dead baby had been discarded but on closer inspection had found no urine in it. It was pure speculation, he went on, but what if the murderer had beaten the victims unconscious and, for some reason, had wanted to bring them around? Might he have looked around for water and, if no water was immediately at hand, might he have not used what was immediately at hand to do so? Might he have not taken the pail filled with urine and thrown it into their faces?

Pyke underlined the fact that this was only a guess and heard Vines mutter something under his breath.

The extent and depth of the cuts indicated that whoever had administered them was a powerful man. A razor blade had probably been used, and since no such weapon had been found in the room, it seemed likely that the killer had taken it with him. Indeed, on reflection, the scene itself seemed quite orderly. Whoever had done this was not a madman. The neatness of the scene suggested the murderer’s actions were premeditated.

Both victims had bled to death; Pyke explained that he had found two pools of fresh blood surrounding both corpses. In addition, their bodies had begun to stiffen. Therefore, he proposed that the killings had taken place during the previous night. Other residents had heard screams coming from the room and had assumed that the woman, who’d been heavily pregnant, was in the process of giving birth. He had found another set of sheets, this time stained with dry blood, stuffed under the mattress. It seemed likely these had been used during childbirth. Clearly, he added, the killings had taken place after the baby had been born, but perhaps only by a few hours. The birth and the killings had taken place on the same day. Pyke did not know how or whether the two incidents were connected, and said he could not think of anything that might link them.

Pyke left the hardest part until the end.

The baby, he said, dry-mouthed, had died when its skull had been crushed between the killer’s thumbs. Because he did actually see thumb prints gouged into the baby’s temples, and around its throat. He hadn’t been able to summon up the strength of mind to lift the baby out of the pail, in order to determine its sex, but when he had done so, he would pass on that information.

Once he had finished, Fox offered him a generous smile. ‘I think, Brownlow, your skills might be better used here tonight, keeping up the men’s spirits.’

Vines looked away without speaking.

‘I think that settles it, doesn’t it?’ Fox nodded his head vigorously, apparently pleased with himself.


Outside, the temperature had plummeted and the cobbles of Drury Lane were as slippery as sheets of ice. The footman who had pulled down the steps from Fox’s carriage said, ‘Watch how you go, sir,’ but something about the way he’d said ‘sir’ suggested he did not believe the word applied to Pyke. The street was still thronging with carts and wagons, in spite of the late hour, and the yard in front of a nearby hotel was a hive of activity in the wake of a coach that had just come to halt. It was a murky night and the air tasted of dirt. Pyke had never ridden in Fox’s carriage before and was surprised at its luxuriousness. The seats were cushioned and the curtains made of lace. Fox pulled them closed in order to block out the sea of faces outside on the street and tapped on the ceiling of the carriage, to indicate that they were ready to depart.

As Fox pushed backwards in his seat and exhaled, Pyke took a moment to consider the man he had always thought of not exactly as a friend but certainly as a mentor. The lines etched on to his forehead indicated fatigue as well as worry. Perhaps the strain of having to safeguard Sir Henry Fielding’s vision for the Bow Street Runners was beginning to take its toll. Certainly he had been more irritable than Pyke had seen him for a long time. Neither of them spoke for a while. Fox’s mood was funereal; Pyke suspected he was less affected by the deaths than he was concerned about the likely implications for the future of the Bow Street operation.

‘Did you find the girl?’ Fox asked, eventually. He had a habit of peering down his nose at people as he spoke to them. He pulled his woollen muffler tight around his neck and blew into his hands.

Pyke said he’d talked to Goddard and Townsend but they hadn’t managed to locate her yet. He assured him that they would continue to look for her. Fox shook his head, as if the blow were a personal one, and told Pyke that locating the girl was their top priority.

‘I hope you don’t think I was too harsh with Brownlow earlier,’ Fox said, with studied casualness.

Pyke had enjoyed Vines’s humiliation but said nothing.

