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18

Halsey Street proved to be a small, cramped passage in a modest part of town. Drenched in fog, it seemed to exist in some separate, isolated world. Louisa studied the scene through the window of the cab. The neighborhood appeared deserted. There were no pedestrians and no traffic.

Anthony ordered the cab to halt, opened the door, vaulted down onto the pavement, and lowered the steps. Louisa adjusted her veil and allowed herself to be handed out of the vehicle.

Be so good as to wait for us, Anthony instructed the driver.

Aye, sir. The man settled back and took a flask out of one of the pockets of his coat. Ill be here when youre ready to leave.

Louisa walked with Anthony through the swirling mist to the front door of Thurlows lodgings.

Anthony rapped sharply. There was no response.

That is odd, Louisa said. I can understand Mr. Thurlow being out, but one would think that there would be a housekeeper about.

Anthony studied the heavily draped windows with a speculative expression. If there is a housekeeper, she may have gone shopping.

Something in his tone caught her attention. What are you thinking, sir?

That we will obviously have to come back another time. He took her elbow and started toward the waiting cab. Come along, Mrs. Bryce. I will take you home.

Hah. She came to a halt, forcing him to stop, too. Do not think you can fool me so easily, sir. You are plotting to get me out of the way so that you can return here to Halsey Street and break into Mr. Thurlows lodgings to have a look around, are you not?

You wound me with your lack of trust, madam.

I shall do more than wound you if you try to keep me out of this.

If you think that I am going to allow you to break into Thurlows rooms with me, you are delusional. I will not be responsible for your arrest on burglary charges.

Pointedly, she looked around the empty lane. I see no sign of a constable anywhere in the vicinity. We are highly unlikely to be arrested if we are careful. No one will take any notice of us if we go in through the front door. If someone does happen to see us, he or she will simply assume that the occupant has let us inside.

The front door is most likely locked, Mrs. Bryce.

Im certain that a person capable of breaking into an Apollo Patented Safe will have no great difficulty with a simple door lock. I will stand in front of you while you do your work. My skirts will conceal your actions.

And if someone does question our presence inside the house? he asked.

We will tell them that we are friends of Mr. Thurlow and had cause to be concerned about his health.

Huh. He contemplated that for a few seconds. Not bad. Not bad at all.

We entered to assure ourselves that he was not ill, she continued blithely. Who would contradict us?

Thurlow, himself, perhaps, if he happens to walk in on us while we are searching the premises?

He is hardly likely to summon a constable once we inform him that we are aware he is involved in an extortion scheme.

Anthonys teeth gleamed in a wolfish smile. Mrs. Bryce, you and I do tend to think alike when it comes to certain matters.

Indeed, sir. She smiled, aware of a keen sense of anticipation. Now, if you would be so good as to go about your business?

This shouldnt take long. He put his hand on the knob and twisted experimentally. The door opened easily. Not long at all.

Louisa frowned. Mr. Thurlow must have neglected to lock the door when he left.

Anthony pushed the door open wider, revealing an empty hall. Louisa did not like the heavy silence that emanated from the interior of Thurlows lodgings. She felt the hair stir on the nape of her neck.

Anthony glided into the shadowed opening. There was a predatory alertness about him that sent another little chill across her nerves. He, too, sensed that something was very wrong.

She followed him inside, raised her veil, and looked around.

Thurlows lodgings were typical of those belonging to a man of modest means. She looked into the parlor, which was quite small and sparsely furnished. A hall led to the kitchen and a rear door that likely opened onto an alley. A narrow staircase ascended upward into deep shadow.

Anthony closed the door. Is there anyone home? he called in a voice that was pitched to carry to the upper floor. The reverberating silence seemed almost suffocating.

Louisa ran a fingertip along the top of the hall table. Her glove came away slightly smudged.

He employs a housekeeper, but from the looks of things I would say that she does not come around every day.

Which may explain why she is not here today, Anthony said.

He went into the parlor and opened the drawers in the desk. Removing a sheaf of papers he rifled through them quickly.

Anything of interest? she asked.

Bills from his tailor and other tradesmen to whom he owed money. Anthony put the stack of papers back into the drawer and picked up a small notebook. He flipped through the pages. Miss Fawcett was right. Thurlow is, indeed, an inveterate gambler.

What have you got there? She tried to peer over his shoulder.

A record of people to whom he owes money. Anthony turned a few more pages. Evidently he routinely gets into debt and then somehow manages to pay off his creditors.

He must win occasionally, in that case.

This record goes back nearly three years. A few of the debts are quite large. Several thousand pounds in some instances.

Anthony returned the notebook to the desk drawer.

She trailed after him through the remaining rooms on the ground floor. Nothing appeared out of place. It was as if Thurlow had walked out the door only moments before they arrived.

When they returned to the front hall, Anthony started up the stairs. Louisa hurried after him. The oppressive sensation seemed to grow heavier.

At the top, Anthony halted, looking down the short hall to a closed door. Louisa stopped, too, unaccountably chilled.

What is it? she asked.

Wait here, he said quietly. He may be asleep in bed. Gamblers keep late hours.

She ignored the order, but she was careful to keep a respectful distance behind him. The last thing she wanted to do was walk into the room of a sleeping man.

Anthony seemed unaware of her presence. Everything about him was concentrated on the closed door at the end of the hall. He knocked once. When there was no response, he turned the knob. The door opened with a long, mourning sigh of the hinges. He stood in the opening, looking into the heavily draped and shadowed room. He did not move.

Dread tightened Louisas nerves. She did not want to go any closer, but she forced herself to move to the doorway. The unmistakable miasma of blood and death flowed from the room.

You do not want to come any farther, Anthony warned in a flat, cold voice.

She took a handkerchief out of her muff and held it to her nose. Then she looked past him into the room.

A man lay face up on the bed, blankets and sheets tumbled around his waist. There was something terribly wrong with his head. The white linen pillow case was saturated with blood.

A hellish vision seemed to shimmer in the air in front of her. Lord Gavin had looked just like this when he lay dead on the floor of her bedroom.

Louisa? Anthonys voice was sharp and brutal. Are you going to faint?

No. She pulled herself together with an effort. I wont faint.

The dead mans arm was crooked at the elbow, she noticed, the hand not far from his head. The lifeless fingers were wrapped around the handle of a revolver.

Dear God, she whispered. He took his own life.

Anthony walked across the room to stand looking down at the body.

Now this is interesting, he said.

Louisa was shocked by the stunning absence of emotion in his voice. Anthony sounded as if he were making an observation on the weather. But his face, she saw, had gone very hard, his eyes stone cold.

What do you mean? she managed.

I wonder what the odds are of two of Hastingss employees committing suicide within the span of a little more than two weeks, he said.


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