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The last days

Table of ContentsTitle PageCopyright PageDedication PART IONETWOTHREEFOURFIVESIXSEVENEIGHTNINETENELEVENTWELVETHIRTEEN PART IIFOURTEENFIFTEENSIXTEENSEVENTEEN PART IIIEIGHTEENNINETEENTWENTYTWENTY-ONETWENTY-TWOTWENTY-THREETWENTY-FOURTWENTY-FIVE EPILOGUEAcknowledgements‘The main character is a Bow Street Runner who is investigating three brutal murders in St Giles, London. He crosses powerful people, ends up in Newgate prison heading for the gallows, has the help of a headstrong aristocratic beauty . . . A story of high intrigue and low politics, brutal murder and cunning conspiracies . . . Tangy and rambunctious stuff ’Peter Guttridge, Observer‘The novel drips with all the atmospheric detail of a pre-Victorian murder mystery - “pea soupers”, dingy lanterns and laudanum’John Cooper, The Times‘Pyke is violent, vengeful and conflicted in the best tradition of detectives. His story takes in grisly murder and torture, and uses 1800s London in the same way that hard-boiled fiction uses Los Angeles as a mirror of a corrupt society’Jerome de Groot, Time Out‘This is an excellent, atmospheric mystery . . . it is the character of Pyke that is of greatest interest. I struggle to find anyone to compare with him, with the possible exception of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley. He is an anti-hero who intends to prove his innocence at whatever cost. But his acts can be heroic - and there is no lack of morality in the book. The final chapter hints at the impact of some of the compromises made. I can’t wait for the sequel’‘This excellent debut . . . is the first of a promised series, and Andrew Pepper and Pyke both deserve to be watched out for’Toronto Globe and Mail‘Gripping and atmospheric’Daily Express‘He creates a vision of London for 1829 so atmospheric that it is almost possible to feel the fog enveloping your face, to smell the stench from the gutters and feel the danger in the rookeries’Material Witness Andrew Pepper lives in Belfast where he is a lecturer in English at Queen’s University. The Last Days of Newgate is his first novel.    The Last Days of Newgate  ANDREW PEPPER A Weidenfeld & Nicolson ebook A PHOENIX PAPERBACK  First published in Great Britain in 2006by Weidenfeld & Nicolson This paperback edition published in 2007by Phoenix,an imprint of Orion Books Ltd, Orion House, 5 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9EA An Hachette Livre UK company 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 Copyright © Andrew Pepper 2006 The right of Andrew Pepper to be identified as the author ofthis work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Frontispiece map courtesy of Mark Annand and Bath Spa University All rights reserved. No part of this publication may bereproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, inany form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the priorpermission of the copyright owner. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places andincidents either are the product of the author’s imaginationor are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actualpersons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. A CIP catalogue record for this bookis available from the British Library.eISBN : 978 0 2978 5711 2 This ebook produced by Jouve, FranceFor Debbie[T]he gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation. NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI, The PrincePART ILondon, EnglandFEBRUARY 1829ONEAmetallic glint preceded the thrust of a knife blade, as a voice, a female voice, shouted his name.‘Pyke.’It may have saved his life.The blade drew blood on his neck, a nick rather than a wound, and, turning like a whip, he stared into the hate-filled eyes of his attacker. Michael Flynn lunged at him again but this time he swayed backwards and avoided the blade’s arching loop, steadying himself before taking a grip of the Irishman’s wrist and snapping it sideways in a clean jerk that may well have broken bone. Flynn’s shriek confirmed his pain and, more importantly for Pyke, the knife clattered harmlessly on to the taproom’s sawdusted floor. Pyke released his assailant’s limp wrist and surveyed the mass of hostile faces assembled in the taproom of the Blue Dog tavern. He saw the back of her bonnet, bobbing as she hurried for the door, but she was too far away to be stopped. Later, he could not be sure he had not seen her face as well, but no clear image lodged in his mind. Momentarily he considered going after her, but he had more pressing issues to address. Though wounded, Flynn remained a dangerous adversary and Pyke wasted no time in retrieving the knife from the floor and pressing the blade against the receiver’s throat. His fee for sending his former associate to certain death on the gallows would be a mereten guineas. It would have made practical sense to slit the man’s throat in the alley outside the tavern and leave him for the resurrectionists but, whatever else he was, Pyke was not an assassin.Instead he delivered the papist thief to his Bow Street offices and roughly pushed him into the felons’ room, ignoring the man’s threats to expose him.It may have seemed incongruous, to some, that, only a few hours later, Pyke was being transported in an open carriage through the manicured grounds of an English aristocrat whose wife had claimed