Midnight at Marble Arch
Author:Anne Perry

Midnight at Marble Arch - By Anne Perry



PITT STOOD AT THE top of the stairs and looked across the glittering ballroom of the Spanish Embassy in the heart of London. The light from the chandeliers sparkled on necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Between the somber black and white suits of the men, the women’s gowns blossomed in every color of the early summer: delicate pastels for the young, burning pinks and golds for those in the height of their beauty, and wines, mulberries, and lavenders for the more advanced.

Beside him was Charlotte, her hand resting lightly on his arm. She had no diamonds to wear, but he knew that she had long ago ceased to mind that. It was 1896 and she was now forty years old. The flush of youth had gone, but the richness of maturity became her even more. The happiness that glowed in her face was lovelier than flawless skin or sculpted features, which were mere gifts of chance.

Her hand tightened on his arm for a moment as they started down the stairs. Then they moved into the throng of people, smiling, acknowledging this one and that, trying to remember names. Pitt had recently been promoted to head of Britain’s Special Branch, and it was a heavier weight of responsibility than he had ever carried before. There was no one senior to him in whom he could confide, or to whom he could defer a difficult decision.

He spoke now to ministers, ambassadors, people of influence far greater than their casual laughter in this room might suggest. Pitt had been born in the most modest of circumstances, and gatherings like this were still not easy for him. As a policeman, he had entered homes through the kitchen door, like any other servant, whereas now he was socially acceptable because of the power his position gave him and because he was privy to a range of secrets about almost everyone in the room.

Beside him Charlotte moved easily, and he watched her grace with pleasure. She had been born into Society and knew its foibles and its weaknesses, even if she was too disastrously candid to steer her way through them, unless it was absolutely necessary, as it was now.

She murmured some polite comment to the woman next to her, trying to look interested in the reply. Then she allowed herself to be introduced to Isaura Castelbranco, the wife of the Portuguese Ambassador to Britain.

“How do you do, Mrs. Pitt?” Isaura replied with warmth. She was a shorter woman than Charlotte, barely of average height, but the dignity of her bearing made her stand apart from the ordinary. Her features were gentle, almost vulnerable, and her eyes were so dark as to seem black against her pale skin.

“I hope you are finding our summer weather agreeable?” Charlotte remarked, for the sake of something to say. No one cared about the subject: it was the tone of voice, the smile in the eyes, that mattered.

“It is very pleasant not to be too hot,” Isaura answered immediately. “I am looking forward to the Regatta. It is at Henley, I believe?”

“Indeed it is,” Charlotte agreed. “I admit, I haven’t been for years, but I would love to do so again.”

Pitt knew that was not really true. Charlotte found the chatter and the pretentiousness of lavish Society events a little tedious, but he could see in her face that she liked this woman with her quiet manner.

They spoke for several minutes more before courtesy required that they offer their attention to the others who swirled around under the lights, or drifted to the various side rooms, or down the stairs to the hallway below.

They separated with a smile as Pitt was drawn into conversation with a junior minister from the Foreign Office. Charlotte managed to catch the attention of her great-aunt, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould. Actually she was great-aunt by marriage to Charlotte’s sister Emily, but over the years that distinction had ceased even to be remembered, let alone matter.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself,” Vespasia said softly, amusement lighting her remarkable silver-gray eyes. In her prime she had reputedly been the most beautiful woman in Europe, certainly the wittiest. Did they but know it, she was also one who had fought at the barricades in Rome, during the turbulent revolution that had swept Europe in ’48.

“I haven’t forgotten all my manners,” Charlotte replied with her usual frankness. “I fear I am reaching an age when I cannot afford to wear an expression of boredom. It is terribly unflattering.”

Vespasia was quite openly amused, her smile warm. “It never does to look as if you are waiting for something,” she agreed. “Which is good. Women who are waiting are so tiresome. Who have you met?”

“The wife of the Portuguese ambassador,” Charlotte replied. “I liked her immediately. There is something unusual in her face. I’m sorry I shall probably never see her again.”

