Tristan Rigal was aware he was being watched.
London was just as he had expected; foggy and dismal, streets thick with mud as black as ink and the people surly. He had arrived on the crowded docks three weeks ago, and for a time he was just one of the anonymous throng blending into the smoke and clamour of the great city.
Much had changed in the few years since he last visited London. It was now dirtier, noisier and taller. New buildings rose out of the mist, their upper stories lost to sight in the fog. Crowds gathered in the gloom and then dispersed, wraithlike, along with horses and carts and recognisable landmarks. November was the worst month for the evil humours that plagued the city. A million coal fires spewed smoke into the air, and rainwater accumulated into deep pools of filth.
Yet for all this, London was still as comfortable as an old coat, and he looked forward to living in a better part of town, close to the more respectable clubs and gaming halls. For the moment he had enough gold to keep himself living at the level of a gentleman, for that is what he chose to be here. In Paris it had been different. There the underbelly of society was more to his taste, as was the wine and the pleasures of Montmartre.
One day when the London miasma unexpectedly lifted he had been surprised to be greeted by at least three different people. A very well-dressed gentleman and an elegant woman both bowed slightly as they passed, but said nothing. Neither did they smile. He returned the bow, not sure why he should, but obviously they had mistaken him for someone else. Why disappoint them? Later that same day, though, he felt a tap on his shoulder when leaving his lodgings in St James's Street. Instinct made him reach for the knife under his coat, but he soon saw it wasn't necessary. This time the fellow had definitely taken him for someone else.
'John. You here in London? Why the devil have you not called. And Julia will want to see you.'
Rigal simply stared at him, not yet sure how to respond.
'I say, you look a little out of sorts. Is something wrong?' Again the man was extremely well-dressed. If Rigal had not been wearing his multi-layered coat, the rather frayed jacket underneath would surely have shown the fellow his mistake.
'Yes, well no.' He quickly decided to play along. 'Business brought me here. And it is tiresome. I need a diversion.'
'Ah, well I'm sure you know where to go for that.' The man's lips curled and he raised one eyebrow. 'But you've been away for a while, so you may not know that Madam Maxine's establishment has closed. No doubt she will open somewhere else when things go quiet. Of course there's always Ma Bonnington's. Go there. They tell me they have new talent.'
Rigal was quick to understand the type of establishment the fellow was recommending. Obviously this John he'd been taken for was no saint. Briefly, he considered exploiting the connection, but no, it would be risky. He had decided to stay out of trouble, at least until the money ran out.
'Perhaps I should,' he answered, affecting a disinterested expression. 'But I must leave you now. I have a pressing appointment.'
The fellow bowed. 'I'm glad I ran into you. I'll tell Julia you're here. Are you staying in Grosvenor Street?'
'Yes. For the moment.' Grosvenor Street was a very respectable address. His apparent look-alike was obviously a wealthy man.
'Well don't forget me if you decide to have a dinner party, m'lord.' And with that the stranger smiled and walked off into the crowded street.
Rigal stared after him in wonder. He had been mistaken for a lord, by someone who obviously knew the man well enough to ask for a dinner invitation.
That had been almost a week ago. When the November fog closed in again Rigal was glad of it. So far he had not chanced his luck at the high-class gaming tables. For the time being he had decided to confine his social life to the less than salubrious inns in the stews. Although he was initially bemused by the fact that he'd been taken for someone of high rank and privilege, the idea did not sit well with him. If it happened again, what should he do? He could deny all knowledge of this Lord John, who was obviously well-known in London society, or he could play along. It would be a dangerous game, but who knew what might be gained from a simple masquerade?
He had not come to a decision when the strange events that follow overtook him.