Move Your Blooming Corpse by D.E. Ireland is the second historical cozy in the Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins mystery series (available September 22, 2015).
Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins are at the posh Royal Ascot, the biggest horse racing event of the season. Eliza's father is the new co-owner of a champion racehorse, and Eliza and Henry are excited to cheer the Donegal Dancer on to victory. However, their idyllic outing takes a serious turn when a victim is trampled during the Gold Cup race and someone is found murdered in the stables.
With time running out before the upcoming Eclipse Stakes, she and Higgins investigate jealous spouses, suffragettes and the colorful co-owners of the Donegal Dancer. But can they outrace the murderer, or will there be another blooming corpse at the finish line?
ROYAL ASCOT—JUNE 1913
A high-pitched scream pierced the air. Startled, Professor Henry Higgins looked up from his notebook. He saw only horses, jockeys, and a sea of outlandish hats. It was the third day of Ascot Week, and all of British society was in attendance, including the King and Queen. Half of London seemed to be crammed into the paddock where owners admired their horses while trainers gave last-minute instruction to nervous jockeys. As it was Ladies Day, hordes of titled women also milled about, vying to see who sported the most eye-catching ensemble and towering hat.
One of those ladies let out another shriek. “This is insufferable,” she said to her female companions as a stableboy led a magnificent black gelding past them. “How dare they allow a horse in here. The beast will trample us all!”
Higgins wrote in his notebook, Fifty-year-old matron born in northeast Scotland. Currently resides in Hampshire.
She shook her sky-blue parasol at the animal. “I insist this horse be removed!”
“Hush, woman,” Higgins said. “You’re in the paddock at Ascot Races, not Selfridges department store. The horse has far more right to be here than you do.”
“How dare you speak to me in such a fashion.” She pointed her parasol in his direction.
“And have a care how you wave that lace weapon,” Higgins continued. “At last year’s Ascot, some actress stabbed General Owen Williams in the cheek with her parasol. Injured the poor chap simply because she took fright at a horse. The addlebrained ninny.”
“Of all the nerve,” the lady said as her friends crowded about. “I cannot believe the ruffians they allow into the paddock.”
“Oh, I suspect you’ve known a few ruffians in your time, madam.” Higgins smiled. “Especially during your girlhood in Aberdeen.”
The woman’s mouth fell open.
“But several dozen years in East Hampshire have concealed much of your Scottish past. In fact, you spent your adolescence in the market town of Petersfield or its near environs.” This pronouncement caused her to visibly blanch.
“Do you know that gentleman, Lady Marjorie?” a white-haired friend asked.
“I certainly do not.” Lady Marjorie snapped open her parasol. “And he is no gentleman. More likely a sordid reporter spying for some penny daily.”
“Hardly that, madam. I am Henry Higgins, professor of phonetics and elocution. It is no boast to say that I can place a person within six miles of his birthplace after hearing a few sentences out of his—or her—mouth. And I can place a Londoner within a street or two.”
“Ridiculous.” The white-haired friend shot him her haughtiest look. “You’ll be performing circus tricks next, no doubt.”
“And you, madam, have spent all of your life in London, much of it in Notting Hill.” Higgins thought a moment. “Pinehurst Court, I believe.”
She gasped. The matrons looked at him as if he had just lifted their skirts.
“We have had quite enough of your insufferable rudeness,” Lady Marjorie said as she turned to go. “And I must say, that four-legged beast was preferable to a knave such as you.”
Higgins tipped his hat at the departing women.
“Really, Henry, I believe there is enough entertainment today at Ascot without you baiting the ladies.” His friend and colleague Colonel Pickering stood behind him, looking quite formal in his finest gray morning coat and silk top hat. He gestured at Higgins’s notebook with a silver-tipped walking stick. “And you might stop writing down speech patterns long enough to watch a race or two.”
“I’ve seen two races today, each lasting three minutes. You can hardly expect me to spend the afternoon conversing about horses and hats, which is all anyone here wants to talk about. Besides, I don’t want to converse, I want to listen. During one casual stroll, I can eavesdrop on dissolute earls or bookmakers from South London. Imagine the possibilities for recording regional dialects.”