“Isaura Castelbranco,” Vespasia said thoughtfully. “I know little of her, thank heaven. I know too much about so many other people. A little mystery lends such charm, like the softness of the late afternoon or the silence between the notes of music.”

Charlotte was turning the thought over in her mind before replying when there was a sudden commotion a dozen yards away from them. Like those around her, she turned toward it. A very elegant young man with a sweep of fair hair took a step backward, raising his hands defensively, a look of disbelief on his face.

In front of him a girl in a gown of white lace stood alone, the skin of her bosom, neck and cheeks flushed red. She was very young, perhaps no more than sixteen, but of a Mediterranean darkness, and already the woman she would become was clear in the curves of her body.

Everyone around the two fell silent, either in embarrassment or possibly out of confusion, as if they had little idea what was happening.

“Really, you are quite unreasonable,” the young man said defensively, his voice light, trying to brush off the incident. “You misunderstood me.”

The girl was not soothed at all. She looked angry, even a little frightened.

“No, sir,” she said in slightly accented English. “I did not misunderstand. Some things are the same in all languages.”

He still did not seem to be perturbed, only elaborately patient, as with someone who was being unintentionally obtuse. “I assure you, I meant it merely as a compliment. You must be used to such things?”

She drew in her breath to answer, but obviously could not find the words she wished.

He smiled, now openly amused at her, perhaps just a little mocking. He was good-looking in an unusual way. He had a strong and prominent nose and thin lips, but fine dark eyes.

“You’ll have to get used to admiration.” His look swept up and down her with just a fraction too much candor. “You’ll receive a great deal of it, I can promise you.”

The girl was shaking now. Even from where she stood, Charlotte could see that she had no idea how to deal with such inappropriate appreciation of her beauty. She was too young to have learned the necessary composure. It seemed her mother was not close enough to have overheard the exchange, and the young man, whom she now recognized as Neville Forsbrook, was very confident. His father was one of London’s foremost bankers and the family had wealth and status, and all the privilege that came with it. He was not used to being denied anything, most especially by a girl who was not even British.

Charlotte took a step forward, and felt Vespasia’s hand on her arm, restraining her.

The color had drained out of the girl’s face, leaving her ashen. “Leave me alone!” Her voice was shrill and a little too loud. “Don’t touch me!”

Neville Forsbrook laughed quite openly now. “My dear young lady, you are being ridiculous, and making something of a spectacle of yourself. I’m sure that is not what you wish.” He was smiling, and he took a step toward her, one hand out in front of him, as if to soothe.

The girl swung her hand wildly in an arc, catching his arm with hers and knocking it aside roughly. She swiveled around to escape, lost her balance and almost fell against another young woman, who promptly screamed and flung herself into the arms of a startled young man close to her.

The girl managed to untangle herself and fled, sobbing now. Neville Forsbrook remained where he was with a half smile on his face, which quickly changed to a look of bewilderment. He shrugged and spread his hands, elegant and strong, but the shadow of a smile remained. Was it out of embarrassment, or was there still the faintest hint of mockery there? Charlotte wasn’t sure.

Someone stepped forward and began a polite conversation about nothing in particular. Others joined in gratefully. After a few moments the hum of voices resumed, the rustle of skirts, distant music, the slight sound of feet moving on the polished floor. It was as if nothing had happened.

“That was very ugly,” Charlotte said to Vespasia as soon as she was certain they were not overheard. “What an insensitive young man.”

“He must feel foolish,” Vespasia replied with a touch of sympathy.

“What on earth was that all about?” a dark-haired woman near them asked confusedly.

The elderly man with her shook his head. “Young ladies tend to be rather excitable, my dear. I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s just some misunderstanding, no doubt.”

“Who is she, anyway?” the woman asked him, glancing at Charlotte also, in case she could shed light on it.

“Angeles Castelbranco. Pretty young thing,” the elderly man remarked, not really to anyone. “Going to be a beautiful woman.”

“That’s hardly relevant, James!” his wife snapped. “She doesn’t know how to behave! Imagine her doing that at a dinner party!”

“Quite bad enough here, thank you,” another woman joined in. The brilliance of her diamonds and the sheen on her lush green silks could not disguise the bitterness of her expression.

