some time. I reckon as she’s makin’ ’er peace, like.”

“Thank you,” Louvain acknowledged. “Mr. Monk is with me.” And without waiting for the attendant to show him, he led the way to the room where a large, rawboned woman with gray hair and fine, pale skin was standing silently, her hands folded in front of her, staring at the body of a man lying on a bench.

He was covered up to the neck with a sheet, which was stained and a little thin at the edges. His face had the lividity of death, and the strangely shrunken absent look of a shell no longer inhabited by its spirit. He must have been large in life-the frame was there, the bones-but he seemed small now. It took a force of imagination to think of him as having been able to move and speak, to have will, even passion.

The woman looked briefly at Louvain, then at Monk.

Monk spoke to her first. “I am sorry for your grief, Mrs. Hodge. My name is William Monk. Mr. Louvain has hired me to find out who killed your husband, and to see that he answers for it.”

She looked at him with leaden eyes. “Mebbe,” she answered. “Don’t make much difference ter me, nor me kids. Don’t pay the rent nor put food in our mouths. Still, I s’pose ’e should swing.” She turned back to the motionless form on the table. “Stupid sod!” she said with sudden fury. “But ’e weren’t all bad. Brought me a piece o’ wood back from Africa last time, all carved like an animal. Pretty. I never ’ocked it afore. S’pose I’ll ’ave ter now.” She glanced at the corpse. “Yer stupid sod!” she repeated helplessly.

Monk’s anger at the thief stopped being a matter of law, or some inanimate sense of justice, and suddenly became hate, and deeply personal. Hodge was past injury, but this woman was not, nor her children. But there was nothing useful for him to say, nothing that would help now, and he could give her no assistance in her poverty.

He looked instead at the dead man. He had thick hair, and the back of his head rested on the table. Monk reached across and lifted the head very slightly, feeling underneath for the extent of the injury. He had seen no blood on the top of the steps to the hold, and none on the deck. Scalp wounds bled.

His fingers found the soft, broken skull under the hair. It had been an extremely hard blow. Something heavy and wide had been used, and by a person either of a good height or else standing slightly above. He looked at the attendant. “You cleaned him up, washed away the blood?”

“A bit,” the attendant answered from the doorway. “There wasn’t much. Just made ’im presentable, like.” There was nothing in his face to indicate whether he knew if the man was a victim of murder or accident. There were probably many of the latter on ships, and especially on the docks, where heavy loads were moved and sometimes came loose.

“Not much blood?” Monk questioned.

“He had a woollen hat on,” Louvain explained again. “I’m afraid it must have been lost when we were carrying him here. I can describe it for you, if you think it matters.”

“There was no blood on deck,” Monk pointed out. “And very little where he was found. It might have been helpful, but it’s probably not important. I’ve seen all I need to.” He thanked Mrs. Hodge again, then went out ahead of Louvain, back to the outside room. “I want the attendant’s testimony in writing, and yours.”

A brief smile flickered across Louvain’s face, some oblique, inner humor he would not share. “I’ve not forgotten. You’ll get your pieces of paper. Dawson!” he called to the attendant. “Mr. Monk would like our testaments of Hodge’s death on paper to help him in his work. Would you be good enough, please?”

Dawson looked slightly taken aback, but he produced paper, pen, and ink. He and Louvain both wrote their statements, signed, witnessed by each other, and Monk put them in his pocket.

“Did you learn anything?” Louvain asked when they were on the pavement. The rain had now eased off and the wind slackened, allowing the mist to drift up off the water, wreathing the lamps and obscuring the roofs of some of the buildings nearby.

Someone was lying. That was what Monk had learned. Hodge had not been struck on deck and then carried below by a single thief. There was no blood on deck, no trail across the boards. Either Hodge had not died there, or there were more than two thieves, one from the boat and two on deck, or at least one of the crew had been involved. He decided not to say that much to Louvain.

“Possibilities,” he answered. “I’ll start again in the morning.”

