“Iron Bells” has St. Cyprian and Gallowglass investigating horrors in the Underground, and worse things waiting in London in 1922. It appears in the Emby Press anthology, Both Barrels, available via the publisher, as well as on Amazon.com and its international affiliates, and other online stores.
The low little shape scooted up the line towards the platform with a loud clackety-clack, the large spotlights mounted on the front, sides and back railing blazing away despite the relatively well-lit condition of the platform. It paused in a shower of sparks and a metal gangplank extended, connecting the platform with what was revealed as a heavy-duty hand-car with a chugging, chuffling gasoline engine mounted on the rear. Three men rode the car, dressed all alike in boiler suits and hard-hats with lamps mounted on the brims. Two had Thompson sub-machine guns clutched in their gloved hands, with extra ammo drums clipped to the harnesses they wore. The third man had a Mauser pistol holstered on his hip and a Webley revolver in his hand.
It was the latter who opened the side gate on the hand-car railing and beckoned St. Cyprian and Gallowglass forward. “Mr. St. Cyprian? Ian Stanhook, night-manager for the Thames Section. Glad to see you sir. Damn glad. Care to come aboard?”
“After you, Ms. Gallowglass,” St. Cyprian said. They boarded quickly and the hand-car set off with a squeal even before Stanhook had gotten the gate shut.
“Glad you could come out sir!” Stanhook shouted over the growl of the engine as they whipped through the tunnels.
“How bad is it?” St. Cyprian shouted back.
“Not as bad as Tunnel 18, but worse than Charing Cross!” Stanhook said, holstering his Webley. “Don’t know what it’s all about really though!”
“How are the seals holding?”
“Bit of leakage sir, but that’s natural!” Stanhook said grinning. “We can handle the odd vagrant, no worries!”
“You don’t think this is one of their lot then?” St. Cyprian said, ignoring Gallowglass’ inquiring look. “You’re sure?”
“Sure as we can be where they’re concerned!” Stanhook said. He gestured to the rail. “Hold tight, we’re heading to the sub-platform now!” Abruptly the hand-car took a sharp turn and then it was hurtling down a slope. Gallowglass repressed a squeal of fright. A moment later she glared at St. Cyprian who was grinning openly at her.
The hand-car slowed in a burst of sparks and the engine’s roar died to a grumble. Ahead of them, a solitary underground carriage sat on the track. More boiler-suit men occupied the platform, most carrying weapons. Once the plank was extended, Stanhook led St. Cyprian and Gallowglass up onto the platform. Another man took his place on the hand-car and it reversed course with a shriek, hurtling back up the tunnel.
“We’ve still got a few checks to run this evening,” Stanhook said by way of explanation. “We can’t let anything deter us from our appointed rounds, can we?” He took off his helmet and ran a hand through his sweaty mop of hair. He was a short man and built spare, with a wilting grin and a long face.
“So what exactly is it that you do down here?” Gallowglass said.
Stanhook looked at St. Cyprian, who shrugged. “Well, we see to the integrity of the Underground,” Stanhook said. “Keep the tunnels free of vermin and such.” He lit a foul-smelling cheroot with a match and sucked in a lungful of smoke. “We also see to certain sewer lines and cellars and such.”
“Vermin,” Gallowglass said.
“Mostly vermin,” Stanhook said, nodding.
“Not rats,” Gallowglass said, looking at St. Cyprian.
“Sometimes rats,” he replied.
“Of unusual size,” Stanhook said, spreading his hands. He dropped his hands and nodded to the carriage. “This wasn’t rats of any description though, I’m afraid.”
“No, it wouldn’t be,” St. Cyprian said, striding towards the carriage with his hands in his pockets. Gallowglass and Stanhook hurried to catch up. The doors were open and the smell of carnage was heavy on the recycled air. The guards on the doors steadfastly kept their eyes turned away. St. Cyprian gingerly stepped inside. “Mind the blood,” he said tersely…