Charlotte was stung to the girl’s defense. “I’m sure you are right,” she said, meeting the woman’s eyes boldly. “You must know far more about it than we do. All we saw was what appeared to be a rather self-assured young man quite clearly embarrassing a foreign ambassador’s daughter. I have no idea what preceded it, or how it might more kindly have been handled.”

Charlotte felt Vespasia’s hand fall very lightly on her arm again, but she ignored it. She kept the fixed, inquiring smile on her face and did not lower her gaze.

The woman in green colored angrily. “You give me too much credit, Mrs …. I’m afraid I do not know your name …” She left the denial hanging in the air, not so much a question as a dismissal. “But of course I am well acquainted with Sir Pelham Forsbrook, and therefore his son, Neville, who has been kind enough to show a very flattering interest in my youngest daughter.”

Pitt now rejoined them with a glance at Vespasia, but Charlotte did not introduce either him or herself to the woman in green. “Let us hope it is more graciously expressed than his unflattering interest in Miss Castelbranco,” she continued in a tone so sweet as to be sickly. “But of course you will make sure of that. You are not in a foreign country and uncertain how to deal with ambiguous remarks from young men directed toward your daughter.”

“I do not know any young men who make ambiguous remarks!” the woman snapped back, her eyebrows arched high.

“How pleasant for you,” Charlotte murmured.

The elderly man coughed, and raised his handkerchief to conceal his mouth, his eyes dancing.

Pitt turned his head away as if he had heard some sudden noise to attract his attention, and accidentally pulled Charlotte with him, although in truth she was perfectly ready to leave. That had been her parting shot. From here on it could only get worse. She gave a dazzling smile to Vespasia, and saw an answering sparkle in her eyes.

“What on earth are you doing?” Pitt demanded softly as soon as they were out of earshot.

“Telling her she’s a fool,” Charlotte replied. She had thought her meaning was obvious.

“I know that!” he retorted. “And so does she. You have just made an enemy.”

“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “That may be unfortunate, but being her friend would have been even more so. She’s a social climber of the worst sort.”

“How do you know? Who is she?” he asked.

“I know because I’ve just seen how she acts. And I have no idea who she is, nor do I care.” She knew she might regret saying that, but just at the moment she was too angry to curb her temper. “I am going to speak to Senhora Castelbranco and make sure her daughter is all right.”

“Charlotte …”

She broke free, turned for a moment and gave him the same dazzling smile she had offered Vespasia, then moved into the crowd toward where she had last seen the Portuguese ambassador’s wife.

It took her ten minutes more to find her. Senhora Castelbranco was standing near one of the doorways, her daughter with her. The girl was the same height as her mother, and even prettier than she had appeared at a distance. Her eyes were dazzling, and her skin softly honey-colored with a faint flush across her cheeks. She watched Charlotte approach them with an alarm that she could not hide, even though she was clearly trying to.

Charlotte smiled at her briefly, then turned to her mother. “I’m so sorry that wretched young man was rude. It must be impossibly difficult for you to do anything, in your diplomatic position. It really was inexcusable of him.” She turned to the girl, then realized she was uncertain how fluent her English might be. “I hope you are all right?” she said a little awkwardly. “I apologize. We should have made sure you were not placed in such an ugly situation.”

Angeles smiled, but her eyes filled with tears. “Oh, I am quite all right, madam, I assure you. I … I am not hurt. I …” She gulped. “I just did not know how to answer him.”

Isaura put a protective arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “She is well, of course. Just a little embarrassed. In our own language she would’ve known what to say.” She gave a little shrug. “In English one is not always sure if one is being amusing, or perhaps insulting. It is better not to speak than risk saying something one cannot later withdraw.”

“Of course,” Charlotte said, although she felt uneasy. It seemed like Angeles had actually been far more distressed than they were admitting. “The more awkward the situation, the harder it is to find the words in another language,” she agreed. “That is why he should have known better than to behave as he did. I am so sorry.”

Isaura smiled at her, her dark eyes unreadable. “You are very kind, but I assure you there is no harm done beyond a few moments’ unpleasantness. That is unavoidable in life. It happens to all of us at some time or another. The Season is full of events. I hope we will meet again.”

