Anthony climbed down from a hansom cab, paid the driver, and went up the steps of J. T. Tuttington’s Museum of Murder Most Foul. An older, badly faded sign was still visible over the entrance: BARCLAY’S BOOKSHOP.
A bell rang when he opened the glass-fronted door.
The interior was poorly lit. There were still a few volumes on the shelves. Cobwebs draped the higher sections of the bookcases. The sole occupant was a young woman seated behind the counter. She wore a plain dress and a neat white cap. She surveyed Anthony’s expensive attire and immediately put down the penny dreadful that she had been perusing.
“J. T. Tuttington?” Anthony said politely.
She giggled. “That’s my father, sir. My name is Hannah Tuttington. I look after the museum when he’s not here.”
He inclined his head. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Tuttington.”
Hannah Tuttington blushed at the polite greeting. “May I be of assistance, sir?”
“I understand that this is the scene of a scandalous murder.”
Hannah’s eyes widened. “That it is, sir. A most dreadful, bloody event, it was. A woman murdered her lover in cold blood on these very premises. Would you be wanting the full tour, then?”
“Yes, please.” Anthony took a coin out of his coat and put it on the counter.
Hannah snatched up the money. “This way, sir. We’ll start with the back room. Handsome Lord Gavin used to come around to that door when he called on her late at night.”
She hurried around the end of the counter and led the way into the rear of the old bookshop.
Before following her, Anthony glanced at the magazine she had been reading. The cover featured a lurid drawing of a dead woman lying at the foot of a flight of stone steps. The menacing figure of a man stood at the top of the steps, a knife dripping blood in one hand. The title read: A Complete History of the Dreadful Murder of Frances Hayes, a Prostitute.
He walked into the back room of the shop, taking his time, absorbing the feel of the place.
“I see you kept some of the previous owner’s books,” he said, looking at the cartons of old volumes stacked in the small space.
“Only a few left now. Pa sold most of them right after he took over the shop. In the first few days after the murder all sorts of odd people showed up on the doorstep wanting to buy the books.”
He looked at her. “What do you mean by odd?”
Hannah made a face. “They told Pa they were collectors. You wouldn’t believe the prices they were willing to pay for dusty old books. Who would have guessed that there was a market for that sort of thing? Pa thought we were going to get rich within the month, but after a while that sort stopped coming around.”
“And you were left with these volumes?” He motioned toward the cartons.
Hannah regarded them morosely. “Occasionally someone will buy one as a souvenir of the tour, but our customers aren’t willing to pay as much as the collectors did. Most of the books go for a few pennies now.”
“Do you have a lot of customers for your tour?”
“Not nearly as many as we did in the first few months after the murder.” Hannah sighed. “Business has been slow lately, I’m sorry to say. Pa’s doing his best to promote the museum, but there’s a lot of competition these days. Seems like hardly a week passes without another scandalous murder or suicide in the press. Pa’s thinking of going into some other line.”
“A wise decision, no doubt. Tell me about the murder.”
Hannah cleared her throat and assumed a melodramatic tone. “The name of the murderess was Miss Joanna Barclay. She was very beautiful, with long blond tresses and lovely blue eyes. Her lover’s name was Lord Gavin. He was ever so elegant and handsome.”
“Where did you get the descriptions?” Anthony said.
Hannah blinked at the interruption. “Why, from the newspapers and penny dreadfuls, of course. I assure you, every detail is based on fact, sir.”
“Of course. Please continue.”
“On the night of the dreadful event Joanna Barclay heard handsome Lord Gavin knock three times here at the back door.”
Hannah made a fist and knocked in what was no doubt meant to be an ominous fashion.
“How do you know that he knocked three times?” Anthony asked.
“It was their secret code.”
“If it was a secret code, how did you come to learn it?”
Hannah frowned, thrown off-stride again by the question. “Pa read about the code in one of the penny dreadfuls.”
Anthony nodded. “Always a reliable source of information.”
Hannah resumed her sepulchral tones. “Miss Barclay came downstairs to greet her handsome lover dressed only in her nightgown, robe, and slippers.”
“How do you know what she wore? Did you get that out of the sensation press accounts, too?”
“Pa says the customers like to hear the details,” Hannah confided. “So I made up some. Makes the story more interesting that way.”
“Very enterprising of you.”
“Thank you, sir.” Hannah was pleased. “As I was saying, the lovely Joanna Barclay came down the stairs dressed for a night of illicit passion. She unlocked this very door to welcome her elegant lover.”
Anthony studied the lock. It was a relatively new model that had not been on the market long. What interested him were the marks in the wood around it. There were several grooves and gouges. He could see the outline of a previous, much larger device.
“Was this lock on the door at the time of the murder?” he asked.
“No, sir.” Hannah frowned, obviously bewildered by the question. “Pa had to install a new one when he rented the premises. The one that was on before was broken.”
“Any idea how it got broken?”
Hannah shook her head, baffled. “How would I know that, sir?”
