He covered the white face again, tucking in the corner of the sheet as if it mattered, then he led the way across the floor, his footsteps echoing, to the small room where property of the dead was kept. It was locked away. He had to get a clerk to open up the drawers for him.

Monk picked up Sarah Mackeson’s shift. There was still a faint aroma of her clinging to it, almost like a warmth. The sense of her reality came over him like a wave, more powerful than actually seeing her body. His hands were shaking as he put it down. There was no underwear. Had she been so confident in her beauty she was happy to dispense with the privacy more conventional dress would have given her? Or had she been sitting for Allardyce and simply slipped these things on while he took a break, expecting him to resume? Why hadn’t he?

Or had she gone to bed for the night, either alone or with someone, when Mrs. Beck had arrived? For that matter, did she often spend the night at Allardyce’s studio? There were a lot of questions to be answered about her. The most important in Monk’s mind, and becoming more and more insistent with every moment, was, had she been the intended victim, and Kristian’s wife only an unwilling witness who had been silenced in the most terrible way?

“Is there really nothing to tell which one died first?” he said, putting the shift back and beginning to go through the next box, which was Mrs. Beck’s. He found it difficult to think of her by that name, she was so different from anything he had envisioned, and yet he knew no other.

“Nothing so far.” Runcorn was watching him as if every move he made, every shadow across his face, might have meaning. He was desperate. “Surgeon can’t tell me anything, but we know from the tenant on the floor below that he heard women’s voices at about half past nine in the evening.”

“Presumably Mrs. Beck arriving?” Monk observed. “Or whoever killed her? At least one or both of them were alive then.”

“Presumably,” Runcorn agreed. “Maybe you’ll make something more of it if you speak to the man.”

Monk hid a very slight smile. Runcorn still had that inner belief that there was always something hidden that Monk would find and he would not. It had happened so many times in the past it was the pattern of their lives.

Mrs. Beck’s clothes were good quality, he could feel it in the fabric under his fingers, fine cambric in the undergarments, even though they had been laundered so many times they were worn almost threadbare in places. The dress was wool, but the slight strain on the seams of the bodice betrayed that it had been worn several years, and altered at least once. The boots were excellent leather and beautifully cut, but a cobbler had resoled and reheeled them again and again. Even the uppers were scuffed now and had taken a lot of polishing to make them look good. Was that poverty or thrift? Or had Kristian been meaner than Monk had imagined?

He picked up the thin, gold wedding ring, and one delicate earring which might have been gold or pinchbeck. It was a pretty thing, but not expensive. He looked up at Runcorn, trying to judge what he made of it, and seeing confusion in his eyes.

“Well?” Runcorn asked.

Monk folded the clothes and closed the box without answering.

“I suppose you want to see the studio?” Runcorn pursed his lips.

“What do you make of Allardyce?” Monk asked, following him out, thanking the surgeon and going into the street. This time Runcorn stopped a hansom and gave the Acton Street address.

“Hard to say,” Runcorn replied at last, as they jolted along and joined the traffic. “Bit of a mess, actually.”

Monk let it go until they arrived in Acton Street, as the light was beginning to fade. It was a reasonable-sized house. The ground floor was let to a jeweler who was presently away on business, the second floor to a milliner, who repeated to Monk exactly what he had told Runcorn. There had been a loud cry, a woman’s voice, at about half past nine.

“Was it a scream?” Monk asked. “A cry? Fear? Or pain?”

The man’s face puckered. “To be honest, it sounded like laughter,” he replied. “That’s why I thought nothing of it.”

“Can’t shake him from that,” Runcorn said in disgust. “Got men out in the street. Might turn up something.”

There was a constable on duty on the landing outside the door. Runcorn greeted him perfunctorily and then went in, Monk on his heels.

“This is it,” Runcorn told him, stopping in the middle of the room and gazing around. There were three large woven rugs of different colors on the floor, their edges touching. Windows faced out over the rooftops, but even this late, most of the illumination came from skylights to both north and south. It was immediately obvious why an artist appreciated the studio’s almost shadowless clarity. An easel was set up in one corner, a couch on the far side, and a selection of chairs and other props were huddled in the third corner. A second doorway led to the rest of the rooms beyond.

“Mrs. Beck was found lying there.” Runcorn pointed to the floor just in front of where Monk was standing. “And Sarah Mackeson was there, at the join of those two carpets. They were scuffed up a bit where she must have fallen.” He indicated another place a couple of yards away, closer to the main door.

“Looks as if someone had just killed Sarah Mackeson as Mrs. Beck came in from the street and saw him, and he killed her before she could escape,” Monk observed. “Or else someone killed Mrs. Beck, not realizing the model was here, and she disturbed him and got killed for her pains.”

“Something like that,” Runcorn agreed. “But nothing so far to say which. Or a three-cornered quarrel between Allardyce and the two women which got out of hand, and then he had to kill the second woman because of the first.”

“And you found nothing?” Monk assumed.

“Searched the place, of course,” Runcorn said unhappily. “But nothing of any meaning. No one was obliging enough to leave bloodstains, except a few drops on the carpet where Mrs. Beck was, from her torn ear. Hunted everywhere for the earring, but never found it. No footprints or bits of cloth, or anything so convenient.” He pursed his lips. “No weapon needed. Whoever it was came in through the door, like anyone else. Allardyce said it wasn’t often locked.”

“And we presume Mrs. Beck was here and alive at half past nine, because the milliner heard women’s voices, possibly laughing. Did anyone see her outside in the street?”

“Not so far, but we’re still looking.”

“Did she come by cab? For that matter, where does she live?”

“Thought you knew Dr. Beck.” Runcorn was sharp.

“I do. I’ve never been to his home.”

“Haverstock Hill.”

“Three miles at least, so she must have come by cab, or in a carriage, and Beck doesn’t have a carriage.”

“We’re looking. It might help for time, if nothing else.”

The far door opened and a disheveled man in his late thirties stood leaning against the frame. He was tall and lanky with very dark hair which flopped forward over his brow. His eyes were startlingly blue, and at the moment he was badly in need of a shave, giving his face a look both humorous and faintly sinister. He ignored Monk and regarded Runcorn with dislike. “What do you want now?” he demanded. “I’ve already told you everything I know. For God’s sake, can’t you leave me alone? I feel terrible.”

“Perhaps you should wash and shave and sober up, sir?” Runcorn suggested with ill-concealed distaste.

“I’m not drunk!” Allardyce replied, his blue eyes hard. “I’ve just had two friends murdered in my home.” He took a deep breath and shivered convulsively. He turned to Monk, regarding his jacket with its perfectly tailored shoulders and his polished boots. “Who the devil are you?” He had obviously dismissed the possibility of his being police.

“He’s assisting me,” Runcorn said before Monk could reply. “Now that you’ve had time to gather yourself a bit, I’d like to ask you a few more questions.”

Allardyce slumped into the only chair and sat with his head in his hands. “What?” he asked without looking up at either of them.

“How long did you know Mrs. Beck?” Monk said before Runcorn did.

Allardyce took no notice of the fact that it was Monk who spoke. He seemed still deeply shocked and in a kind of despair. “A few months,” he answered. “I’m not sure. What does it matter? What is time anyway, except what

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