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Anne Perry

Resurrection Row

1

The fog swirled thick and sour down the street, obscuring the distances and blurring the gas lamps above. The air was bitter and damp, catching in the throat, yet it did not chill the enthusiasm of the audience pouring out of the theatre, a few bursting into impromptu snatches of song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s new opera, The Mikado. One girl even lilted from side to side in imitation of the little Japanese heroine, before her mother told her sharply to remember herself and behave with the decorum her family had a right to expect.

Two hundred yards away Sir Desmond and Lady Cantlay were walking slowly in the general direction of Leicester Square, intending to hail a cab; they had not brought their own carriage because of the difficulty of finding a suitable place to meet afterwards. On such a January night one did not wish to keep the horses standing or roaming the area to pick one up. It was too hard to come by a really excellently matched pair to risk their health in such an unnecessary fashion. Cabs were plentiful enough and naturally gathered at the coming out of any theatre.

“I did enjoy that,” Lady Gwendoline said with a sigh of pleasure that turned into a shiver as a swirl of fog wreathed her and the damp touched her face. “I must purchase some of the music to play for myself; it really is delightful. Especially that song the hero sings.” She took a breath, coughed, and then sang in a very sweet voice, “A wandering minstrel I, a thing of rags and patches-er-what was next, Desmond? I recall the tune, but the words escape me.”

He took her arm to draw her away from the curb as a cab swished by, splashing manure where the street sweeper had gone home too early to clear it.

“I don’t know, my dear. I’m sure it will be in the music. It really is a miserable night, it is no pleasure at all to walk. We must find a cab immediately. I can see one coming now. Wait here and I’ll call him.” He stepped out into the street as a hansom loomed out of the mist, its slow hooves muffled in the blanketing damp, the horse dragging head down, almost directionless.

“Come on!” Sir Desmond said irritably. “What’s the matter with you, man? Don’t you want a fare?”

The horse drew level with him and raised its head, ears coming forward at the sound of his voice.

“Cabby!” Desmond said sharply.

There was no reply. The driver sat motionless on the box, his greatcoat collar turned up, hiding most of his face, the reins slack over the rail.

“Cabby!” Desmond was growing increasingly annoyed. “I presume you are not engaged? My wife and I wish to go to Gadstone Park!”

Still the man did not stir or steady the horse, which was moving gently, shifting from foot to foot, making it unsafe for Gwendoline to attempt to climb into the cab.

“For heaven’s sake, man! What’s the matter with you?” Desmond reached up and grabbed at the skirts of the driver’s coat and pulled sharply. “Control your animal!”

To his horror the man tilted toward him, overbalanced, and toppled down, falling untidily off the box over the wheel and onto the pavement at his feet.

Desmond’s immediate thought was that the man was drunken insensible. He would not be by any stretch the only cabby to fortify himself against endless hours in the bitter fog by taking more alcohol than he could handle. It was an infernal nuisance, but he was not without a flicker of understanding for it. Were he not in Gwendoline’s hearing he would have sworn fluently, but now he was obliged to hold his tongue.

“Drunk,” he said with exasperation.

Gwendoline came forward and looked at him.

“Can’t we do something about it?” She had no idea what such a thing might be.

Desmond bent down and rolled him over till the man was lying on his back, and at the same moment the wind blew a clear patch in the fog so the gaslight fell on his face.

It was appallingly obvious that he was dead-indeed, that he had been dead for some time. Even more dreadful than the livid, puffy flesh was the sweet smell of putrefaction, and a crumble of earth in the hair.

There was an instant’s silence, long enough for the in-drawing of breath, the wave of revulsion; then Gwendoline screamed, a high, thin sound smothered immediately by the night.

Desmond stood up slowly, his own stomach turning over, trying to put his body between her and the sight on the pavement. He expected her to faint; and yet he did not know quite what to do. She was heavy as she sank against him, and he could not maintain her weight.

“Help!” he called out desperately. “Help me!”

The horse was used to the indescribable racket of the London streets, and it was barely stirred by Gwendoline’s scream. Desmond’s shout did not move it at all.

He cried out again, his voice rising as he struggled to prevent her sliding out of his grip onto the filthy pavement and to imagine some way of dealing with the horror behind him before she regained her senses and became completely hysterical.

It seemed like minutes standing in the wreaths of coldness, the cab looming over him, silent except for the breathing of the horse. Then at last there were footsteps, a voice, and a shape.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” An enormous man materialized out of the fog, muffled in a woolen scarf, coattails flapping. “What happened? Have you been attacked?”

Desmond was still holding Gwendoline, who was at last beginning to stir. He looked at the man and saw an intelligent, humorous face of undoubted plainness. In the halo of the gaslight he was not so enormous, merely tall, and dressed in too many layers of clothes, none of which appeared to be done up correctly.

“Were you attacked?” the man repeated a little more sharply.

Desmond jerked himself into some presence of mind.

“No.” He grasped Gwendoline more tightly, pinching her without meaning to. “No. The-the cabby is dead.” He cleared his throat and coughed as the fog caught him. “I fear he has been dead some time. My wife fainted. If you would be kind enough to assist me, sir, I shall endeavor to revive her; and then I imagine we should summon the police. I suppose they take care of such things. The poor man is an appalling sight. He cannot be left there.”

“I am the police,” the man replied, looking past him to the form on the ground. “Inspector Pitt.” He fished absently for a card and turned up a penknife and a ball of string. He abandoned the effort and bent down by the body, touching the face with his fingers for a moment, then the earth on the hair.

“He’s dead-” Desmond began. “In fact-in fact, he looks almost as if he had been buried-and dug up again!”

Pitt stood up, running his hands down his sides as though he could rub off the feel of it.

“Yes, I think you’re right. Nasty. Very nasty.”

Gwendoline was now coming fully to consciousness and straightened up, at last taking the weight off Desmond’s arm, although she still leaned against him.

“It’s all right, my dear,” he said quickly, trying to keep her turned away from Pitt and the body. “The police are going to take care of it!” He looked grimly at Pitt as he said this, trying to make something of an order of it. It was time the man did something more useful than merely agree with him as to the obvious.

Before Pitt could reply, a woman came out of the darkness, handsome, and with a warmth in the curves of her face that survived even the dankness of this January street.

“What is it?” She looked straight at Pitt.

“Charlotte,” he hesitated, debating for an instant how much to tell her, “the cabby is dead. Looks as if he’s been dead a little while. I shall have to see that arrangements are made.” He turned to Desmond. “My wife,” he explained, leaving the words hanging.

“Desmond Cantlay.” Desmond resented being expected to introduce himself socially to a policeman’s wife,

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