Sorokine, Simnel Marquand, and Hamilton Quase. We have been here two days already, and the discussions have been excellent.”

Pitt remained on his feet, listening and watching Dunkeld’s face.

His expression was intense, his eyes burning with enthusiasm. His left hand, gripping the chair arm, was white at the knuckles.

“Yesterday evening we celebrated our progress so far,” Dunkeld continued. “I assume you are a man of the world, and do not need to have every detail drawn for you? The ladies retired early. We sat up considerably longer, and a certain amount of entertainment was provided. The brandy was excellent, the company both relaxing and amusing. We were all in high spirits.” Not once did he glance at Pitt as he spoke. He might have been as invisible as a servant.

“I see,” Narraway answered expressionlessly.

“We retired between one and two in the morning,” Dunkeld went on. “I awoke early-about six, I imagine. I was in my robe, not yet dressed, when my valet came with a message that he had received over the telephone. It was a matter His Royal Highness had asked to be informed of immediately, so, in spite of the hour, I took it to him.

I returned to my room, shaved and dressed, had a cup of tea, and was on my way back to see His Royal Highness further about the matter, but passing the linen cupboard in the passage I saw the door slightly open.” His voice was harsh with tension. “That in itself, of course, is of no interest, but I became aware of a curious odor, and when I pulled it wider. . I saw. . probably the most dreadful thing I have ever seen.” He blinked and seemed to need a moment to compose himself again.

Narraway did not interrupt him, nor move his gaze from Dunkeld’s face.

“The naked body of a woman, covered in blood,” Dunkeld said hoarsely. “There was blood all over the rest of the linen.” He gulped air. “For a moment, I could not believe it. I thought I must have taken more brandy than I had imagined and become delirious. I don’t know how long I stood there, leaning against the door frame. Then I backed into the corridor. There was no one else in sight.”

Narraway nodded.

“I closed the door.” Dunkeld seemed to find some comfort in remembering the act, as if he could at the same time close the horror from his inner vision. “I called Tyndale, the man who called you. He is the principal manservant in this guest wing. I told him that one of the women from the previous evening had been found dead, that he must keep all servants from that corridor; serve breakfast to the other guests in their rooms. Then I asked for the telephone and called you.”

“Is His Royal Highness aware of this event?” Narraway asked.

Dunkeld blinked. “Naturally I had to inform him. He has given me full authority to act in his name and get this ghastly tragedy cleared up with the utmost haste, and absolute discretion. You cannot fail to be aware of the scandal it would cause if it became public.” His eyes were hard, demanding, and the very slight lift in his voice suggested he needed reassurance of both Narraway’s intelligence and his tact. “Her Majesty will be returning next week, on her way from Osborne to travel north to Balmoral. It is imperative that your investigation is entirely accomplished before that time. Do you understand me?”

Pitt felt his stomach knot, and suddenly there was barely enough air in the room for him to breathe. He had been here minutes, and yet he felt imprisoned.

He must have made a slight sound, because Dunkeld looked at him, then back at Narraway. “What about your man here?” he asked abruptly. “How far can you trust his discretion? And his ability to handle such a vital matter? And it is vital. If it became public, it would be ruinous, even affect the safety of the realm. Our business here concerns a profoundly important part of the Empire. Not only fortunes but nations could be changed by what we do.” He was staring at Narraway as if by sheer will he could force some understanding into him, even a fear of failure.

Narraway gave a very slight shrug. It was a minimal, elegant gesture of his shoulders. He was far leaner than Dunkeld, and more at ease in his beautifully tailored jacket. “He is my best,” he answered.

Dunkeld looked unimpressed. “And discreet?” he persisted.

“Special Branch deals with secrets,” Narraway told him.

Dunkeld’s eyes turned to Pitt and surveyed him coolly.

Narraway rose to his feet. “I would like to see the body,” he announced.

Dunkeld took a deep breath and stood up also. He walked past Pitt and opened the door, leaving them to follow him. He led the way along the corridor with its ornately plastered and gilded ceiling, and up another broad flight of stairs. At the top he turned right past two doors to where a young footman stood at attention outside a third door.

“You can go,” Dunkeld dismissed him. “Wait on the landing. I’ll call you when I need you again.”

“Yes, sir.” The footman glanced with anxiety at Narraway and Pitt, then did as he was told, his feet soundless on the carpet.

Dunkeld looked at Narraway, then at Pitt. “What do you normally do? Chase spies? Uncover plots?”

“Investigate murder,” Pitt replied.

“Well, here’s one for you.” Dunkeld opened the cupboard door and stood back.

Pitt stared at the sight in front of him. At his elbow Narraway gasped as his breath caught in his throat. The older man gulped and put his hand to his mouth, as if afraid he might disgrace himself by being sick.

It was not surprising. The woman lay on her back and was obscenely naked, breasts exposed, thighs apart. Her throat had been cut from one side to the other and her lower abdomen slashed open, leaving her entrails bulging pale where they protruded from the dark blood. One leg was raised a little, knee bent, the other lay slack, foot nearly to the floor. Her long, brown hair had apparently been pulled loose from its pins in some kind of struggle. Her blue eyes were wide open and glassy, her mouth gaping. There was blood everywhere, spattered on the walls, soaked into the piles of sheets, daubed across her body, and pooling on the floor. Even her hands were scarlet.

Pitt stared at her less with revulsion than with an overwhelming pity for the gross indignity of it. Had it been an animal the callousness of it would have offended him. For a human being to die like that filled him with a towering anger and a desire to lash out physically and strike something. His breath heaved in his chest and his throat convulsed.

Yet he knew he must keep calm. Intelligence was needed, not passion, however justified. Someone had done this to her. And since this was a royal residence, guarded day and night, it had to be someone within the Palace walls. He found himself shaking at the desecration of the woman’s body, of life, and of the Queen’s home. He steadied himself with difficulty and tried to still the churning of his stomach.

Why? Surely only a man bereft of reason would do such a thing anywhere, let alone here?

Narraway cleared his throat.

Pitt turned to him. He was white around the lips and there were beads of sweat on his skin. Pitt guessed he had never seen such grotesque violence and degradation before. He should say something that would soften the horror, but his mind was empty. Perhaps he did not want to. One should feel sick, stunned, torn apart by such things.

Instead, he turned away and moved into the cupboard, stepping carefully to avoid standing in the pooled blood. It seemed to be all over the place: thick, dark gouts of it, scarlet only where it was smeared and thin.

He touched the woman’s arm. It was cold and the flesh was growing stiff. He guessed she had been dead for at least six hours. It was now half-past eight in the morning, which meant she had been killed by half-past two, at the latest.

“What is it?” Narraway gulped as if his throat were constricted.

Pitt told him.

“I think we know that,” Narraway said hoarsely. “She arrived here yesterday evening, and presumably was seen by several people up until one o’clock.” He turned to Dunkeld. “I’m sorry to ask you, but would you look at her face, please, and tell us if you recognize her?”

Then he swiveled round to Pitt again and his voice was jerky, losing control. “For God’s sake, man, put something over the rest of her!

The cupboard’s full of sheets. Use one!”

Pitt took one from the top shelf, far away from the body, and opened it up. With some relief he spread it over

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