for him on the second-floor landing. Having summoned as many gas lamps as they could solicit in such a short space of time, Fox and Vines were surveying the upper floors of the lodging house, now flooded in brilliant light.

Pyke was not surprised by the enthusiasm with which they had responded to his discovery, for they had dispatched all available men under their authority to the scene. He knew they were not necessarily moved by the incomprehensible horror of the murders. Rather, as politically minded bureaucrats, they intended to use this opportunity to stake their claim on the events of the day.

Fox and Vines had come from separate dinner appointments and looked utterly out of place, dressed in formal attire and standing in a dismal building in one of the worst slums of the city.

‘There will have to be a proper investigation, of course,’ Fox said, as though the matter had already been agreed upon. ‘The sooner whoever did this is behind bars the better it will be for everyone.’

‘I can’t imagine Peel would want it otherwise.’ Vines nodded.

‘Perhaps, but then again, I wouldn’t want to speculate on what our venerable Home Secretary might have in mind.’

‘Given Peel’s propensity for changing his mind, who would?’ Vines glanced disparagingly at Pyke. ‘But he’ll use this as an opportunity to limit your authority.’ He disliked Pyke’s closeness to Fox and as a result took every opportunity to make his life as uncomfortable as possible.

‘Peel might want to,’ Fox said, absent-mindedly rubbing his chin, ‘but does he yet have the power? I am still the most senior police officer in the city.’

‘For the time being anyway,’ Vines muttered, with dejection.

As all runners were, Pyke was aware that Peel was shortly going to introduce the Metropolitan Police Bill to the Commons with the expectation of winning the House’s approval.

‘Peel can do what he likes. I have the law on my side. So until I am informed otherwise, this investigation will be run from Bow Street.’

But Pyke noted wryly that Fox had still been sufficiently worried about Peel’s plans to arrange a dinner with Sir Henry Hobhouse, a retired Tory who continued to enjoy a close relationship with Peel.

Vines also seemed to detect Fox’s anxiety and said, ‘Except that the law is only what the law-makers say it is.’

He was meticulous about his appearance, and was rumoured to be the favourite of more than one lady of good standing. His fashionably cut jacket evoked the spirit, if not the style, of Brummel. Pyke often caught Vines staring at his thinning hair and truncated sideburns in the mirror. Vines made no secret of the fact that he wanted to succeed Fox when he retired, and was no doubt distressed by Peel’s proposals for a new police force because they threatened his own plans for advancement.

‘Have you any thoughts in these matters, Pyke?’ Fox said, turning to him.

It might have seemed strange to outsiders that Fox would value and solicit his opinions, but in the light of their long-standing association, this was neither unusual nor revealing.

‘You know what I think, Sir Richard. When Peel wins the vote, which he will, the first thing he’ll do is try and incorporate all policing activities under the direct control of the Home Office.’

For weeks, the ranks of the Runners had been buzzing with rumours about the planned reforms and the sense of unease this news created was not helped by the fact that Fox himself believed that Peel might prevail. In the past, Peel had overstepped the mark by unfairly castigating the existing system for being corrupt and inefficient, but this time he had sensibly opted to stress the positive aspects of the proposed reforms: that everyone in London would have the same access to the same force, regardless of rank, situation or address.

When Fox had solicited his opinion, what Pyke did not say, because it would have implicated himself, was that Peel disliked the Runners not just because they received incentives and rewards for work successfully undertaken but rather because, in order to do so, they had to mix freely with criminals. In other words, Peel did not understand that they could not do their job without information provided by criminal informers. And while Pyke took it upon himself to personally benefit from these illicit associations, he had also made more arrests and gained more convictions than any other Runner attached to the office.

But unlike Fox, who believed in the Bow Street Runners so completely that it blinded him to the political realities of the situation, or Vines, whose main concern was to haul himself up the career ladder, he had no love for the organisation he worked for, and no special feelings for its leaders.

For him, being a Runner was simply a means to an end. It enabled him to travel to all parts of the city under the protective cloak of Fox’s authority.

Fox told them that he had briefed Sir Henry about the situation during dinner. This news would be passed on to the Home Secretary. Vines seemed disturbed by this information.

‘Was that wise, telling Hobhouse so quickly?’ he said, unable to conceal his frown.

‘Perhaps not wise but necessary,’ Fox said, firmly.

‘But surely it might have been prudent to take stock of the situation ourselves before asking for outside assistance.’

‘Even if you don’t, I have to consider the wider implications of all this. A young couple and their newborn baby, slaughtered in their own lodgings? My God, it’s the Ratcliffe highway all over again.’

Though Pyke had been only thirteen at the time, he still remembered the froth of panic and moral outrage that had been whipped up when a man called Williams had murdered two families in their homes on the Ratcliffe highway.

‘And look what that did,’ Vines said, shaking his head. ‘It placed police reform right back at the top of the political agenda. You can guarantee Peel will use this situation to push the police bill forward. It’s like a gift, fallen into his lap. If there are any waverers left in the House, it’ll drive ’em running into Peel’s grateful arms. And we will have a new police force before the month’s out.’

Pyke allowed Vines’s words to settle before he said, ‘Even a man of Peel’s undoubted ambition would not consider a mutilated newborn to be some kind of political gift.’

Vines reddened. ‘Yes, well, I’m sure you know what I meant.’

‘Pyke’s right,’ Fox said. ‘Whether Peel will exploit the situation for his own purposes is not for us to speculate. For now, I fear we have more pressing issues of public order to deal with.’ He looked up at Vines. ‘I take it the building and its perimeter have been secured and the mob outside placated?’

Sullenly, Vines said it had been taken care of. He explained that two of his men, Goddard and Townsend, were questioning the residents, particularly those who roomed on the upper floor, and any pertinent information would be relayed back to him. Pyke was tempted to ask how Goddard and Townsend would know what information was pertinent or otherwise but he kept his silence. He also knew for a fact that Goddard and Townsend were, by no means, Vines’s men.

‘Good, well, perhaps we should start by paying some attention to the three victims. That would seem to me to be a matter of enormous sensitivity.’ Fox turned to Pyke. ‘Have you managed to identify them yet?’

Pyke realised Vines had not yet grasped the significance of Fox’s concerns and he was not about to make it easy for him.

‘The landlady, Miss Clamp, told me that the building has five rooms on the top floor she rents out to lodgers. All of them are a good deal larger than the one hired by the victims. Most have seven or eight people sharing, each person paying two shillings a week. This room, on account of its size, went for four shillings in total. The two victims shared it with another girl. Young and pretty, according to Miss Clamp. She didn’t know the girl’s name but had overheard rumours to the effect that she might be the dead woman’s cousin. Miss Clamp gave us a good description, though, and the men downstairs are looking for her as we speak.’

‘There was a girl who shared the room with them,’ Fox said, sounding aggrieved. ‘You say a cousin?’ He rubbed the ends of his moustache, as though deep in thought.

‘According to the landlady.’

‘And she’s downstairs, as we speak?’

‘Townsend and Goddard are looking for her downstairs, as we speak,’ Pyke corrected him.

‘Well, for heaven’s sake, let’s find her and talk to her, see what she knows.’ Fox seemed irritated, to the point of distraction.

‘I’ll talk to Townsend and Goddard once we’ve concluded our business here.’

‘Do that, man.’

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