“Hey, governor, why ain’t you in the stands?” a familiar voice called out to them.
Higgins nodded toward the man now pushing his way through the crowded paddock. “You see, even Cockney dustmen are here.”
Of course, Alfred Doolittle was no longer a dustman. After Higgins took on his daughter Eliza last year as a pupil, Alfred had come to 27A Wimpole Street hoping to shake down Higgins for a few quid. Instead of being insulted by Doolittle’s blatant appeal for money, Higgins was amused by the older fellow’s brash manner and colorful eloquence. As a lark, he mentioned the dustman to American millionaire Ezra D. Wannafeller. The last thing Higgins expected was that Wannafeller would offer Doolittle an annuity of three thousand pounds if he agreed to lecture for his Moral Reform League. Soon after, Alfred Doolittle left the squalor of the East End behind. He was a respectable member of the middle class now, with a wife, a house in Pimlico, and—most incredibly—an Irish racehorse.
“What’cha two gents doing in the paddock?” Alfred said when he reached them. “I convinced my Viscount to open up his private box for us owners and our friends. No reason to stay here. He’s put magnums of champagne chilling in buckets by every seat, he has.”
“Champagne gives me indigestion, and the Colonel has misgivings about sharing the largesse of your Viscount,” Higgins said.
Pickering frowned. “Of all the people I might ask to share ownership of a racehorse with, Saxton would be last on my list.”
“Does this mean you prefer Turnbull’s company?” Higgins asked in surprise. Jonathon Turnbull was yet another man who owned a share in Doolittle’s racehorse.
“Good grief, I’d forgotten about him.” Pickering shook his head. “My word, Doolittle, you chose two of the most scurrilous chaps in London society as partners.”
“And lucky I was to get them.” Doolittle adjusted his brushed top hat. Dressed even finer than Colonel Pickering, he sported a black morning coat, sharply pressed striped trousers, a black waistcoat, white gloves, and a green Ascot tie. His Oxford dress boots fairly gleamed in the June sunlight. No doubt Doolittle’s Savile Row tailor bills were impressive.
Higgins thought it time for a change of subject. “I trust you have been to the stables to see the Donegal Dancer. Does the jockey seem confident of victory?”
“Aye, Professor. Not only do I have the most fleet-footed colt to ever come from the Emerald Isle, there’s not a jockey better than Bomber Brody to ride him. A word of advice: get an Irishman to ride an Irish horse. The horses know the difference, they do.” Doolittle had acquired the racehorse only three months ago, but acted as if he were on the Board of Stewards at the Jockey Club. “Anyway, gents, the next race begins in fifteen minutes. You don’t want to be watching the most important race by jostling for a place along the track.”
“The King might disagree,” Pickering said. “Prince Palatine defends his title in the Gold Cup, and it’s no secret His Majesty favors last year’s champion. But Tracery may nose him out.”
“His Majesty is wrong to think the Gold Cup is the race to watch. He ain’t seen my Donegal Dancer fly down the course, now has he? Aye, and when he does, I wager he’ll want to buy my beauty. But none of us will sell a single hair on his fetlock.”
“That horse has a bewildering number of owners,” Higgins said. “I hardly think another one will matter.”
“I swear, I’d like as sell my darlin’ Rose rather than surrender that sweet colt.”
“Alfie! The race is starting soon!” The aforementioned Rose waved from the other side of the paddock. Doolittle’s wife looked as fancy as he did, and in their racing colors besides. Higgins’s eyes popped at her shamrock green dress and tricorn hat festooned with purple berries. When this was combined with her brassy red hair, Rose made quite the colorful figure.
Doolittle sighed. “Wish you gents would give a few lessons to my Rose. After all, it only took the two of you a few months to turn Eliza into a proper lady. Makes me proud to see her parading about Ascot like a blooming snob. I don’t mind telling you, Rose could do with a little polishing.”
Higgins shrugged. “Your wife seems to be doing fine at her first Ascot.”
