Authors: Cora Harrison
Cora Harrison is the author of many successful books for children and adults. She lives on a small farm in the west of Ireland with her husband, her German Shepherd dog called Oscar
and a very small white cat called Polly.
Find out more about Cora at:
To discover why Cora wrote
the London Murder Mysteries, head online to:
The London Murder Mysteries
The Montgomery Murder
The Deadly Fire
Murder on Stage
Death of a Chimney Sweep
The Body in the Fog
Death in the Devil’s Den
First published in Great Britain in 2012
by Piccadilly Press Ltd,
5 Castle Road, London NW1 8PR
Text copyright © Cora Harrison, 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
The right of Cora Harrison to be identified as Author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN: 978 1 84812 248 2 (paperback)
eISBN: 978 1 84812 254 3
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Printed in the UK by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
Cover design by Patrick Knowles
Cover illustration by Chris King
This book is dedicated to Benedict Roberts, aged eight, who gave me the excellent idea of sending Alfie up in a hot-air balloon.
‘You find the extra money or you’ll all be sleeping on the street next week,’ the rent collector growled.
Alfie stared back at him and said nothing.
‘Not too nice out there in the freezing fog,’ the man went on with a sneer. ‘You know the streets of London aren’t too safe at the best of times, but they’re
downright dangerous for them that sleeps rough. That blind brother of yours, the singing bird, someone will get hold of him and put him in a cage when you’re not looking. So you just find
that shilling and have it ready for me by this time next week. And don’t you let that dog of yours snarl at me, neither, or else I’ll be feeding him a dose of rat poison.’
Alfie’s lips were white as he watched the rent collector turn on his heel and slam the cellar door behind him. He put his arm around Mutsy, smoothing down the rough fur on the dog’s
back until the growls died away.
He looked around. The cellar in Bow Street was a fairly miserable place – just the one small, damp room where Alfie, his brother Sammy and his two cousins, Jack and Tom, lived, cooked and
slept. The rent was far too high already, but so far, in the years since his parents died, Alfie had never failed to scrape the money together to pay it. He would go without food rather than touch
the tin box that held the rent money.
But now the tin box was empty.
‘What are we going to do?’ Alfie asked the question in a low voice. Although, at twelve, he was only a few months older than Jack, Alfie was the leader of the gang,
the one that gave the orders. His brother and cousins expected him to know what to do. He didn’t meet their eyes but looked instead at Sarah.
Sarah was a good friend of the boys. She worked as a parlour maid at the White Horse Inn and often came to visit them in the afternoon when she was free. She had a sharp brain, so perhaps she
could come up with some way of earning money.
But even Sarah was looking blank. She knew as well as he did that, with the air full of choking yellow fog, Londoners with money were rushing to get indoors as fast as possible. No one was going
to hang around watching ragged boys performing tricks, and Sammy, a brilliant singer who earned more money than the rest put together, could not sing well in the fog. Sarah herself would not be
paid until the end of the month.
Alfie kept stroking Mutsy while his mind frantically searched for solutions.
And then there was the sound of a footstep on the stone steps outside. Someone was coming down to the cellar, moving slowly, pausing from time to time. Someone who was checking that no one had
seen him, thought Alfie.
‘I’ll kill him if he tries to do anything to Mutsy,’ whispered Tom hoarsely.
‘Shh,’ said Alfie, listening intently. The old wooden door to the cellar was worm-eaten and rickety. Every sound travelled through it. The man – and the footsteps were
definitely a man’s – was very near to them. Alfie imagined that he even heard him draw in a breath.
And then there was a knock.
Not the rent collector’s knock – no bang on the door with a stick, no shout to open up. This was a small sound, just two gentle taps with a knuckle.
Alfie took one look around, gestured to Mutsy to stay and went to open the door.
The man wore his coat collar well buttoned up so that his mouth was hidden, and the brim of his hat was pulled down to his eyebrows. Underneath it, Alfie glimpsed a pair of shrewd brown eyes and
gasped with surprise.
‘Inspector Denham!’ he said. ‘Come in, sir.’
Inspector Denham stepped quickly in through the door, but he did not speak until Alfie had closed it behind them.
‘Good evening, Sarah,’ he said with a nod as he removed his hat and unbuttoned his coat collar, ‘Sammy, Jack, Tom. Thank you, Mutsy,’ he added as Mutsy wagged a welcome.
Alfie held his breath. What had brought an important man like Inspector Denham to the cellar? Alfie and his gang had worked for him in the past, but then he had always sent one of his constables to
bring Alfie to the police station. He fixed his eyes on the man, while Tom carried over the only chair that they possessed and placed it near the fire.
‘I need your help, Alfie,’ began the inspector, sitting down. ‘I’ve got a dangerous and difficult job. Someone is passing secrets about a splendid new gun to our enemies,
the Russians. We think the spy is a Member of Parliament, one of three MPs who are investigating the new weapon for the War Office. The trouble is we’re not sure which of them is the culprit,
and we just can’t get any evidence. He must know he’s being watched and he’s covering his tracks.’
Alfie nodded but said nothing and the inspector went on.
‘We need to catch the spy passing secrets to his contact. This is where you can help us, Alfie. I’ll pay you sixpence a day to watch the MPs and there’s a five-pound reward if
you find the evidence.’
Sixpence a day! A five-pound reward! Alfie felt a rush of excitement. ‘Leave it to me,’ he said. ‘I’ll find the spy.’
‘Don’t be too confident,’ said Inspector Denham. ‘This spy has a lot to lose and if he finds you are after him, he’ll think nothing of killing you and dropping your
body into the Thames.’
Alfie’s eyes widened uneasily for a moment, but then he gave a shrug and grinned.
‘I’ll deliver him to you on a plate of hot toast, if it’s the last thing I do.’
The bullet whistled through the air and thudded against the wall. And then another and another; again and again with no pause between them.