‘I fear he might have already struck a deal with Peel, or at least with someone involved in the process of setting up this new police force.’

‘What kind of a deal?’

‘Brownlow is not an idiot. He senses that the writing is on the wall for us, so to speak, and he’s been making contingency plans to safeguard his own future. Exactly what has already been agreed upon, I’m afraid I don’t know.’ Fox seemed disappointed, above all. ‘When things are changing so quickly, it’s difficult to know who one can trust.’ He waited for Pyke to look at him. ‘We trust one another, don’t we, Pyke?’

Pyke nodded in a non-committal way. He didn’t think Fox wanted a firmer response.

Shortly after he had joined the Runners - he had been recommended by George Morgan, the now bedridden father of Pyke’s mistress Lizzie - Pyke had been compelled to come to Fox’s rescue; and his actions had forever affected the way in which Fox dealt with him. At the time, Jim Salter, a blackguard who had been arrested by a team of Runners and was awaiting trial on multiple charges of theft with violence, grand larceny, embezzlement and house-breaking, had arranged for members of his gang to break into Fox’s office and hold him at knife-point until Salter had been released. Pyke had inadvertently interrupted their efforts to subdue Sir Richard and, by chance, had had on his person a Long Sea Service flintlock pistol that had just been requisitioned from another villain. While Salter was a truly formidable character, his gang lacked his fortitude in the face of adversity. One of them had attempted to hold a knife to Sir Richard’s throat but seeing the man’s shaking hand and sensing his lack of resolve, Pyke had produced the pistol and raised his arm, as if to take aim. He still remembered how calm and in control of himself he had felt. When the man had refused to release Sir Richard, Pyke had simply fired the pistol, narrowly missing his head. The loud blast of the exploding weapon was sufficient to ensure his capitulation. The rest of the gang had surrendered and were later tried and hung. Fox himself had been impressed and even a little awed by Pyke’s performance and, afterwards, told Pyke he had made a friend for life. At the time, Pyke had simply been grateful for Fox’s gratitude but, as the years had passed, he had come to rely upon, and exploit, the protective cloak that the man’s continuing support afforded him.

‘I want you to be my eyes and ears on this investigation. I am not privy to Peel’s intentions in this unfortunate business, whether he will want to be involved in an official capacity or not. But whatever Peel decides, and whatever he says, I want you to look into this matter on behalf of Bow Street, and I want you to find the man who did those things.’ In an unusual display of emotion, he grabbed Pyke’s arm and stared with watery eyes. ‘Do you understand?’

Fox’s sudden outburst, whether it was provoked by passion or outrage, took Pyke by surprise.

He nodded and assured Fox that he would do as the old man asked. In fact, he had already made up his mind to conduct his own investigation, whether Fox sanctioned it or not.

A little later, Fox wanted to know whether Pyke had any business that might distract him from the matter in hand. ‘If you have to share out some of your work, I’ll see that you’re properly remunerated.’

Pyke assured him he had no such business.

‘Even what took you to that lodging house in the first place?’ When Pyke said nothing, Fox continued, ‘In the past, I have been aware of instances in which the activities of persons under my authority have transgressed the official sanction of the law. Perhaps I should have taken a firmer stance against such practices. Perhaps this laxness on my part is one of the reasons why the Home Secretary does not seem favourably disposed towards us.’ His stare intensified. ‘I am well aware of the business Brownlow alluded to earlier, Pyke. A man by the name of Flynn, a known receiver of stolen goods who is currently being held in the felons’ room, is making all kinds of scurrilous accusations against you. The man claims that you have been personally responsible for countless burglaries during a period extending as far back as the last days of our current monarch’s much-lamented father. Am I to assume that his accusations are entirely false?’

Pyke appeared wounded by the slight and assured Fox he had never dealt with the man in any capacity.

‘If I am prepared to draw a line under whatever you may have done in the past, I’d like to feel I had your unequivocal support on this matter.’

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