“Let’s go, Alfie!” Rose yelled again. “Get your arse over here.”
“Perhaps a little polishing might be in order,” Higgins added.
“I’d best get moving.” Doolittle gave an exaggerated sniff to the sprig of violets in his lapel. “She don’t like to be kept waiting. And you two should get to our private box before the fun begins. Eliza is already there, eating every tea cake in sight. But I’m right offended she didn’t wear the Donegal Dancer’s racing colors. The least my daughter could do for her old dad is wear the green and purple of our silks.”
Higgins cast another look at the vividly arrayed Rose Doolittle. No reason to tell the man that Eliza was appalled at the idea of putting together a tasteful outfit in green and purple.
“Better get hopping. Don’t want the missus to be making a scene, now do we? She’s already been in the champagne and we ain’t even started to celebrate the Donegal Dancer’s victory—which is as sure as coal dust in Newcastle.”
Doolittle stepped nimbly through the crowd, tipping his hat to every other person in the paddock. “I declare, the fellow must know more people here than the jockey Fred Archer,” Higgins said to Pickering. “Bold as a pirate, and charming into the bargain.”
“I wish he had discretion as well as charm. How could he join a racing syndicate with Saxton and Turnbull? Half of London won’t accept Saxton into their homes, and the other half has barred Turnbull. I’ve made certain to sit in the back of the viewing box so as not to be seen.”
“At least you have Sir Walter for company.”
Sir Walter Fairweather was Senior Steward of the Jockey Club and an old acquaintance of the Colonel. He was also another person who owned a share of the Donegal Dancer.
“Thank heaven for Fairweather. At least he’s a decent chap. But his only interests are horses and gardening. And I would have thought he had more sense than to get involved with men such as Saxton and Turnbull.” Despite the Colonel’s scholarly honors and military exploits, he was still shocked by other people’s bad behavior. His naïveté sometimes amazed Higgins.
“Pick, these people are part of the racing world, not the Cathedral Choir at Christ Church. Doolittle could never have acquired or maintained a racehorse on his own, so he went to people who had money and credit.”
“Bad credit, you mean.” Pickering frowned. “Doolittle’s right about one thing. The next race is about to start, and Eliza expects us to watch it with her. But I do wish she hadn’t placed so large a bet. She has five guineas on the Donegal Dancer.”
Higgins winced. “By George, the girl is mad. That’s everything she’s managed to save up. At this rate, she’ll fall into debt before her father does.”
“I couldn’t talk her out of it. Anyway, we’d best go. Your mother asked us to join her in the Royal Enclosure, but I already promised Eliza.”
“You go on ahead. I heard an interesting turn of phrase nearby that I want to jot down.”
“Very well. But if you don’t make it on time, I will leave it to you to explain it to Eliza.” With a last warning look, Pickering made his way out of the sun-dappled paddock.
Once he left, Higgins sidled up to a bald fellow in a rumpled suit deep in conversation with one of the jockeys. He quickly wrote down their words. Too soon the pair walked off. As Higgins headed for Lord Saxton’s private box, he spotted a tall, middle-aged man a few feet away. He was also writing in a small notebook. Could he be a fellow scholar?
“Excuse me, sir. Are you a student of languages?” Higgins asked.
The scribbler looked up, his eyes wide with alarm. “Are you speaking to me?”
“Yes.” Higgins held up his own notebook. “I wondered if you were copying down speech patterns as I was.”
The man quickly closed his leather-bound book. “Not that it is any of your concern, but I was recording my impressions of the day.”
“A journalist, then?” Higgins eyed the fellow’s gray Norfolk jacket. While his suit was well made and expensive, it didn’t compare to the morning coats and tailored suits of the wealthier racing fans. Higgins wished he had dressed more casually today as well. Against his better judgment, Higgins had worn formal dress to Ascot, something he rarely did. He couldn’t wait to take off his blasted morning coat and top hat once he returned to Wimpole Street.