Hannah coughed slightly and once again took up her tale. “After letting her handsome lover in on that fateful night, Joanna Barclay gave Lord Gavin a most passionate kiss, took him by the hand, and led him up the stairs. Little did he know that he was climbing to his own death.”
“No, I doubt that he had any inkling of his fate,” Anthony agreed, studying the staircase.
“Come along, sir. I’ll show you their secret love nest.”
Hannah started up the staircase that led to the rooms above the shop. He followed, listening to the groans and squeaks of the old treads.
She did not go downstairs to open the door for him. She heard him smash the lock, and then she heard his footsteps on the stairs.
At the top of the narrow steps, Hannah swept out a hand to indicate a cozy little sitting room. There was not much in the way of furniture, Anthony noticed. A chair for reading, a table, a lamp, and a heavy trunk. It appeared a lonely little space.
“Furnished just as it was on the night of the murder, sir,” Hannah assured him. “As I was saying, Joanna Barclay led her doomed lover into this very room, sat him down, and gave him a glass of wine.”
Anthony looked at the table. “I don’t see a glass. How do you know she gave him something to drink?”
“Drinking wine is the sort of thing lovers do together.”
Anthony nodded. “Should have thought of that.”
Hannah’s voice lowered to a theatrical whisper. “There was a violent quarrel.”
“Did you make up that bit, too?”
“It stands to reason that they argued, sir,” Hannah said patiently. “Why else would she have murdered him?”
“An excellent question. Did anyone hear the shouting?”
Hannah sighed. “There was no one living next door at the time.”
“What was the quarrel about?”
“According to the reports in the press the quarrel came about because Lord Gavin told Miss Barclay that he was going to cast her aside in favor of another.”
“Why?” Hannah was clearly bewildered. “Why, because he was tired of her, I expect. She was his mistress, after all. Gentlemen often get tired of their mistresses. Everyone knows that.”
“Very well.” Hannah drew herself up and pointed toward a curtained doorway with a dramatic flourish. “Joanna Barclay invited the elegant Lord Gavin into her bedroom one last time. He went with her little knowing he would never leave it alive.”
Anthony went to the doorway and pulled the curtain aside. There was a small dressing table and a wardrobe. The sheets and quilt on the narrow bed were pulled back and rumpled, presumably to indicate energetic lovemaking. There were some old, rusty brown stains on the carpet.
“After their last passionate embrace Lord Gavin fell asleep,” Hannah explained. “Joanna Barclay rose from the bed, picked up the poker you see there next to the nightgown, and struck her doomed lover most violently on the head.”
A demure white-lawn nightgown edged with dainty lace was draped across the lower portion of the bed.
“Did you replace the bedding?” he asked.
“No, sir. Everything in this room is guaranteed to be exactly as Pa found it when he opened the museum. I shake out the sheets and the nightgown once in a while and dust the furniture, but that’s all.”
Anthony walked to the bed and looked down. “There are no bloodstains on the sheets. Did you wash them out?”
“No, sir.” Hannah frowned. “I don’t recall any bloodstains on the bedding.”
“Probably because they are on the carpet,” Anthony said mildly.
Hannah struggled with that discrepancy for a moment and then brightened. “I expect Lord Gavin woke up just before she hit him and rolled off the bed onto the carpet in a futile attempt to dodge the blow.”
“That’s certainly one plausible theory.”
He opened the wardrobe. Two faded dresses and a pair of shoes were inside.
He walked back into the sitting room and crouched beside the trunk. There was a sturdy lock, but it was open. He raised the lid and looked inside. It was empty.
“What did you find inside the trunk?” he asked Hannah.
She screwed up her face into an expression of deep concentration. “If there was ever anything inside, it was gone before Pa rented the place. Why do you ask?”
“Never mind. It’s not important. I was merely curious.”
“Well, then,” Hannah said, “after Joanna Barclay murdered Lord Gavin in that terrible fashion, her nerves were shattered. She sobbed bitterly.”
Joanna Barclay had fitted the trunk with an expensive lock. Whatever had been stored inside must have been of considerable value to her. The lock had not been broken. It had been opened by someone who either possessed the key or knew how to pick a lock.
“They say she committed suicide,” Anthony remarked, rising.
“I was getting to that part.” Hannah gave a theatrical shudder. “Like I was telling you, after she murdered her handsome lover, Joanna Barclay plunged into a fit of despair. She went to the river, threw herself off a bridge, and drowned. They found a feathered hat caught on a bit of drifting wood.”
“But they never found the body.”
“No, sir, that’s true.”
“Thank you, Miss Tuttington. Your tour was very educational.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it, sir.”
A short time later he left Tuttington’s Museum wondering what had been in the trunk and why a woman who planned to take her own life would have bothered to take the contents with her. It occurred to him that for a little over a year he had been obsessed with the questions that swirled around Fiona’s death. Those questions still required answers. But for some reason it was the mystery of another woman that compelled him now.