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41

She opened the door of Digbys Bookshop and walked into the gloomy interior. There were no customers. Digby was not at his desk behind the counter.

Mr. Digby?

There was no response. The door to the back room was closed.

She waited a moment. When no one appeared, she went around behind the counter and knocked on the inner door.

Mr. Digby? Are you in there? Ive come for the Milton. It is not yet five. If you have already sold the book to another client I will be most annoyed.

There was no sound from the other side of the door.

She wrapped her gloved hand around the knob and twisted gently. The door swung inward, revealing a shadowy, unlit, very cluttered back room. Books were piled high on a workbench. Crates and boxes were stacked everywhere. There was a large roll of brown paper and a pair of scissors on a table.

A faint, rather sweet odor made her wrinkle her nose. She was trying to identify it when she noticed the sturdy shoes sticking out from behind an open carton. The shoes extended from the ends of the legs of a pair of brown trousers.

Mr. Digby. What on earth?

She rushed into the room and around the carton. Digby lay sprawled face up on the floor. His eyes were closed. There was no sign of blood anywhere. Perhaps he had suffered a heart attack or stroke.

She crouched beside him, took off a glove, and felt for the pulse at Digbys throat. Relief swept through her when she discovered that he was still breathing, albeit lightly, and that his pulse was steady, if somewhat slow. She started to loosen his tie.

A floorboard creaked behind her. It was all the warning she got before a powerful masculine arm clamped around her and hauled her upright. She opened her mouth to scream. A large crumpled square of fabrica gentlemans handkerchief or a napkinwas shoved against her nose and mouth, forcing her to breathe through the fabric. The sweet odor of chloroform was inescapable now, its fumes choking her nostrils and filling her lungs. A wave of dizziness threatened to swamp her senses. She struggled frantically, only to discover that her forearms were pinned to her sides.

She kicked out furiously, her foot colliding with one of the cartons, overturning it. She tried again. This time there was a satisfying thud followed by an angry oath when the heel of one of her walking boots made contact with her assailants shin.

Damn bitch, Quinby muttered. He tightened his grip on her. Youre more trouble than youre worth. If I had my way, Id slit your throat and be done with it.

The dizziness was getting worse. She felt warm all over. Her stomach twisted. She had heard somewhere that chloroform was generally effective within a couple of minutes, often less; too much could kill. There was very little time.

She stopped clawing at Quinbys arms and abruptly went limp, hoping he would assume that the drug had done its job, but her captor was clearly not about to take chances. He kept the dreadful cloth tight across her mouth and nose.

She could barely think at all now. Everything was muddled. She was vaguely aware that there was something she had to do before she passed out.

Quinby dragged her across the room, evidently eager to get her out of the shop. She felt the weight of her muff dangling from the thin strip of velvet that secured it to her left wrist. She wriggled her hand weakly, hoping that, if Quinby noticed, he would assume the motion was merely an indication that her struggles were almost over.

The last thing she heard was the sound of a door being opened. She shook her hand slightly. It seemed to her blurry senses that the weight of the muff fell away, but she could not be certain. Darkness and the terrifying perfume of the chloroform claimed her.


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