“Certainly not. Journalism is a dreadful profession.” His eyes shifted from side to side as if he expected someone to disapprove of him speaking with Higgins. “I always carry a diary and Bible with me. This way I can never forget God’s teaching.” His voice lowered. “Or important occasions which should be commemorated.”
“I only come to hear people’s speech patterns. I’ve no interest in horse racing.”
“Oh, I am not a fan of racing either.” He looked offended at the very idea. “It is a foolish and dangerous endeavor. Nor do I approve of the greedy, thoughtless people who come to watch. If there is a more despicable place than a racecourse, I have yet to find it.”
“If that’s how you feel, it seems a fine waste of a train trip and an entrance ticket,” Higgins said. The man stared back at him with a mournful expression. Could there be anyone duller than a sanctimonious fellow with no sense of humor? “I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Professor Henry Higgins.”
The man looked at Higgins’s outstretched hand for an uncomfortable moment before giving it a brief shake. “Harold Hewitt.”
Higgins grinned. “We have the same initials. In fact, you seem to have a preponderance of ‘h’s in your life, seeing how you come from Herefordshire. Even more remarkable, you also attended Harrow.”
He stiffened. “Whoever told you that?”
“It’s my job to identify where a person comes from after hearing them speak. Your intonations reveal you to be a native of Herefordshire. And you pronounce ‘commemorated’ as a student at Harrow would, or at least a student who was taught linguistics by Nigel Uppington.” Higgins cocked his head. “But I hear a bit of London in your speech, too. You currently live in the city. Perhaps the vicinity of Chelsea.”
Hewitt took a step back. “I find you rather presumptuous, Professor. If you will excuse me.” He bent down and opened a black satchel that sat at his feet. As Hewitt stuffed the diary into the bag, Higgins caught a quick glimpse of the contents.
This time, Higgins stepped back in alarm. Before he could think what to say, Hewitt gave him a curt nod and marched off, satchel in hand.
With growing unease, Higgins watched the man disappear among the noisy throng in the paddock. The next race was imminent, and the very air crackled with excitement. Higgins tried to catch sight of Hewitt again but failed. Everyone now pressed forward toward the track. He had little choice but to move with the crowd.
Better find a policeman or a racing official as soon as possible. But surrounded on all sides by excited racing fans, he couldn’t glimpse a single police uniform among all the morning coats and feathered hats.
Someone grabbed his sleeve. “Here you are.”
Eliza Doolittle looked resplendent in a summer ensemble of palest yellow. When he and Pickering took her on as a student last year, the Colonel replaced her few ragged dresses with a wardrobe fit for a duchess. Higgins thought Pickering spent far too much money on ensuring that Eliza was the best-dressed woman in the room. Today was no different. Her stylish gown, covered in scalloped embroidery, was as delicate as fairy dust in contrast to the large belted bow at her waist. And Higgins couldn’t help but marvel at her enormous hat crowned with gigantic yellow satin roses. Tilted at an exaggerated angle on her head, it blocked his view of anyone else in the paddock.
“Honestly, Professor, I can’t believe you’re still dawdling in the paddock. Not that I wouldn’t mind staying here myself. I don’t fancy some of my dad’s partners or their wives. And I hate my own dad’s wife. But if I have to suffer through their company, so should you.”
“I don’t know why I should suffer.”
“You’re the one responsible for getting my father the annuity. Without that, he’d be throwing back a pint in Whitechapel right now. And Rose wouldn’t be wearing a wedding ring on her fat greedy finger.”
Higgins groaned. Once Eliza began to complain about her stepmother, there was no stopping her. “Isn’t your cousin Jack here today? In an official capacity, I mean.” Jack Shaw was not only Eliza’s cousin, he was a detective inspector at Scotland Yard.
“I saw him about an hour ago. He’s worried about another incident like what happened at the Derby two weeks ago. There are police everywhere.”
“Where? Can you point them out?”
Eliza leaned on her parasol and scanned the crowd milling about them. “There are too many spectators in the paddock. I can’t get a good view, especially with all these hats.”
“They’re off!” someone yelled.
