Narraway smiled, this time with genuine amusement. “Not unless you wish to,” he said smoothly. “I have every confidence in Pitt, and you may also.”

But as he went outside into the rain half an hour later, he was less certain than he had led Tregarron to suppose. Was Pitt’s own innate honesty going to blind him to the degree of deviousness in others?

Pitt had been born a servant, and had spent his boyhood with respect for the master of the estate, Sir Arthur Desmond, a man of unyielding honor and considerable kindness. Might Pitt, at some level below his awareness, expect others of wealth and position to be similar?

How would he cope with the disillusion when he discovered that it was very often not the case?

Then Narraway remembered the affair at Buckingham Palace, and thought that very possibly his anxieties were unnecessary. He lengthened his stride toward Baker Street, where he would assuredly find a hansom to take him home.


Pitt’s office was warm and comfortable. The fire burned well, and every time it sank down, he put more coal on it. Outside the rain beat against the windows, sharp with the occasional hail. Gray clouds chased across the sky, gathering and then shredding apart as the wind tore through them. Down in the street passing vehicles sent sprays of water up from the gutters, drenching careless pedestrians walking too close to the curb.

Pitt looked at the pile of papers on his desk. They were the same routine reports that greeted him every day, but if he did not read them, he might miss one thread that was different, an omission or cross-reference that indicates a change, a connection not made before. There were patterns that anything less than the minutest care would not disclose, and those patterns might be the only warning of a betrayal or an attack to come.

He was disturbed in the rhythm of his reading by a sharp rap on the door. He turned the page down reluctantly.

“Come,” he answered.

The door opened and Stoker came in, closing it silently behind him. His face was difficult to read, as usual. Pitt had learned to interpret his agitation or excitement by studying the way he moved, the ease or stiffness in his body, and the angle of his shoulders. Now he judged Stoker to be alert and a trifle apprehensive.

“What is it?” he asked, gesturing toward the chair opposite his desk.

Stoker sat obediently. “Maybe nothing,” he replied.

“If it was nothing, you wouldn’t be here,” Pitt pointed out. He trusted Stoker’s instincts. He was the only one who had believed in Narraway when Narraway had been accused of treason in the O’Neil case. Everyone else had believed only what the evidence seemed to show them. Stoker had had the courage to risk not only his career but also his life to work secretly with Pitt against those who had corrupted and usurped the power. It was Stoker who had saved Pitt’s life in the desperate struggle at the end.

Stoker’s mastery of small observations was acute. He heard the evasions that skirted around a lie, saw the smile that indicated nervousness, the tiny signs of vanity in a conspicuous watch chain, a folded silk handkerchief a shade too bright, the overly casual manner that concealed a far better acquaintance than that admitted to.

“What is it?” Pitt insisted.

Stoker frowned. “Down Dover way. There have been a few questions about railway signals and points.”

“Railway points?” Pitt was puzzled. “You mean where the tracks join, or branch? What specifically is being asked? Are you sure it’s not just routine maintenance?”

Stoker’s face was grim. “Yes. It’s a stranger, asking about how the signals work, where they’re controlled from, can it be done by hand, that sort of thing. Thought it might just be some fellow wanting to explain it to his son, at first. But there have been questions about timetables, the freight trains and passenger trains from Dover to London, and branch lines as well, as if someone wanted to figure out where they cross.”

Pitt thought for a moment or two. Some of the possibilities were ugly. “And you’re sure it’s the same man asking?”

“That’s a bit hard to tell. Extremely ordinary-looking, except he had very pale, clear eyes. The man who asked about the freight trains had on spectacles. Couldn’t see his eyes.”

“And the man who asked about the signals and points?” Pitt asked, a tiny knot of anxiety beginning to tighten in his stomach.

“Different hair, as much as you could see under his hat. Doesn’t mean anything. Anybody can put a wig on.”

“What’s being moved in and out of Dover on the lines he asked about?” Pitt pressed.

“I looked into that. Heavy industrial stuff, mostly. Some coal. Fish. Nothing worth stealing, not with a rail crash anyway.”

Pitt thought for a moment. “And you said he asked about passenger trains as well?”

“From Dover to London. Think it’s some passenger they could be after?” Stoker asked.

“It’s a lot of trouble to go through for one passenger,” Pitt replied. “It sounds more like some kind of anarchist thinking to create a major disaster, just to show us that he can.”

“What for?” Stoker was frowning, puzzled. “Couldn’t even pretend there’s any idealism or political motive in that.”

“That’s what worries me,” Pitt admitted. “It doesn’t make sense. We haven’t understood it yet. But you’re right, there’s something planned, even if this is just a distraction, something to keep us occupied so we miss the real thing. But we can’t ignore it. And if, as you say, someone is prepared to cause a train crash just to kill one person, then it has to be someone of overwhelming importance.”

Stoker moved his thin, strong hands in a very slight gesture of helplessness. “Whatever they are planning, it would have to be soon. They wouldn’t want to risk a change in the timetables wrecking their plan.”

Pitt took a deep breath, and suddenly the room felt colder, even though the fire was still burning and the windows were still closed.

“So who could it be?” he asked. “Who’s coming from Dover to London in the next couple of months? Who would anarchists want to kill?”

“Nobody that matters, far as I can tell.” Stoker shook his head. “Some Russian count is coming to stay for a private visit. Might be visiting some of our royal family at the same time, I suppose. One or two politicians, but no one important: a Frenchman and an American. Can’t see why any of them would be worth killing, especially here. Probably far easier to do it at home, if you wanted to. Oh, one minor Austrian duke, Duke Alois, but he doesn’t hold any office, and he’d be easy enough to kill in Vienna. And whoever did it could escape there. Whole of Europe to go to. We’re an island: A foreigner would stick out like a sore thumb, unless he hid in one of the immigrant communities in London. But why bother? It makes no sense.”

“Then this is to divert us from something else,” Pitt answered. “Something more important.”

Stoker nodded, his jaw tight. “More important than a foreign count or duke being assassinated right here in London, under our noses?”

“Well, if it’s a diversion, that’s the point,” Pitt said grimly. “They can’t hold our attention unless they do something drastic. Keep looking. And tell me what you find.”

Stoker rose to his feet. “Yes, sir. Maybe it’s a dry run to see if we pick it up?”

“I thought of that,” Pitt agreed. “Learn everything you can. But discreetly.”

When Stoker was gone, Pitt sat back in his chair and considered. Many cases in the past had begun as a whisper, a rumor that seemed trivial at first, a fact that didn’t quite fit, an alliance that was outside the usual pattern. Narraway had years of experience in seeing the anomaly that was the first indication of a new plot, or an attack on a new target.

Until his arrival at Special Branch, Pitt had been used to being called in only after a crime had been committed. He then worked backward to unravel it, the history, the motives, and the proof of guilt that would stand up at trial. It was a new discipline for him to be faced with an event before it occurred, and to be responsible for preventing it.

Did those who had appointed him in Narraway’s place really have any understanding of exactly the skills

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