The Silent Cry
The eighth book in the William Monk series, 1997
For Simon, Nikki, Jonathan, and Angus
John Evan stood shivering as the January wind whipped down the alley.
P.C. Shotts held his bull's-eye lantern high so they could see both the bodies at once. They lay crumpled and bloody, about seven feet apart on the icy, cobbled alleyway.
'Does anybody know what happened?' Evan asked, his teeth chattering.
'No, sir,' Shotts replied bleakly. 'Woman found them and oP Briggs came an' told me.”
Evan was surprised. 'In this area?' He glanced around at the grimy walls, the open gutter and the few windows blacked with dirt. The doors he could see were narrow, straight onto the street, and stained with years of damp and soot. The only lamppost was twenty yards away, gleaming balefully like a lost moon. He was unpleasantly aware of movement just beyond the perimeter of light, of hunched figures watching and waiting, the myriad beggars, thieves and unfortunates who lived in this slum of St. Giles, only a stone's throw from Regent Street in the heart of London.
Shotts shrugged, looking down at the bodies. 'Well, they obviously in't drunk or starved or freezin'. All that blood, I reckon as she likely screamed, then were afraid someone 'carder an' she din't wanter get blamed, so she went on screamin', an' other folk came.' He shook his head. 'They ain't always bad about lookin' arter their own around 'ere. I dare say as she'd 'a kept walkin' if she'd 'ad the nerve, an' thought of it quick enough.”
Evan bent down to the body nearer to him. Shotts lowered the light a little so it showed the head and upper torso more clearly. He was a man Evan guessed to be in his middle fifties. His hair was grey, thick, his skin smooth. When Evan touched it with his finger it was cold and stiff. His eyes were still open. He had been too badly beaten for Evan to gather anything but a very general impression of his features. He might well have been handsome in life. Certainly his clothes, though torn and stained, had been of excellent quality. As far as Evan could judge, he was of average height and solid build. It was not easy to tell, when someone was so doubled up, his legs splayed and half under his body.
'Who in God's name did this to him?' he asked under his breath.
'Dunno, sir,' Shotts answered shakily. 'I in't never seen anyone beat this bad before, even 'ere. Must 'a bin a lunatic, that's all I can say. Is 'e robbed? I s'pose 'e must 'a bin.”
Evan moved the body very slightly so he could reach into the pocket of the coat. There was nothing in the outside one. He tried the inside, and found a handkerchief, clean, folded linen, roll-hemmed, excellent quality. There was nothing else. He tried the trouser pockets and found a few coppers.
'Button 'ole's torn,' Shotts observed, staring down at the waistcoat.
'Looks like they ripped orff 'is watch an' chain. Wonder wot 'e was doin' 'ere. This is a bit rough fer the likes of a gent. Plenty o' tarts an' dolly mops no more'n a mile west. 'Aymarket's full of 'em, an' no danger. Take yer pick. Wy come 'ere?”
'I don't know,' Evan replied unnecessarily. 'Perhaps if we can find the reason, we'll know what happened to him.' He stood up and moved across to the other body. This was a younger man, perhaps barely twenty, although his face also was so badly beaten only the clean line of his jaw and the fine texture of his skin gave any indication of age.
Evan was racked with pity and a terrible, blind anger when he saw the clothes on the lower part of the torso soaked in blood, which still seeped out from under him on to the cobbles.
'God in heaven,' he said huskily. 'What happened here, Shotts? What kind of creature does this?' He did not use the name of the deity lightly. He was the son of a country parson, brought up in a small, rural community where everyone knew each other, for better or worse, and the sound of church bells rang out over manor house, farm labourer's cottage and publican's inn alike. He knew happiness and tragedy, kindness and all the usual sins of greed and envy.
Shotts, raised near this uglier, darker slum of London, found his imagination less challenged, but he still looked down at the young man with a shiver of compassion and fear for whoever could do this.
'Dunno, sir: but I 'ope we catch the bastard, and then I trust they'll 'ang 'im. Will if I 'ave anything ter do with it. Mind, catchin' 'im won't be that easy. Don't see nothin' ter go on so far. An' we can't count on much 'elp from them round 'ere.”
Evan knelt beside the second body and felt in the pockets to see if there was anything left which might at least identify him. His fingers brushed against the man's neck. He stopped, a shiver of incredulity going through him, almost horror. It was warm! Was it conceivable he was still alive?
If he was dead, then he had not been so for as long as the older man.
He might have lain in this freezing alley bleeding for hours!
'What is it?' Shotts demanded, staring at him, his eyes wide.
Evan held his hand in front of the man's nose and lips. He felt nothing, not the faintest warmth of breath.
Shotts bent and held the lamp closer.
Evan took out his pocket watch, polished the surface clean on the inside of his sleeve, then held it to the man's lips.
'What is it?' Shotts repeated, his voice high and sharp.
'I think he's alive!' Evan whispered. He drew the watch away and looked at it under the light. There was the faintest clouding of breath on it. 'He is alive!' he said jubilantly. 'Look!”
Shotts was a realist. He liked Evan, but he knew he was the son of a parson and he made allowances.
'Maybe 'ejus died after the other one,' he said gently. 'E's 'urt pretty dreadful.”
'He's warm! And he's still breathing!' Evan insisted, bending closer.
'Have you called a doctor? Get an ambulance!”
Shotts shook his head. 'You can't save 'im, Mr. Evan. 'E's too far gorn. Kinder ter let 'im slip away now, without knowin' anything about it. I don't suppose 'e knows 'oo dun 'im anyway.”
Evan did not look up. 'I wasn't thinking of what he could tell us,' he replied, and it was the truth. 'If he's alive we've got to do what we can. There's no choice to make. Find someone to fetch a doctor and an ambulance. Go now.”
Shotts hesitated, looking around the deserted alley.
'I'll be all right,' Evan said abruptly. He was not sure. He did not wish to be alone in this place. He did not belong here. He was not one of these people as Shotts was. He was aware of fear, and wondered if it was audible in his voice.
Shotts obeyed reluctantly, leaving the bull's eye behind. Evan saw his solid form disappear around the corner and felt a moment's panic. He had nothing with which to defend himself if whoever had committed these murders returned.
But why should they? That idea was a fallacy. He knew better. He had been in the police long enough, in fact over five years, since 1855, halfway through the Crimean War. He remembered his first murder. That had been when he had met William Monk, the best policeman he knew, if also the most ruthless, the bravest, the most