The hansom was parked in the shadows at the end of the dark street. Anthony sat in the cab. He had been watching the door of the gentlemen’s club for nearly an hour, waiting for Hastings to appear. It was three in the morning. The early rumors of Thurlow’s death would no doubt have begun to circulate by now. Gossip flowed first through the clubs. He wanted to see how Hastings reacted to the news.
Although he was here to keep an eye on his quarry, his thoughts were on Louisa. She had expected a transcendent experience. He’d blundered badly, and he had no one to blame but himself. On the other hand, she had deliberately misled him with her mysterious widow charade. Nevertheless, if he’d exercised even a modicum of control he would have realized that he was kissing an inexperienced woman.
But self-control had not been at the forefront of his thoughts tonight, at least not after he’d initiated that kiss in the Lorrington gardens. At the time he told himself that the embrace had started out as a means of both keeping Louisa quiet and promoting the impression that they were engaged in an affair. But the truth was, he’d been hungering for her since the first moment he’d met her.
Louisa’s searing response had pushed him to the edge of his self-control, overwhelming rational thought. The realization that she wanted him had created a sudden, indescribably exhilarating euphoria. In those first tumultuous moments the only thing he had been able to concentrate on was finding a secluded place where they could be together.
In hindsight, however, he had to admit that a gardener’s workbench was probably not the most romantic location he could have chosen, and there was no question but that he had rushed things. Even an experienced woman of the world would have had some legitimate complaints under the circumstances. An inexperienced lady whose only knowledge of passion came from romantic novels and plays had every right to be disappointed.
The door of the club opened, just as it had several times during the past forty-five minutes. This time Hastings appeared. A familiar-looking figure in a long overcoat and a low-crowned hat straightened away from the railing he had been lounging against, tossed aside his cigarette, and stepped forward.
“Are you ready to leave?” Quinby asked.
“Get me a hansom,” Hastings rasped. “I have just received a message. We must be off at once.”
Anthony rapped softly on the back of the cab in which he was seated. “Are you awake up there?”
“Aye, sir,” the driver muttered through the opening. “Just resting my eyes for a bit, is all.”
Quinby whistled for a hansom. One rolled forward and stopped at the front steps of the club. The two men climbed in quickly.
“I want you to follow that cab at a discreet distance,” Anthony said to the driver. “I do not want the occupants to know that we are behind them, but neither do I want to lose them. There will be a good tip in it for you if you can manage to keep up with the vehicle.”
“That won’t be a problem, sir. They’ll never notice us in this traffic.”
The driver slapped the reins lightly against the horse’s rump. A four-wheeled carriage would have had great difficulty pursuing another cab in the busy streets, but the fast, highly maneuverable, two-wheeled hansom easily threaded a path through the traffic.
After several twists and turns, the cab in which Hastings was traveling entered an older neighborhood, where the streets were cramped and poorly lit, and many of the windows in the buildings were dark. The only bright spot was a small tavern aglow with a sinister yellow glare.
What would make a man like Hastings risk a journey into one of the more dangerous sections of the city?
Hastings’s cab halted in front of the tavern. The driver of Anthony’s hansom stopped some distance away.
Hastings and Quinby got out of the cab, taking no notice of Anthony’s vehicle. Quinby put a hand inside the pocket of his coat and left it there. He carries that gun with him everywhere, Anthony thought.
“The message said he would meet with me at the end of this passage.” Hastings halted at the opening of a dark, narrow service walk that separated the tavern from the neighboring building. “Strike a light. You will go first.”
Quinby said nothing, but he struck a light, as ordered. The flame illuminated his hard face. Anthony watched him look around, assessing the scene with flat, streetwise eyes. He glanced at the second hansom. Anthony knew there was no way Quinby could see him in the dense shadows of the cab, but the scrutiny raised the hair on the nape of his neck, nevertheless.
Evidently concluding that Anthony’s hansom presented no immediate threat, Quinby drew his revolver and led Hastings into the unlit passage.
Anthony dug some coins out of his pocket and handed them to the driver through the opening in the back of the hansom.
“That is the tip I promised you,” he said. “There will be another if you are here when I return.”
The driver made the coins disappear with a smooth, practiced gesture. “I’ll be here.”
Anthony got out of the cab and went toward the entrance of the walk where Hastings and his companion had vanished. When he reached it he could see the faint, yellowish glow of the guard’s light at the far end. Three figures were illuminated, Quinby, Hastings, and a third man. Voices rumbled faintly, but it was impossible to make out what was being said.
A moment later the guard’s light went out. Footsteps sounded on stone. Hastings and Quinby were returning, moving swiftly.
Anthony flattened himself into the heavy shadows of a doorway. Hastings burst out of the passage almost running, followed by Quinby, who, unlike his employer, did not appear to be agitated.
