The Mortician’s Boy – Extract 1

After a bad day, Toby and Kitty head to the pub to unwind. That doesn’t exactly go as planned…

Kitty poked her head around the door. “The Vampire’s left for the day. Styles says he’ll cover for us if you want to knock off?”

“Oh, yes!” Toby said eagerly. He grabbed his coat and hat from the stand by the door and followed Kitty down the stairs.

“Pub?” she suggested. “First round is on you, of course!”

“Why this time?”

“Because you almost broke my nose this morning,” she retorted as they headed out onto the street.

“That was utterly your own fault,” Toby protested. “It’s always me that has to get the first round in, it seems.”

“That’s because you’re always causing me trouble!” Kitty grinned. “Plus you’re a push-over.”

“I am not! Ugh, so much for the idea of a quiet drink and sympathy from a good friend.”

“You should have invited one, if that’s what you wanted. Instead you’re stuck with me.”

She linked her arm with his and propelled him along the street. When they reached the Dancing Fox, their usual retreat, she pushed open the door and shoved him inside. Immediately Toby was hit by a wave of warm air from the room ahead. A vast, homely fire crackled in the fireplace, and thick candles added their light. The air was hazy with tobacco smoke and loud with the voices of the drinkers. Kitty sat down at a table and looked expectantly at him.

With a sigh, Toby headed over to the bar. As their drinks were being poured he looked around, hoping to see some other familiar faces so he could share his tales of woe. His eyes fell on a woman sitting on the far side of the room. She was dressed in a black mourner’s gown, decorated with ebony beads and trimmed with sable. Her hair was raven black, pinned back under an elaborate feathered headdress. She caught his glance and stood up, waving at him with a hand clad in black lace.

Toby tried to look away, to pretend he had not seen her, but it was too late. She was already picking her way through the drinkers towards him. He sighed. What more could today throw at him?

“Mr Tobias Shaw?” she asked as approached.

Trying to mask his annoyance, Toby gave her a quick bow. “Please, call me Toby. What can I do for you, Miss…?”

“Rosetta. Cordelia Alexandria Lucrecia Rosetta,” she replied in a voice that spoke of finishing school and elocution lessons. “I was hoping to speak with you about some photographs.”

Toby wasn’t sure what he had expected her to want from him, but the word photographs surprised him. Not as much as her name, of course. How anyone managed to even move under the weight of such a thing was beyond him. “Why don’t you take a seat and you can tell me more,” he suggested. It was against his better judgement, but he did not want to risk the woman making a scene if he refused. She looked to be the swooning sort.

She nodded gratefully and followed him to the table where Kitty was waiting.

“Who’s the Corpse Bride?” Kitty asked as Toby held out the chair for Cordelia. He rolled his eyes at her.

“Kitty, this is Miss Rosetta. She would like to talk to me about some photographs. Miss Rosetta, this is my former good friend and now constant source of harassment, Kitty Lewis.”

The woman looked between Toby and Kitty for a moment, and then smiled sweetly. “Cordelia Alexandria Lucrecia Rosetta. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“What did you want to speak to me about?” Toby enquired before Kitty could say anything else.

Cordelia produced a few photographs and laid them on the table. “I wanted to ask your professional opinion about ghosts in photography. I thought if anyone would know it would be a mortuary photographer, and your name came up time and again.”

Well, it’s nice to have a reputation that doesn’t make me out to be some sort of monster, Toby thought. He picked up the photographs. “I’m afraid there’s no such thing,” he said. “See this one? Both these men are very much alive. The man behind the chair only looks transparent because he walked in after the plate started developing. It’s probably taken with a dry plate as they need a much longer exposure.” He turned over the next one. “And this one’s a very famous fraud. The photographer drew on the plate after the image was taken to get this ghostly shape.”

Cordelia’s face, which had been a mixture of excitement and optimism, fell. “Oh, I see. So, they’re all fakes?”

Toby smiled kindly. I should have guessed it would be something like this. She needs to stay away from the penny dreadfuls. “I’m afraid so.” He shuffled through the last couple of photographs and stopped. An image stared up at him from stained table and he felt the breath catch in his throat. “Wait! Where did you get this one?”

He tried to pick up the photograph, but his fingers felt numb and useless.

“Toby? What’s wrong?” Kitty said softly. “You look like…Well you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Where did you get this?” Toby demanded again. “There’s no way you can have this photograph! It’s impossible!”

“I don’t understand what you mean,” Cordelia stammered. “Why is it impossible?”

He looked into her eyes, trying to determine if this was sort of sick joke, but there was nothing there except bewilderment.

“Because they were all burned,” he said. He clutched at the table to try and stop his hands shaking. “My father was developing it and a fire broke out in the darkroom. It almost killed him and did kill another man. The negative and all the photographs were destroyed!”

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