It was gracious, but it was also a dismissal, as if they wished to be left alone for a while, perhaps even to leave.

“I hope so too,” Charlotte agreed, and excused herself. Her feeling of unease was, if anything, greater.

As she returned to where she had left Pitt, she passed several groups of people talking. One of half a dozen included the woman in green, of whom she had undoubtedly made an enemy.

“Very excitable temperament,” she was saying. “Unreliable, I’m afraid. But we have no choice except to deal with them, I suppose.”

“No choice at all, so my husband informs me,” another assured her. “It seems we have a treaty with Portugal that is over five hundred years old, and for some reason or another, we consider it important.”

“One of the great colonial powers, I’m told,” a third woman said with a lift of her fair eyebrows, as if the fact was scarcely credible. “I thought it was just a rather agreeable little country off the west side of Spain.” She gave a tinkling laugh.

Charlotte was unreasonably irritated, given that she knew very little more of Portuguese colonial history than the woman who had spoken.

“Frankly, my dear, I think she had possibly taken rather too much wine and was the worse for it,” the woman in green said confidentially. “When I was sixteen we never drank more than lemonade.”

The second woman leaned forward conspiratorially. “And too young to be engaged, don’t you think?”

“She is engaged? Good heavens, yes.” Her voice was emphatic. “Should wait another year, at the very least. She is far too immature, as she has just most unfortunately demonstrated. To whom is she engaged?”

“That’s the thing,” the third woman said, shrugging elegantly. “Very good marriage, I believe. Tiago de Freitas. Excellent family. Enormous amount of money, I think from Brazil. Could it be Brazil?”

“Well, there’s gold there, and Brazil is Portuguese,” a fourth woman told them, smoothing the silk of her skirt. “So it could well be so. And Angola in the southwest of Africa is Portuguese, and so is Mozambique in southeast Africa, and they say there’s gold there too.”

“Then how did we come to let the Portuguese have it?” the woman in green asked irritably. “Somebody wasn’t paying attention!”

“Perhaps they’ve quarreled?” one of them suggested.

“Who? The Portuguese?” the woman in green demanded. “Or do you mean the Africans?”

“I meant Angeles Castelbranco and Tiago de Freitas,” came the impatient reply. “That would account for her being a bit hysterical.”

“It doesn’t excuse bad manners,” the woman in green said sharply, lifting her rather pronounced chin, and thereby making more of the diamonds at her throat. “If one is indisposed, one should say so and remain at home.”

At that rate, you should never set foot out of the door, Charlotte thought bitterly. And we should all be the happier for it. But she could not say so. She was an eavesdropper, not part of the conversation. She moved on quickly before they became aware that she had been standing in the same spot for several moments, for no apparent reason except to overhear.

She found Pitt speaking with a group of people she didn’t know. In case it might be important, she did not interrupt. When there was a break in the discussion, he excused himself temporarily and came over to her.

“Did you find the ambassador’s wife?” he asked, his brow slightly furrowed with concern.

“Yes,” she said quietly. “Thomas, I’m afraid she’s still very upset. It was a miserable thing to do to a young girl from a foreign country. At the very least, he made public fun of her. She’s only sixteen, just two years older than Jemima.” In the moment of saying her own daughter’s name she felt a tug of fear, conscious of how terribly vulnerable Jemima was. She was partway between child and woman, her body seeming to change every week, to leave behind the comfort of girlhood but not yet gain the grace and confidence of an adult.

Pitt looked startled. Clearly he had not even imagined Jemima in a ball gown with her hair coiled up on her head and young men seeing so much more than the child she was.

Charlotte smiled at him. “You should look more carefully, Thomas. Jemima’s still a little self-conscious, but she has curves, and more than one young man has looked at her a second and third time—including her dance teacher and the rector’s son.”

Pitt stiffened.