“Blimey! We can’t miss the race!” Grabbing his arm, Eliza dragged Higgins through the pressing throng. She didn’t let go until she’d pushed her way to a fenced-in area of the paddock. Aware of the grumbling at her intrusion, Eliza gave them her sunniest smile. “Please excuse me, but my father’s horse is running in this race. Wish me luck.”
Several displaced gentlemen did just that. Higgins wasn’t surprised. Although he was usually indifferent to feminine charm, most men considered Eliza a lovely young woman. And in her form-fitting yellow dress, eye-catching hat, and coiffed chestnut hair she seemed as ethereal as a woodland sprite. Of course, they hadn’t heard the Cockney cabbage let loose with any of her favorite East End phrases.
“Here they come!”
Eliza leaned over the paddock fence. The summer breeze lifted up the long ribbons on her hat and set them sailing behind her. Higgins resigned himself to watching the race. He wouldn’t be able to get a policeman’s attention with all eyes on the horses thundering down the track.
The roar of the crowd grew with each passing minute. The only empty space in all of Ascot was the dirt track stretching ahead of the horses. Fans lined up ten deep along the course, and the stands were packed with people. Higgins squinted at the horses making the far turn, trying to spot a reddish-brown colt with a black mane and tail. The sun was so bright, he tipped his top hat over his eyes to see better. He was grateful for the Donegal Dancer’s bold racing colors; the jockey’s bright green jacket with purple sleeves made the pair easy to spot.
“C’mon, Bomber Brody! Give the Dancer his head!” Eliza jumped up and down.
Higgins heard the pounding of the hooves as the straining horses drew near.
Eliza let out a delighted scream. “He’s pulling up to the lead! Do you see? Dancer is almost in first. Blimey!”
Higgins felt his heart race as the horses barreled down the course toward them. Maybe he should have put a guinea on the Donegal Dancer.
The crowd lunged against the railing. Higgins had to push a few people back or find himself squashed. He looked over to see if Eliza was unharmed. Good grief, she’d climbed onto the fence. Leaning over, Eliza pounded the railing with her parasol.
“Go, Dancer! Go faster, you bloody marvel!”
Higgins moved closer. “Watch your language, Eliza. Remember you’re a lady.”
The din rose to deafening levels when the horses rounded the turn. Then the traditional Ascot bell rang for the final stretch.
“Ride, Bomber! Ride!” Eliza beat her parasol to shreds.
Even Higgins got caught up in the excitement as the horses thundered past. “Go, Dancer!”
Eliza leaned so far over, Higgins grabbed the large bow on her sash to keep her from falling. “Move that blooming horse, Bomber!” she yelled.
A frenzied moment later, the Donegal Dancer crossed the finish line a nose ahead of the black gelding. As the crowd roared, Eliza threw herself into his arms.
“I love that horse! He’s faster than lightning, he is. And I love the races!”
Laughing, Higgins set her down. “Does this mean you’ll be spending all your free time now at the racecourse, rather than the cinema?”
“Don’t be daft. I put five guineas on that animal.” Eliza lifted her parasol. The silk was torn to pieces and the handle almost sheared in half. “Good thing, too. I’ll need to use some of my winnings to buy a new parasol.” With a shrug, she tossed it aside.
When Higgins offered her his arm, she tucked in her hand with a delighted sigh. “Wasn’t that the most wonderful thing you’ve ever seen? Dad must be dancing a jig right now.”
“And so he should. It seems your father knows something about horses after all. That, or he’s damnably lucky. But now that the race is over, help me find a policeman.”
Eliza looked perplexed. “Whatever for?”
“Right before the race, I exchanged a few words with a man carrying a leather satchel. When he opened it up, I got a peek at the contents. And I didn’t like what I saw.”
She stopped walking. “What was inside?”
“Books, a small flag.” Higgins frowned. “And a gun.”
Copyright © 2015 D.E. Ireland.
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D.E. Ireland is a writing team of two Michigan authors who met as undergraduates in an anthropology class and have remained friends ever since. Both are married to computer geeks, and each has one beautiful and brilliant daughter. Lifelong book lovers and history buffs, they have authored several novels on their own.