Hastings climbed into the cab in which they had arrived. Quinby got in after him. The driver set off at a brisk pace.
Anthony waited a moment longer. Then he took the revolver he had brought with him out of his pocket and cautiously entered the narrow passage.
At the far end a lantern flared to life, throwing the silhouette of a man against the wall. The figure moved quickly toward the opposite end of the passage. Anthony followed, trying not to make any noise on the stone path, but the man must have heard something or perhaps he was simply nervous. He swung around abruptly and yanked a cigarette out of his mouth.
“Who goes there?” he demanded. He held the lantern high, peering into the shadows. “Is that you again, Mr. Hastings? What do ye want now? I told you everything I know, I swear it.”
“Then you can tell me,” Anthony said, moving into the light so that the man could see the gun. “I assure you, I will pay as well or better than Hastings.”
The man’s face contorted with fear. “Here, now, ye’ve no cause to shoot me.”
“I have no intention of doing so. The gun is merely a precaution. I have the impression that this is not the best of neighborhoods. What’s your name?”
There was a short pause.
“Did you mean what you said about paying as well as Hastings?” the man asked warily.
“Yes.” Anthony reached into his pocket and took out some coins. He tossed them down onto the stones. They bounced, spun, and gleamed in the lantern light. “There’s more where that came from you if answer my questions.”
The man looked at the coins with a speculative expression. “What do ye want to know?”
“Your name first.”
“They call me Slip.”
“How did you earn that title?”
Slip grinned, displaying several gaps in his teeth. “I’m good at slipping around without being noticed.”
“Is that what Hastings hired you to do?”
“Aye, sir. I’m a professional, if I do say so, and my work is admired in certain quarters. Hastings put out the word that he wanted to employ a person with my skills. The price was right, so we came to an agreement.”
“What sort of slipping around did Hastings request of you?” he asked.
“Nothing complicated,” Slip said. “I was to keep an eye on a certain gentleman. See where he went. Make a note of his visitors, that sort of thing.”
“What was the address of the gentleman?”
“Halsey Street. But ye can save yourself the bother of calling on him. They carried his body away late this afternoon. Seems he put a pistol to his head. Rumor has it he couldn’t pay his gambling debts.”
“Did Hastings appear disturbed by that turn of events?”
“He already knew about Mr. Thurlow’s death before he came here tonight. Said he’d heard the rumors at his club. He seemed disturbed, right enough. Probably suffers from weak nerves.”
“You sent Hastings a message at his club tonight.”
“Aye, that I did. I arranged for a meeting so that I could give him my final report on Mr. Thurlow’s affairs and collect my fee.”
“What information did you give Hastings?” Anthony asked.
“Weren’t much to tell. Last night Mr. Thurlow spent the evening in the hells, as was his custom. He went back to his lodgings at dawn, drunk as a lord. I watched him go inside. Then I went home. I didn’t return to Halsey Street until two o’clock this afternoon. Figured Mr. Thurlow wouldn’t get out of bed until at least noon or later, so I had plenty of time.”
Slip had arrived after he and Louisa had both left Thurlow’s lodgings, Anthony reflected. That was good news. It meant Slip had not seen Louisa.
“What of the housekeeper?” Anthony asked. “Did she leave while you were watching Thurlow’s door?”
“No. She wasn’t there at all. This was her day off.”
“What did you do after you got to Halsey Street this afternoon?”
“I could see a constable at the front door and a lot of people standing around in the street. Someone said there was a man from Scotland Yard there, too, so I took myself off straightaway. I make it a policy not to linger in the vicinity of policemen. No good ever comes of it.”
“Do you think Thurlow killed himself because of his gambling debts?”
“Doesn’t seem likely,” Slip said. “He won last night and was in a grand mood when he went home. Must have had some other reason for taking his own life.”
“How long did you watch him for Hastings?”
“No more than a day or two.”
“Did he have any visitors during that time?”
“If he did, they didn’t come through the front door.”
“What do you mean?”
“Simple logic, sir,” Slip said. “I kept an eye on Thurlow’s lodgings from across the street. Can’t see the back door from there, now can I?”
The killer had come through the rear door, Anthony thought. Perhaps he had followed Thurlow home last night or maybe he had been acquainted with Thurlow’s routine and knew that his quarry would return to his lodgings quite drunk.
Thurlow had gone to bed, dead to the world because of the sprits he had imbibed. He had probably never awakened, never known that the killer was inside his bedroom.
The murderer had put the pistol to Thurlow’s head and pulled the trigger. Then he had arranged the suicide scene and conducted a very thorough search of the premises before leaving the note and exiting through the back door.
But if Hastings had hired Slip to watch Thurlow, Anthony thought, there was now a gaping hole in his theory that Hastings had murdered the gambler.