She put her hand on his arm, gently. “There’s no need to be alarmed. I’m watching. She’s still two years younger than Angeles Castelbranco, and at this age two years is a lot. But she’s full of moods. One minute she’s so happy she can’t stop singing, an hour later she’s in tears or has lost her temper. She quarrels with poor Daniel, who doesn’t know what’s the matter with her, and then she’s so reticent she doesn’t want to come out of her bedroom.”

“I had noticed,” Pitt said drily. “Are you sure it’s normal?”

“Consider yourself lucky,” she replied with a slight grimace. “My father had three daughters. As soon as Sarah was all right, I started, and then when I was more or less sane again, it was Emily’s turn.”

“I suppose I should be grateful Daniel’s a boy,” he said ruefully.

She gave a little laugh. “He’ll have his own set of problems,” she replied. “It’s just that you’ll understand them better—and I won’t.”

He looked at her with sudden, intense gentleness. “She’ll be all right, won’t she?”

“Jemima? Of course.” She refused to think otherwise.

He put his hand over hers and held it. “And Angeles Castelbranco?”

“I expect so, although she looked terribly fragile to me just now. But I expect it’s all the same thing. Sixteen is so very young. I shudder when I remember myself at that age. I thought I knew so much, which shows how desperately little I really did know.”

“I wouldn’t tell Jemima that, if I were you,” he advised.

She gave him a wry look. “I hadn’t planned on it, Thomas.”

TWO HOURS LATER THE idea had crossed Pitt’s mind a few times that he and Charlotte could finally excuse themselves and go home, satisfied that duty had been fulfilled. He caught sight of her at the far side of the room, talking to Vespasia. Watching them, he could not help smiling. Charlotte’s dark, chestnut-colored hair was almost untouched by gray; Vespasia’s was totally silver. To him, Charlotte was increasingly lovely, and he never tired of looking at her. He knew she did not have the staggering beauty that was still there in Vespasia’s face—the grace of her bones, the delicacy—but he could see so much of each in Charlotte’s poise and vitality. Standing together now, they spoke as if they were oblivious to the rest of the room.

He became aware of someone near him, and turned to see Victor Narraway a few feet over, looking in the same direction. His face was unreadable, his eyes so dark they seemed black, his thick hair heavily streaked with silver. Less than a year ago he had been Pitt’s superior in Special Branch, a man with access to a host of secrets and the iron will to use them as need and conscience dictated. He also had a steadiness of nerve Pitt thought he himself might never achieve.

Betrayal from within the department had cost Narraway his position and Pitt had been set in his place, his enemies sure he would not have the steel in his soul to succeed. They had been wrong, at least so far. But Victor Narraway had remained out of office, removed to the House of Lords, where his abilities were wasted. There were always committees, and political intrigues of one sort or another, but nothing that offered the immense power he had once wielded. That in itself might not matter to him, but to be unable to use his extraordinary talents was a loss he surely found hard to bear.

“Looking for the cue to go home?” Narraway asked with a slight smile, reading Pitt as easily as he always had.

“It’s not far off midnight. I don’t think we really need to stay much longer,” Pitt agreed, returning the slightly rueful smile. “It’ll probably take half an hour to make all the appropriate goodbyes.”

“And Charlotte, another half hour after that,” Narraway added, glancing across the room toward Charlotte and Vespasia.

Pitt shrugged, not needing to answer. The remark was made with affection—or probably more than that, as he well knew.

Before his train of thought could go any further, they were joined by a slender man well into his forties. His dark hair was threaded with gray at the temples but there was a youthful energy in his unusual face. He was not exactly handsome—his nose was not straight and his mouth was a little generous—but the vitality in him commanded not only attention but an instinctive liking.

“Good evening, m’lord,” he said to Narraway. Then without hesitation, he turned to Pitt, holding out his hand. “Rawdon Quixwood,” he introduced himself.

“Thomas Pitt,” Pitt responded.

“Yes, I know.” Quixwood’s smile widened. “Perhaps I am not supposed to, but seeing you standing here talking so comfortably with Lord Narraway, the conclusion is obvious.”

