opening that cold case, making it active immediately.”

“Where would you start, sir? Quite a lot of time has passed,” Owen said cautiously.

“It has indeed, but I’ve a mind to start with that bar, Tango Rose. And by the way, what are the names of those two attackers of last night? And how much did you get out of them?”

“Their names are Sid Puller and Johnny Clark, but who knows if they were telling the truth. I questioned them at the scene and in the jail. They didn’t talk at all. Told me nothing. Clammed up, they did.”

“What about James Falconer and his colleague Keller? For instance, what the hell were the two of them doing in a dark alley in Soho?”

“They said they had had dinner at Chez Simone earlier, and Keller had led them into the alley, because it was a shortcut to the music hall they were headed for.”

“Bad choice,” Crawford said, and grimaced. Standing up, he looked across at Owen. “I’m glad you came to see me, Sergeant. Are you on duty now?”

“No, Inspector, I’m not. It’s my night off.”

“Then come and join me for a pint. I for one need a beer after what you’ve just told me. And incidentally, I do think Falconer is being targeted. I aim to find out who is behind this and put the bastard behind bars.”

“With my help, sir. And I wouldn’t mind a pint in a cheerful pub.”

On this Tuesday morning, the inspector sat at his desk at Scotland Yard drinking a mug of tea and running Owen’s memories through his mind yet again.

Over a few pints of bitter at the Pig and Whistle last night, Mick Owen had told the inspector everything he remembered about the attack on James Falconer, now approximately three years ago. And he had a good memory, even for small details.

For the umpteenth time, the name Milly Culpepper loomed large. And he knew the reason why. She was the only person who was friendly with Falconer and Holden. In fact, she had gone out on dates with Denny Holden several times. No one else who frequented Tango Rose on a regular basis had paid much attention to the two young men.

She was the link.

Whichever way he looked at the pages of information in the folder of this cold case, he always came back to her. She knew them, chatted to them, and even saw Denny alone. And more than likely she knew what they were doing and where they were going when they were not at the bar. There was nothing wrong with that. It was quite normal, chatting with friends. What was dangerous was who this was repeated to.

And so he kept coming back to the idea that Milly Culpepper might well have fingered them without  even  realizing  she  was doing that. Totally innocent of any wrongdoing. Yet Dennis Holden had died from his severe head wounds. He had never come out of the coma which had enveloped him in King’s Hospital.

Somewhere out there was a murderer. Chief Inspector Roger Crawford did not like that at all. The monster had to be found, charged, tried, and found guilty. If Crawford managed to solve this cold case, he would make sure that murdering bastard swung at the end of a rope.

Drinking the last dregs of the tea, Crawford decided he would find Milly Culpepper no matter what, even though Mick Owen had told him last night that she no longer worked at the popular bar near the Thames. Somebody would know where she was or know someone else who did. He was an old hand at finding people. Once outside in the bright sunlight, the inspector cheered up.

He threw off the sense of defeat that surrounded this cold case. He set his mind on its resolution. Unexpectedly, he was suddenly full of piss and vinegar, as he was wont to call it. His energy was high. He was also in a hurry because he kept wondering if the attack two nights ago was linked to the attack three years back. If so, it made it all the more deadly. Whoever it was who had it in for James Falconer was obviously not going to give up. At least not until Falconer was dead. And that must not happen. He couldn’t let it.

When a hansom cab came by, Crawford hailed it immediately. He gave the driver the name and address of the bar and climbed inside. The cab moved forward at a quick  trot and in no  time at  all he was being dropped off on the Embankment overlooking the River Thames.

It was noon and the bar had opened. Within several minutes Chief Inspector Roger Crawford of Scotland Yard was involved in deep conversation with the owner. She was a statuesque, well-put-together woman called Rose Sinclair.

Tango Rose herself, in full blazing color, he thought, as they shook hands. She was made up, dressed in a deep magenta velvet gown, and bejeweled. Quite a sight at noon on a Tuesday.

She spoke swiftly, in a well-modulated voice. She would tell him anything he wanted to know; she had never had trouble in her bar. Every member of her staff would cooperate.

She was a great admirer of Scotland Yard, she said, and ended up congratulating him on the courage and dedication of his brave and talented officers of the law.

Once she had finally finished her speech, such as it was, and was now looking at him questioningly, he explained why he was there. She seemed surprised that the cold case was now open again, and told him she was certain Milly Culpepper was blameless of any wrongdoing. She was just an innocent bystander. After all, she was just a young girl.

“I am inclined to agree with you, Mrs. Sinclair. But she knew those two young men quite well, and there might be something she’s forgotten, or not thought important enough to mention that might help me, give me a clue, a way to move forward.”

“I see what you mean, Chief Inspector, and please call me Rose. The whole world calls me Rose. Milly never really chatted to the other customers, who were older men, more . . . worldly, more sophisticated, shall we say. The boys were familiar to her. She came from their world, their class.”

Something clicked in Crawford’s head when she made that remark, but he moved on without making reference to it. “I was hoping you could tell me where Miss Culpepper works now, Rose.” “Of course. I am happy to help. When she left my employment, Milly went to work at a bar in Covent Garden. It’s called Grape on the Vine. It’s a nice place, mind you. I have no idea if she is still there.”

“Thank you very much, Rose. You have been very helpful.”

Crawford walked across the Embankment and stood leaning against the wall, looking out across the River Thames. He knew from the sergeant that Milly Culpepper had only stayed at the Grape on the Vine for about two weeks and had quickly moved on. Mick Owen had named four other bars where she had worked within the year after the attack on Falconer and Holden.

The inspector stood thinking about his next move. According  to Owen, Milly had just disappeared. Even her  mother  claimed  she had no idea where her daughter was working, because she had moved away, gone to live in the country.

Making a snap decision, Crawford took out his notebook and found the address of Mrs. Culpepper. He would go and visit the mother. Three years had passed, and no doubt she now knew where her daughter was residing.

He walked up to the Strand, hailed a hansom, and was soon on his way to Camden Town, hoping to get the information he needed.


From In the Lion’s Den by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Used with the permission of the publisher, Minotaur. Copyright © 2020 by Barbara Taylor Bradford.

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