A TANGLED WEB is already available on Kobo and will become available on Amazon and Nook during the weekend. To whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt in which we meet our hero, Lawrence Pelham – and two old acquaintances from THE BRIDE PRIZE. Enjoy!
On Friday morning, when Lawrence Pelham, comic illustrator, walked along the gallery to the door to ‘the Den,’ the holy of the holies, the editorial office of that illustrious weekly periodical Allan’s Miscellany, he was nearly bowled over by one of his colleagues, who came dashing out of the office, his face brick-red, his mouth quivering.
Mr. Nicklewick was followed by roaring and a shoe that hit Pel’s shoulder.
“Ouch!” Rubbing his offended flesh, Pel poked his head around the door.
“—NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN, YOU BLOODY DAMNED SCRIBBLING FRAUD! DEFILER OF ENGLISH! YOU—”
“Um,” Pel said. “Nicklewick’s probably already reached Fleet Street at the pace he was dashing along.”
MacNeil, the editor, glared at him. Flushed with anger and breathing hard, he stood, leaning on his hands slapped flat on the large table that dominated the room. His tousled, copper-red hair wafted around his head like a fiery halo and intensified Mac’s look of an outraged archangel. In Pel’s mind rose a black and white drawing of him in antique armor holding a flaming sword while he expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden—Adam was rather short and round and bore a striking similarity to the unfortunate Nicklewick.
“You,” MacNeil growled, “are late.”
Abruptly, the imaginary drawing evaporated.
Pel glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. “Just forty minutes,” he replied cheerfully. “Could be worse.”
Robbie Beaton, the magazine’s other artist, threw him a warning look and imperceptibly shook his head. His normally cheerful round face was uncommonly grave as he half sat on the table next to MacNeil. In front of them rested a pile of paper and several woodblocks—the material for this week’s issue.
“What has happened?” Pel asked. “Nick’s been—”
“He is a moron,” MacNeil cut in. “A bloody moron who can’t spell his way out of a damned box and who writes the damnedest drivel I’ve ever seen.” He slapped a piece of paper in front of him. “‘Regent Street, a Death Trap.’ A whole damned page on carriage accidents as a result of the wooden pavement. A whole page! Has he taken leave of his senses?” He snorted and answered his own question, “That fool has never had any to begin with!”
“It’s an…um…important topic,” Pel offered cautiously, which earned him a disgusted look.
“Not when the author writes that the wooden pavement—and I quote—‘preys on the flowers of our aristocracy and carries them off to Elysium.’ Really? Really? And he has misspelled ‘prey’ and ‘flowers’.”
Pel raised his brows. “How can you misspell ‘flowers’?”
“Oh,” Pel said. “Oh well.” He reckoned it safe enough to step nearer and deposit the woodblocks with his illustrations for the issue on the table.
“And Nitwit was late handing in his texts, too. They should have been on my table yesterday afternoon.” MacNeil turned to Robbie Beaton, with whom he had founded the magazine seven years ago. “This was the last time we’ve taken on somebody as a favor to somebody else,” he growled.
“Can anything of his be saved?” Pel asked.
MacNeil’s look could have made a flower wither and die on the spot. “An article on the merits of keeping a goldfish?”
“Uh. I guess not.”
“How about replacing it with something on the whole farce of the Irish Arms Bill?” Beaton suggested. “Topical, and given what’s been going on in the Lower House, nobody will mind a biting tone.”
MacNeil glanced at the clock. “No time to send for Mr. Flanders and ask him to produce another piece from Our Man at Westminster. Lives too damn far away.”
“Then let me write it,” Beaton said. “I’ve accompanied Flanders a few times this week. That should do it.”
“Good.” MacNeil nodded. “And a second large cut. One for you, Pel. On…let’s say, the Statue?”
Pel didn’t need to ask which statue the editor was referring to. For weeks now the talk of the town had centered on one statue alone: Wyatt’s equestrian monster of the Duke of Wellington on his horse Copenhagen, which was to be erected on the Triumphal Arch at Hyde Park Corner this very month. Earlier this year the press had been granted a glimpse into the master’s workshops and on this occasion, the proportions of the planned statue had been revealed as well. Unfortunately for Wyatt, the sentiment that bigger is better was not universally shared.
Pel took a pencil from his pocket and reached for Nicklewick’s article on the goldfish. On the back of the paper, he began to draft a quick sketch. “What about…” The hawk-like nose, an outstretched arm. “…uh…shall we say…?” The curve of the horse, barely managing to stand on a minuscule arch.
Robbie Beaton looked over his shoulder. “I like that. Poor horsie; it looks as if it’s standing on raw eggs.”
Pel grinned. “Hmm.”
“How about a few clouds?” Beaton pointed. “Around the horse’s middle?”
A few darker whirls.
A birdie on top of the Iron Duke’s helmet, and a whole row of birds on his outstretched arm.
With a flourish, Pel wrote underneath the sketch, “London’s New Gigantic Bird Perch.” He turned the paper around to show it to MacNeil.
The editor looked at it for a moment, then nodded. “Call it ‘London’s Most Expensive Bird Perch’.”
Pel corrected the title. “What about that pavement thing of Nicklewick’s? If you shorten it and we add a comic illustration—like, the street as a giant monster waiting to devour aristocratic gentlemen—everybody will think it was meant as a satire in the first place.”
“Good thinking. I’ll do that.” MacNeil said. “And Dr. Grant has already sent his article for next week, which we can substitute for Nitwit’s thing on…” He looked at another piece of paper and turned up his nose. “’The Merits of Green Peas.’ Goodness!” His expression darkened once more. “That man will never set another foot in this office!” he muttered. “What else have we got?” He shuffled his papers around. “A review of Gervase Carlton’s latest literary offering. A nice one, that.—An article from Our Man Abroad. More about the diggings in the Near East.” He glanced at Beaton. “We already have an Assyrian lion for that one, haven’t we, Robbie?”
In lieu of an answer, Beaton pointed at one of the woodblocks lying on the table.
“Right. Another worry letter for Cupid’s Letter Box?”
“I’ll write that one,” Beaton said hastily. “You’re such a cynic when it comes to love, Mac. Nobody wants to hear what you think about the plight of a young girl who…hm….is wondering about whether or not to send a posy of forget-me-nots to a gentleman of her acquaintance—”
MacNeil groaned. “And thus we all die from an overflow of sentimentalism…”
Unperturbed by the criticism, Beaton just grinned and shrugged. “Flo quite likes the overflow of sentimentalism. Says it gives the magazine a heart.”
The editor threw him a sour look. “Your wife’s taste is not always sound, Robbie. Just look at whom she has married!”
Whistling, Beaton gazed at the ceiling. “Which, if I’m not mistaken, was the making of our magazine.”
“Yes, yes. The search for the Mystery Maiden—all very romantic.” MacNeil made a dismissive gesture. “My brains must have been addled at the time.” Again, he glanced at the clock. “Barely two hours before the issue has to go to the printers. We’d better get started, gentlemen. You go over and take care of those illustrations, Pelham. And tell them downstairs to send a boy to that new chap Tambling to tell him we’ll need another piece of literary criticism this afternoon. Not about peas!”