“Either that, or he has no idea who I am,” Narraway said drily. “Or who I was.” There was no bitterness in his voice, or even in his eyes, but Pitt knew how the dismissal had hurt and guessed how heavily Narraway’s new idleness weighed on him. A joke passed off lightly, a touch of self-mockery, did not hide the wound. But perhaps if Pitt had been so easily deceived he would not belong in the leadership of Special Branch now. All his adult life in the police had made understanding people as second nature to him as dressing a certain way, or exercising courtesy or discretion. Seeing through the masks of privacy worn by friends was a different matter. He would have preferred not to.

“If he did not know who you were, my lord, he would be a total outsider,” Quixwood responded pleasantly. “And I saw him speaking with Lady Vespasia half an hour ago, which excludes that as a possibility.”

“She speaks to outsiders,” Narraway pointed out. “In fact, I have come to the conclusion that at times she prefers them.”

“With excellent judgment,” Quixwood agreed. “But they do not speak to her. She is somewhat intimidating.”

Narraway laughed, and there was genuine enjoyment in the sound.

Pitt was going to add his own opinion when a movement beyond Narraway caught his eye. He saw a young man approaching them, his face pale and tense with anxiety. His gaze was fixed on Pitt with a kind of desperation.

“Excuse me,” Pitt said briefly, and moved past Narraway to go toward the man.

“Sir …” the man began awkwardly. “Is … is that Mr. Quixwood you were speaking to? Mr. Rawdon Quixwood?”

“Yes, it is.” Pitt wondered what on earth was the matter. The younger man’s distress was palpable. “Is there something wrong?” he prompted.

“Yes, sir. My name’s Jenner, sir. Police. Are you a friend of Mr. Quixwood’s?”

“No, I’m afraid not. I’ve only just met him. I’m Commander Pitt, of Special Branch. What is it you want?” He was aware that by now at least one of the other two would have noticed the awkward conversation and Jenner’s obvious unhappiness. They might be refraining from interruption on the assumption it was Special Branch business.

Jenner took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, sir, but Mr. Quixwood’s wife has been found dead at their home. It’s worse than just that, sir.” He gulped, and swallowed with difficulty. “It looks pretty plain that she’s been murdered. I need to tell Mr. Quixwood, and take him there. If he has any friends who could … be there to help him …” He trailed off, not knowing what else to say.

After all his experience with violent and unexpected death, Pitt should have been used to hearing of it and been familiar with the grief it would cause. But, if anything, it seemed to grow more difficult with each case.

“Wait here, Jenner. I’ll tell him. I daresay Lord Narraway will go with him, if Quixwood wishes.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Jenner was clearly relieved.

Pitt turned back to Narraway and Quixwood, who had continued talking together, deliberately not paying him attention.

“Never off duty, eh?” Quixwood said with much sympathy.

Pitt felt the knot of pity tighten inside him. “It isn’t actually me he was looking for,” he said quickly. He put his hand on Narraway’s arm in a kind of warning. “I’m afraid there has been a tragedy.” He looked directly at Quixwood, who stared back at him with nothing more than polite bemusement in his eyes.

Narraway stiffened, hearing the catch in Pitt’s voice. He glanced at him, then at Quixwood.

“I’m sorry,” Pitt said gently. “He’s from the police. Mr. Quixwood, they have found your wife’s body in your home. He has come to take you there, and anyone you may wish to accompany you at this time.”

Quixwood stared at him as if the words made no sense. He seemed to sway a little before making a deliberate effort to compose himself. “Catherine?” He turned slowly to Narraway, then back to Pitt. “Found …? Why the police, for God’s sake? What’s happened?”

Pitt wanted to reach out and take the man’s arm to steady him. However, on so brief an acquaintance, such a gesture would have been intrusive, unless Quixwood was actually on the brink of falling. “I’m very sorry; it looks as if there was some kind of violence.”

Quixwood looked at Narraway. “Violence? Will … will you come with me?” He passed his hand across his brow. “This is absurd! Who would hurt Catherine?”

“Of course I’ll come,” Narraway said immediately. “Make my excuses, Pitt, and Quixwood’s. Don’t give the reason. Just an emergency.” He took Quixwood’s arm and led him toward where Jenner was waiting, and together the three of them left.

