“You lost someone?” she said with surprise.

“No, but I am fortunate. I very nearly did, and only late yesterday evening did I learn that she was all right.”

“Wot d’yer want?” she asked reluctantly. “I s’pose you’d better come in, but don’t get in my way! I in’t got all mornin’. Some of us ’as gotter work.” She pulled the door wider and turned to allow him to follow her into the small kitchen at the back. Seemingly it was the only warm room in the house. The black stove was burning and it gave off considerable heat-and a smell of soot and smoke that caught in his throat and made his eyes water. She seemed oblivious to it.

He looked around without having intended to. There was a stone sink, but no drain. That would be in the yard at the back, with the privy. Water would be collected from the nearest well or standing pump. There were wooden bins for flour or oats, several strings of onions hanging from the ceiling, and a sack of potatoes leaning against the wall, with two turnips and a large white cabbage beside it.

Two scuttles were nearly full of coal, and on the wall were hanging three very handsome copper pans.

She saw his glance. “I in’t sellin’ ’em,” she said tartly. “Wot is it yer want?”

“I was simply admiring your pans,” he told her. “It’s information I’m looking for.”

“I don’t grass!” It was a flat statement. “An’ before yer ask, they wasn’t stole. Me bruvver give ’em to me back in August. ’e bought ’em fair, at a shop up west. Could prove it!”

“I don’t doubt you, Mrs. Hodge,” he answered her. “Do you have several brothers?”

“Just the one. Why?”

“I suppose one like that is more than most people have,” he said, evading the answer. “The information I wanted has to do with the other men your husband served with on the Maude Idris. I wondered if you knew where any of them lived?”

“Lived?” she said in amazement. “ ’Ow the ’ell should I know? You think wi’ three kids I got time ter go around visitin’?”

“Only if they were close, a street or two away.”

“Maybe they are, but I dunno,” she replied. “Is that all?”

“Yes. Thank you. I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”

She frowned. “Why d’yer wanna know?”

He created the best lie he could think of. “Actually, it was the captain I wanted to find, but I’ll just have to keep looking. Thank you for your courtesy.”

She shrugged, not knowing how to reply.

He excused himself and went out into the street, his mind racing. He had the beginning of an idea, a wild, terrible possibility that explained everything.

He was bitterly cold by the time he crossed the river to the north bank again at Wapping Stairs and the River Police station. He found Durban looking tired and pale, sitting at his desk with a mug of hot tea in his hands.

He regarded Monk curiously, seeing the relief in him and not knowing what it was.

Monk walked across to the chair opposite him and sat down. “It’s all right at the clinic,” he said, unable to keep the emotion out of his voice. “No new cases in days, and it’s three weeks now since Hodge’s death. Hester came home last night.”

Durban smiled, a sweet, gentle expression. “I’m glad.” He stood up and walked over to the window, away from Monk.

“I know we haven’t finished with Louvain,” Monk conceded. “What he did to the people in the clinic was inhuman. So many died, and it could have been all of them. And if they hadn’t been prepared to sacrifice their own lives to stay there, the devastation could have been to all London, all England, and God only knows what beyond.”

Durban pursed his lips. “I think he knew who he was dealing with,” he answered. “Mrs. Monk’s reputation is not unknown. It was the best gamble he had, other than to kill Ruth Clark and bury her somewhere. I’m not surprised he couldn’t bring himself to do that, if she was actually his own mistress.” His voice dropped. “He wouldn’t be sure she had plague then; it was only a danger. She might simply have had pneumonia.”

“She wasn’t his mistress,” Monk replied. “She was his sister; her real name was Charity Bradshaw. She and her husband were coming back from Africa. He died at sea.”

Durban’s eyes widened. “I’m not surprised Louvain wanted her cared for, but he should have told Mrs. Monk what the illness could be. Although I daresay he believed she’d refuse her if she knew.”

“You think Clement Louvain, the hard man of the river, couldn’t kill his own sister if she carried the plague?” Monk asked, his voice grating with the dreadful irony of the idea now in his mind.

Durban blinked; his eyes were pink-rimmed with exhaustion. “Could you?” he asked. “Wouldn’t you have to try every last thing you could to save her?”

Monk brushed his hands over his face. For all his joy at Hester’s return, he too was physically drained. “If she was going to spread the disease, I don’t know. But Mercy Louvain went there to help in the clinic as a volunteer.”

“To nurse her sister?” Durban’s face was gentle, his eyes shining. “What sublime devotion.”

“She went there to nurse her,” Monk replied. “But she killed her rather than let her leave carrying the plague with her.”

Durban stared at him in growing horror. He started to speak, then stopped, still incredulous. “Oh God!” he said at last. “I wish you hadn’t told me!”

“You can’t do anything,” Monk said, looking up at him. “If you could, I wouldn’t have said it. She’s dead, too.”

“Plague?” The word was a whisper, said with fierce, hurting pity; it seemed to be torn from somewhere deep inside him as if all his passion were in it.

Monk nodded. “They buried her properly.”

Durban turned his back to Monk, staring out of the small window, the cold light picking out the gray in his hair.

Now was the time Monk had to speak, no matter how preposterous, even if Durban thought him insane.

“I went to see Mrs. Hodge today.”

Durban was puzzled. “What for? Did you think she would know anything about the crew?” He smiled very slightly, hardly a movement of the lips. “Did you think I hadn’t thought of that?”

Monk was momentarily embarrassed, but the idea in him overrode everything else. “I’m sorry. Did you see the copper saucepans in the kitchen?”

“I didn’t go, Orme did.” Durban was frowning. “What about them? What does it matter? I can’t afford to care about petty theft now.” Again the fraction of a smile touched his mouth and disappeared.

“They weren’t stolen, so far as I know,” Monk answered. “She saw me looking at them and said her brother gave them to her.”

“I’m too tired to play games, Monk,” Durban said wearily. He looked gray-faced, close to collapse.

“I’m sorry,” Monk said quickly, and he meant it. He liked Durban as much as anyone he had known in years, more instinctively than he did Oliver Rathbone. “She told me she has only one brother and he gave them to her in August. She said she could prove that.”

Durban blinked, frowning harder. “She can’t! He was off the coast of Africa in August. Are you saying the Maude Idris was here then? Or that Newbolt wasn’t on her?”

“Not exactly either,” Monk said very quietly. “We checked the names of the crew.”

“Of course.”

“But not their appearances.”

Durban steadied himself, leaning back against the sill. “For God’s sake, what are you saying?” But the hideousness of it was already in his eyes. He shook his head. “But they’re still there-on the ship!”

“You told your men to keep them there because it was typhoid,” Monk reminded him. “Maybe Louvain told them the same, or close enough?”

Durban rubbed his hand over his face like a man trying to dispel a nightmare. “Then we’d better find out. Can you use a pistol?”

“Of course,” Monk replied, with no idea whether he could or not.

Durban straightened up. “I’ll get Orme and half a dozen men, but I’m the only one going below.” He stared

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