“Report to me in three days, regardless of what you have,” Louvain reminded him. “Before, if you have the ivory, of course. I’ll pay you five pounds extra for every day short of ten that you recover it.”

“Good,” Monk said levelly, but he felt the money slip out of his grasp as he walked forward in the darkness and wondered how far he would have to go to find an omnibus back towards his home. He should not spend money on hansoms anymore.

It was nearly seven o’clock by the time he alighted from the final leg of his journey, with the two pounds that Louvain had given him still unbroken. He was in Tottenham Court Road with only a hundred yards or so to walk. The mist had settled, obscuring the distances. There were the smells of soot from the chimneys and of the horse manure which had not yet been cleared, but he knew the way almost to the step. It would be warm once he was inside.

There would be food prepared if Hester was in. He tried not to hope too fiercely that she was. Her work at the clinic was of intense importance to her. Before they had met seven years ago, she had nursed in the Crimea with Florence Nightingale. On her return to England she had worked occasionally in hospitals, but her independence on the battlefield had made her intolerant of being reduced to cleaning, stoking fires, and rolling bandages. Her temper had cost her more than one position.

As a private nurse caring for individual cases, Hester had been far more successful. More recently she had turned her attention to helping prostitutes who were injured and homeless in the course of their trade. Hester had first set up the clinic almost in the shadow of the Coldbath Prison-then, in a stroke of brilliant opportunism, moved it to a large house nearby in Portpool Lane. Monk’s only objection was that the very urgency of the need for such a place meant that Hester spent many late hours there.

He reached the front door and slipped his key into the lock. Inside the lights were on, only dimly, but it must mean she was at home. She would never have left them to burn otherwise.

He walked through quickly, a surge of pleasure welling up inside him. It was far more than simply the warmth of being protected from the wind and enclosed by his own home, or even knowing that a long, comfortable night lay ahead of him.

She was in the sitting room, which was always tidy, always heated because it was the room in which he saw clients. It was Hester, years before they were married, who had insisted it be so. It was she who had placed the chairs on either side of the fireplace and put the bowl with flowers on the table.

Now she dropped her book and stood up, her face full of pleasure. She came straight to him, expecting him to put his arms around her and to kiss her. The sheer certainty of it was almost as sweet to him as the act itself. He held her closely, kissing her mouth, her cheek, her closed eyes. Her hair was untidy. She smelled faintly of carbolic from the clinic. No matter how much she scrubbed, it never entirely went away. She was a little too thin to be womanly. He had always thought it was something he did not like, and yet he would not have changed her gangling grace or her fierce, tender emotion for the most beautiful woman he had ever seen or dreamed. The reality was always better, sharper, more surprising. In loving her, he had discovered a fire and delicacy within himself that he had not known existed. She infuriated him at times, exasperated him, excited him, but never, ever bored him. Above all-more precious than anything else-in her presence he could not be lonely.

“The shipowner gave me the job,” he told her, still with his arms around her. “His name is Louvain. He’s lost a cargo of ivory, and the thieves murdered the night watchman to get it.”

She pulled back to look at his face. “So why doesn’t he call in the River Police? Is it even legal not to?”

He saw the anxiety in her eyes. He understood it uncomfortably well.

“He needs the ivory back more quickly than they’ll be able to get it,” he explained. “There are thefts up and down the river all the time.”

“And murders?” she asked. There was no criticism in her, but there was fear. Did she know how narrow their finances were now? The bills were paid for this week, but what about next week, and the one after?

She loved the clinic. It would be a defeat of all they had tried to do if she had to give it up in order to earn money as a paid nurse again. The clinic would not survive without her. She was not only the one reliable person there with any medical experience; she had the will and the courage behind the whole venture.

They had managed through the harder, earlier times with the financial help of Lady Callandra Daviot, who had been a friend to Hester for years, and to both of them since long before their marriage. But Monk was loath to go back to Lady Callandra now-when she was no longer actively involved in his cases, and certainly could not help in

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