THE RIDE BY HANSOM cab was one of the most distressing Narraway could recall. He sat next to Quixwood, with the young policeman, Jenner, on the far side. Half a dozen times Quixwood drew in his breath to speak, but in the end there was nothing to say.

Narraway was only half aware of the brightly lit streets and the warm, summer night. They passed other carriages, one so closely that he glimpsed the faces of the man and woman inside, the brief fire of the diamonds at her neck.

They turned a corner and were obliged to slow down. Light spilled out of open doors and there was a sound of laughter and distant music from inside. People were starting to leave their various parties, too busy talking to one another, calling goodbyes, to pay attention to the traffic. The world continued as if death did not exist and murder was impossible.

Could it really have been murder, or was Jenner misinformed? He looked quite young and very upset.

Narraway did not know Quixwood well. Theirs was a social acquaintance, a matter of being pleasant on a number of occasions where both were required to attend a gathering, and now and then a drink at a gentlemen’s club or dinner at some government function. Narraway had been head of Special Branch; Quixwood was involved in one of the major merchant banks, handling enormous amounts of money. Their paths had never crossed professionally. Narraway could not even remember meeting Quixwood’s wife.

They were coming from the Spanish Embassy in Queen’s Gate, Kensington, traveling east toward Belgravia. Quixwood lived on Lyall Street, just off Eaton Square. They had less than two hundred yards to go. Quixwood was sitting forward, staring at the familiar façades as they slowed down and came to a stop just short of a house where police were blocking the way.

Narraway alighted immediately and paid the driver, telling him not to wait. Jenner came out from the same side, with Quixwood beside him. Narraway followed them across the pavement and up the steps, through the classically pillared front door, into the vestibule. Every room was lit and there were servants standing around, white-faced. He saw a butler and a footman, and another man, who was probably a valet. There were no women in sight.

A man came out of the inner hallway and stopped. He looked to be in his forties, hair mostly gray, his face weary and crumpled with distress. He glanced at Jenner, then looked at Narraway and Quixwood.

“Which of you is Mr. Quixwood?” he said quietly, his voice cracking a little as though his throat was tight.

“I am,” Quixwood answered. “Rawdon Quixwood.”

“Inspector Knox, sir,” the man answered. “I’m very sorry indeed.”

Quixwood started to say something, then lost the words.

Knox looked at Narraway, clearly trying to work out who he was and why he had come.

“Victor Narraway. I happened to be with Mr. Quixwood when the police found him. I’ll be of any help I can.”

“Thank you, Mr. Narraway. Good of you, sir.” Knox turned back to Quixwood again. “I’m sorry to distress you, sir, but I need you to take a very quick look at the lady and confirm that it is your wife. The butler said that it is, but we’d prefer it if you … you were to …”

“Of course,” Quixwood replied. “Is she …?”

“In the inner hall, sir. We’ve covered her with a sheet. Just look at her face, if you don’t mind.”

Quixwood nodded and walked a little unsteadily through the double doors. He glanced to his left and stopped, swaying a little, putting out his hand as if reaching for something.

Narraway went after him in half a dozen strides, ready to brace him if he were to stagger.

The body of Catherine Quixwood was lying sprawled, slightly on its side, mostly facedown, on the wooden parquet floor, all of her concealed by the bedsheet thrown over her, except her face. Her long, dark hair was loose, some of it fallen over her brow, but it did not hide the bloody bruises on her cheek and jaw, or the split lip stained scarlet by the blood that had oozed from her mouth. In spite of that it was possible to see that she had been a beautiful woman.

Narraway felt a knot of shock and sorrow that he had not expected. He had not known her when she was alive, and she was far from the first person he had seen who had been killed violently. Without thinking, he reached out and grasped Quixwood’s arm, holding him hard. The other man was totally unresisting, as if he were paralyzed.

Narraway pushed him very gently. “You don’t need to stay here. Just tell Knox if it is her, and then go into the withdrawing room or your study.”

Quixwood turned to face him. His skin was ashen. “Yes, yes, of course you’re right. Thank you.” He looked beyond him to Knox. “That is my wife. That is Catherine. Can I … I mean … do you have to leave her there like that? On the floor? For God’s sake.” He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I suppose you do.”

