Anne Perry

Pentecost Alley


“Sorry Sir,” Inspector Ewart said quietly as Pitt stared down at the woman’s body sprawled across the big bed, at her face swollen in the asphyxia of death. “But this one you ought to see.”

“So I assume,” Pitt said wryly. Since his promotion to command of the Bow Street Station, he no longer dealt with ordinary episodes of violence, theft and fraud. The assistant commissioner had directed that he reserve his attention for those crimes which had, or threatened to have, political implications; those which involved persons of social prominence and might provoke embarrassment in high places if not dealt with both rapidly and tactfully.

So his being sent for at two in the morning to come to this Whitechapel slum over the murder of a prostitute required some explanation. The pale-faced constable who had ridden with him in the hansom had said nothing as they clattered through the August night, the streets narrowing, becoming meaner, the smell of sour smoke, crowded middens and the sharp odor of the river stronger as they moved eastwards.

They had stopped at Old Montague Street opposite the cul-de-sac of Pentecost Alley. The light from the gas lamp on the corner did not reach this far. Holding his bull’s-eye lantern high, the constable had led Pitt past refuse and sleeping beggars, up the steep, creaking steps of the tenement building, in through the deep-stained wooden door, and along the passage to where Ewart was waiting. The sound of weeping came from somewhere farther back, sounding frightened and carrying a rising note of hysteria.

Pitt knew Ewart by reputation, and he nurtured no doubts that there was some very real reason why he had been sent for, and so urgently. If nothing else, Ewart would be highly unwilling to yield command of his case to another officer, especially one who had risen from the ranks as Pitt had and who only a short while ago had been his equal. Like many regulars in the police force, Ewart believed that the only man with a right to such a position was one born to it, as had been Pitt’s predecessor, Micah Drummond, a man of independent wealth and military experience.

Pitt looked at the woman. She was young. It was difficult to tell a prostitute’s age. The life was harsh, often short. But the skin on her bosom where her dress was torn open was still unmarred by drink or disease, and the flesh was firm on her thighs where her red-and-black skirt had been lifted. Her left wrist was tied to the bedpost with a stocking, and there was a garter around her arm just above the elbow, a blue satin rose stitched to it. The other stocking was tied in a noose around her neck, tight, biting into it, almost cutting. The top half of her body, and all the bed around it, was drenched with water.

The sound of weeping was still audible, but it was quieter now, and there were other voices as well, and footsteps in the passage, light and quick.

Pitt looked around the room. It was surprisingly well furnished. The walls had been papered a long time ago, and though they were marked by the incessant damp and mold, and faded where the light had struck them, there was still a recognizable pattern. The fireplace was small, the dead ashes in it gray-white. The fire had been a gesture, something flickering and alive rather than a source of heat. The one chair was a cheerful red with a hand- stitched cushion on it, and there was a rag mat on the floor. An embroidered sampler hung over the shallow mantel, and the wooden chest for clothes and linens was polished. Even its brass handles gleamed.

The washstand held a single ewer and basin.

On the floor beside the bed were the girl’s high black boots, not side by side, but half over each other. The round, shiny buttons of the left one had been fastened through the buttonholes of the right one. A bone-handled buttonhook lay beside them. It was a ridiculous, distorted gesture, and one that could only have been done deliberately.

Pitt drew in his breath and let it out in a sigh. It was ugly, and sad, but there was nothing in it to cause Ewart to have sent for him. Prostitution was a dangerous way to make a living. Murders were not unique, and certainly not reason for scandal in high places, or even in low ones.

He turned to look at Ewart, whose dark face was unreadable in the light from the bull’s-eye, his eyes black.

“Evidence.” Ewart answered the question he had not asked. “Too much of it to ignore.”

“Saying what?” Pitt felt a chill beginning to eat inside him in spite of the mild night.

“Gentleman,” Ewart replied. “Of a very well connected family.”

Pitt was not surprised. He had feared it would be something of the sort, pointless and destructive, something with which there was no graceful way to deal. He did not ask Ewart why he thought so. It would be better to see the evidence and make his own deductions.

There was a noise along the passageway, a creaking of footsteps, and another man appeared in the doorway. He was twenty years younger than Ewart, no more than thirty at the most. His skin was fresh, his hazel eyes wide, his face thin, aquiline. His features had been formed for humor and tenderness, but the marks of pain had scored them deeply already, and in the flickering light he was haggard. He brushed his hair back off his brow unconsciously and stared first at Ewart, then at Pitt. He carried a brown leather bag in his hand.

“Lennox. Surgeon,” Ewart explained.

“Good morning, sir,” Lennox said a little huskily, then cleared his throat and apologized.

There was no need. Pitt had little regard for a doctor who could look at violent death and feel no shock, no sense of outrage or loss.

He stood back a little so Lennox could see the body better.

“I’ve already examined her,” Lennox declined. “I was called at the same time as Inspector Ewart. I’ve just been with some of the other women in the building. They were a bit … upset.”

“What can you tell me?” Pitt asked.

Lennox cleared his throat again. He looked straight at Pitt, his eyes averted from the woman on the bed, even the spread of her hair and the bright rose on her arm. “She’s been dead several hours,” he answered. “I should say since about ten o’clock last night, not later than midnight. It’s cool in here now, but it must have been warmer then. The ashes in the fire still have a little heat in them, and it’s not really a cold night.”

“You’re very precise about ten o’clock.” Pitt was curious.

Lennox flushed. “Sorry. There was a witness who saw her come in.”

Pitt smiled, or perhaps it was more of a grimace. “And midnight?” he asked. “Another witness?”

“That was when she was found, sir.” Lennox shook his head minutely.

“What else can you tell me about her?” Pitt continued.

“I would guess she was in her mid-twenties, and in good health … so far.”

“Children?” Pitt asked.

“Yes … and …”


Lennox’s face was tight with pain. “Her fingers and toes have been broken, sir. Three fingers on her left hand, two on her right. And three toes dislocated. Left foot.”

Pitt felt a shiver of ice inside him as if suddenly the temperature of the room had plummeted.

“Recently?” he asked, although he knew the answer. Had they been old wounds Lennox would not have mentioned them. He would probably not even have noticed them.

“Yes sir, almost certainly within the last few hours. Just before death, in fact. There’s hardly any swelling.”

“I see. Thank you.” Pitt turned back to the bed. He did not want to look at her face, but he knew he must. He must see what and who she had been, and what had been done to her here in this shabby, lonely room. It was his job to learn why and by whom.

She was handsomely built, of roughly average height. As far as he could tell her features had been regular, pleasing in their way. The bones under the puffy flesh were difficult to see, but the brow was good, the nose neat, the hairline gently curved. Her teeth were even and only just beginning to discolor. In another walk of life she might

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