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30

The restaurant was the one they had begun using a little over a year ago when they had wished to meet privately. As was their custom they occupied a booth at the rear of the premises. From that position Anthony and Fowler both had a clear view of the entrance.

The small establishment was owned by a French chef and served a truly remarkable coq au vin. It also boasted an excellent selection of wine. Its chief attraction, however, was that it was tucked away in a tiny, anonymous lane, quite remote from Scotland Yard. Fowler did not have to be concerned about being spotted by any of his colleagues.

I told you last year that Gavins murder and Miss Barclays suicide had no connection to the deaths of Miss Risby and Mrs. Hastings, Fowler said. He forked up a bite of the chicken.

Im sure youre right. He had to be careful about this line of questioning, Anthony thought. There was a bond between himself and Fowler because of their mutual interest in learning the truth about Fiona Risbys death, but Fowler was still a detective. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that so many women chose to cast themselves into the Thames in the space of less than a month. What do you know about Lord Gavin?

Fowler snorted. As far as the Yard is concerned, the world is better off without him. I believe his widow is equally pleased to be free of the bastard.

The vehemence in Fowlers tone made Anthony pause. He lowered his fork slowly back down to his plate. You did not mention your strong feelings on the matter when we discussed Gavin last year.

No offense, sir, but I didnt know you well at the time. Fowler picked up his wineglass and took a sip. If you will recall, we had only just met. I told you as much as I thought you needed to know in order to satisfy yourself that there was no link between the Gavin affair and Fiona Risbys death.

I see. Now, of course, you have made me curious. Why are you pleased that Gavin is no longer among the living?

Fowlers brows rose. Were you acquainted with him, sir?

Only in passing. Saw him occasionally at the clubs, but we were never friends.

Fowler glanced at the adjoining booths, assuring himself that they were still empty. He lowered his voice. Lord Gavin was, shall we say, not unknown to those of us involved in murder investigations at the Yard.

Anthony went cold. I never heard any rumors to that effect.

Of course not. My superiors were careful to keep it all extremely quiet. There would have been hell to pay if it got out that we had linked his name with an investigation. Gavin would have been furious. Everyone involved at the Yard would have lost his position.

I understand.

You must not repeat any of what I am going to tell you in your clubs, sir.

You have my oath on it.

Fowler nodded once, satisfied. Very well. A few months before Gavins death the proprietor of a glove shop, a young widow who had taken over her husbands business, was raped and beaten almost to death. She was found in a state of shock by her shopgirl, who summoned the police.

Go on.

The victim named Lord Gavin as her attacker.

Anthony stilled. I read nothing about that in the press.

Of course not. Fowler snorted. It was hushed up immediately. Among other things, the proprietor of the glove shop was not the most credible of witnesses. She was having an affair with a married man at the time and had been overheard quarreling with her lover.

Anthony put down his fork. So it was assumed that he was the one who had beaten her in a fit of jealous rage and that she had named Lord Gavin as her assailant rather than reveal her lovers name.

Precisely. In the end the victim suffered an overwhelming attack of nerves and confessed that she had lied about Gavin having assaulted her.

Surely you are not going to tell me that she plucked Gavins name out of thin air and gave it to you?

No. He was one of her customers. Gavin purchased two pairs of gloves from her in the weeks before she was assaulted.

Did you speak with Gavin?

He refused my request for an interview. With no evidence and my only witness changing her mind about the facts of the case, there was nothing more I could do.

I sense the tale does not end there.

No, Fowler said, grim-faced. It does not. A month later another single woman living alone was found dead in the rooms above her shop. She had been raped, beaten, and stabbed to death.

Anthony pushed his plate aside, his appetite gone. That murder was in the press. As I recall, there were no arrests.

Because there was no evidence. The victim was unable to tell us anything because she was dead. However, there were certain similarities to the first assault that bothered me. I eventually found one witness who saw a man of Gavins description entering the shop on one or two occasions in the days preceding the crime, but that was not enough to act upon.

What did you do?

Fowler widened the fingers of one hand. I wanted to assign a constable to keep an eye on Gavin for a time, but my superiors were afraid that Gavin might notice and complain.

What happened next?

There was a similar death a month later.

Anthony raised a brow. Another single female shopkeeper?

Yes. In that case the victims neighbor said that in the weeks before the shopkeeper was killed she had confided that one of her gentleman customers was making her nervous. She said hed made improper advances and seemed angry when she rejected him. After that there were some incidents.

What sort of incidents?

Among other things, the shopkeeper found a crude drawing that had been shoved under her door. It was a picture of a nude women who had been slashed open with a knife.

Son of a bitch, Anthony said softly.

On another occasion the shopkeeper discovered a dead rat in her bed. Its head had been severed. The sheets were soaked with blood.

I suppose there was no way to link those incidents to Gavin?

Fowler shook his head. None.

Tell me about the scene at Gavins murder.

When I received a report that his body had been discovered in the rooms above Barclays Bookshop I went around at once. I found Miss Barclays suicide note.

Anything else?

A poker with blood and hair on it.

Was that all?

One more thing, Fowler said slowly. He set his fork down with great precision. It did not appear in the press because we did not tell the journalists about it. I discovered a knife on the floor beside the bed. Some might say, of course, that Miss Barclay intended to stab Gavin with it after she bashed in his head with the poker just to see to it that he was good and dead.

I take it you do not believe that was the case.

No, I do not. Ive a hunch the knife fell from Gavins hand when Miss Barclay struck him with the poker.

The image of Joanna Barclay fighting for her life against a man armed with a knife iced Anthonys blood. He looked down and noticed that he had made a fist. Very deliberately, he relaxed his fingers.

He went there to rape her and kill her, he said quietly.

Im absolutely certain that was the case. I had a look through Miss Barclays receipts and journal of accounts. Gavin had purchased three books from her on three separate occasions. That was part of his pattern, you see. He chose single women who were alone in the world. Shopkeepers he thought no one would miss, at least not for long. Women of modest backgrounds whose rank in the social order was much lower than his own.

Bastard.

A mentally unstable bastard, I believe, Fowler said. Ive run into his sort before. I think he began by beating his victims, but after a while that was not sufficient to satisfy his unwholesome lust.

So he started to murder them.

And would likely have gone on doing so had Miss Barclay not stopped him, Fowler said. In my opinion, she did us all a great favor by dispatching Gavin to the Other World. A pity she is no longer with us. I suppose she took her own life because she feared she would be charged with murder.

Such a fear would not be a fantasy, given her position in the world relative to Gavins. He held Fowlers eyes across the table. We both know that if Gavins family had determined to see Miss Barclay hanged for murder they might well have prevailed.

Fowlers heavy brows rose. Unfortunately, Miss Barclay had no way of knowing that Gavins wife had no love for her husband and his family is secretly relieved that he is gone. I suspect they had reason to fear his rages.

How did you learn that?

I talked to the servants, of course. Until his death last year there was a very high turnover in staff in the Gavin household.


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