Knox’s face was pinched with grief. “Mr. Narraway, sir, perhaps if you would take Mr. Quixwood into the study.” He indicated the direction with his hand. “I’ll ask the butler to bring brandy for both of you.”

“Of course.” Narraway guided Quixwood to the door Knox had indicated.

The room would have been pleasant and comfortable at any other time. The season being early summer, there was no fire lit in the large hearth, and the curtains were open onto the garden. The lamps were already lit. Possibly Knox and his men had searched the house.

Quixwood sank into one of the large leather-covered armchairs, burying his face in his hands.

Almost immediately a footman appeared with a silver tray holding a decanter of brandy and two balloon glasses. Narraway thanked him. He poured one and gave it to Quixwood, who took it and swallowed a mouthful with a wince, as if it had burned his throat.

Narraway did not take one himself. He looked at Quixwood, who was almost collapsed in the chair.

“Would you like me to ask this man Knox what happened, as far as they can tell?” he offered.

“Would you?” Quixwood asked with a flash of gratitude. “I … I don’t think I can bear it. I mean … to look at her … like that.”

“Of course.” Narraway went to the door. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Is there anyone you would like me to telephone? Family? A friend?”

“No,” Quixwood answered numbly. “Not yet. I have no immediate family and Catherine …” He took a shaky breath. “Catherine’s sister lives in India. I’ll have to write to her.”

Narraway nodded and went out into the hallway, closing the door softly behind him.

Knox was standing beyond the body, closer to the outside doors. He turned as Narraway’s movement caught his eye.

“Sir?” he said politely. “I think, if you don’t mind, it would be better if you could keep Mr. Quixwood in there, with the door closed, for the next half hour or so. The police surgeon is on his way.” He glanced at the body, which was now entirely covered by the sheet. “Mr. Quixwood shouldn’t have to see that, you understand?”

“Do you have any idea what happened yet?” Narraway asked.

“Not really,” Knox replied, his politeness distancing Narraway as a friend of the victim’s husband, not someone who could be of any use, apart from comforting the widower.

“I might be able to help,” Narraway said simply. “I’m Lord Narraway, by the way. Until very recently I was head of Special Branch. I am not unacquainted with violence or, regrettably, with murder.”

Knox blinked. “I’m sorry, my lord. I didn’t mean to—”

Narraway brushed it aside. He was still not used to his title. “I might be of some assistance. Did she disturb a burglar? Who was it that found her? Where were the rest of the servants that they heard nothing? Isn’t it rather early in the night for someone to break in? Rather risky?”

“I’m afraid it isn’t that simple, my lord,” Knox said unhappily. “I’m waiting on Dr. Brinsley. It’s taking awhile because I had to send someone for him. Didn’t want just anyone for this.”

Narraway felt a twinge of anxiety, like a cold hand on his flesh.

“Because of Mr. Quixwood’s position?” he asked, knowing as he said it that it was not so.

“No, sir,” Knox replied, taking a step back toward the body. After placing himself to block any possible view from the study doorway, he lifted the sheet right off.

Catherine Quixwood lay on her front, but half curled over, one arm flung wide, the other underneath her. She was wearing a light summer skirt of flowered silk and a muslin blouse, or what remained of it. It had been ripped open at the front, exposing what could be seen of her bosom. There were deep gouges in her flesh, as if someone had dragged their fingernails across the skin, bruising and tearing it. Blood had seeped out of the scratch marks. Her skirt was so badly torn and raised up around her hips that its original shape was impossible to tell. Her naked thighs were bruised, and from the blood and other fluids it was painfully obvious that she had been raped as well as beaten.

“God Almighty!” Narraway breathed. He looked up at Knox and saw the pity in his face, perhaps more undisguised than it should have been.

“I need Dr. Brinsley to tell me what actually killed her, sir. I’ve got to handle this one exactly right, but as discreetly as possible, for the poor lady’s sake.” He looked again toward the study door. “And for his too, of course.”

“Cover her up again,” Narraway requested quietly, feeling a little sick. “Yes … as discreetly as possible, please.”