ancestry with the first earl of Essex, but he was neither amused nor unsettled by having to move between different worlds. Nor was he concerned by the inequalities such a difference drew attention to. He would leave such thoughts to the politicians: the blustering Whig aristocrats who spoke about freedom and responsibility in public and abused their servants in private, and Tory landowners who cared nothing about the hardships their wealth and privilege created for others.Pyke had no time for radical sentiment, nor was he what one might call a monarchist. But he managed to amuse himself, if only for a moment, with the agreeable thought of a mob from the Blue Dog overrunning Lord Edmonton’s country home and hunting him with scythes and axes.The carriage, a new, lighter two-wheeled cabriolet, had covered the treacherous terrain from Bow Street and north through Hackney and Homerton in less time than a short-stop stagecoach. Yet it had left him exposed to the elements and Pyke cursed Edmonton for insisting they meet at Hambledon Hall rather than at one of his town houses. That, and the inclement weather, redoubled Pyke’s determination to charge Edmonton at least twice the figure the old man intended to offer him.As the afternoon rain began to clear, the old Elizabethan hall became visible, its crenellated stone walls and Gothic, semi-fortified tower reminders of an era long gone. Still, Pyke was disappointed by the distinctly shabby interior. There were none of the excesses that he had been expecting. Lit dimly by gas lamps and candles, the entrance hall had the feel of an empty tomb. Pyke reluctantly allowed one of the servants to take his heavy coat and was informed that Edmonton would be down to greet him in due course. Etiquette demanded that Pyke remain where he was, and so he unhesitatingly made his way through large doors into the Great Hall, an unappealing room cluttered with dark furniture and adorned with a gallery of grim-faced ancestral portraits. Ornately carved wooden brackets held up the heraldic panels of the ceiling. In the distance Pyke heard the soft notes of a piano and followed the sounds through another smaller set of doors, along a corridor and to the threshold of a lounge room warmed by a fire.From the doorway, and without drawing attention to his presence, he watched Emily Blackwood, Lord Edmonton’s only progeny. Pyke followed her fingers as they stroked the piano’s keys and noted a contradiction between her expression, fixed in concentration, and her body, which moved in time with the rhythm of what she was playing.She wore an embroidered muslin dress that enhanced her delicate frame. Her dark hair was gathered in a simple comb and offset her pale skin. He admired her fine looks as someone might appreciate a painting by Turner, an object that was pleasing to the eye but ultimately bland. Far better than Turner, for Pyke, was Hogarth, with his scenes of despair and violence. Better still was Hieronymus Bosch; those phantasmagoric images of human suffering made him feel, at once violated and aroused. In short, there was something too virtuous about Emily Blackwood, an element that shone from within her and made her not just unobtainable but somehow too perfect. He wondered whether she might crumble or snap into pieces, should anyone try to fuck her.Though reluctant to spoil the moment, he feigned a cough. She stopped playing and looked up at him, startled and then angry. They had met once before when he had last performed a service for her father; however, he could not tell whether she recognised him or not. She worked for the philanthropist Elizabeth Fry, a woman of some public esteem, who had long campaigned for improved conditions in Newgate prison.‘I would tell you to make yourself at home, but clearly you have already followed such advice,’ she said, without moving from behind the piano.‘You are a very fine pianist.’ Pyke stepped into the room and ignored her indignation.‘You fancy yourself as an expert?’ she asked, sceptically.‘At first, I thought you were playing a piece by Mozart, one of his piano concertos perhaps. But then I considered the way you carried yourself, as though you were trying to hold something back against your will, and it made me revise my opinion.’Her anger abated and a curious expression spread across her face. ‘You presume to know me, and what I played, perhaps a little too well.’‘Last month, I saw this German fellow, Felix Mendelssohn, give a fine rendition of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto in town. What you were playing reminded me a little of him.’‘Mr Pyke, you are clearly more cultured than your reputation suggests.’‘Oh? And what does my reputation suggest?’ He tried to hide his satisfaction that she had remembered his name.‘When people talk of you, they do so with a reverence that borders, I would say, on fear.’‘And you imagine that I seek to encourage such a reputation? Or deserve it?’ He was wearing a shirt with a collar to hide the cut he had received from Flynn’s blade.This time she smiled a little. ‘I would imagine it serves your own interests quite well.’‘My interests as a thief-taker?’
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‘I have heard that only one of those words describes what you are, Mr Pyke. Or what you do.’He couldn’t stop himself laughing. He looked at her again, approvingly this time. ‘You seem to know an awful lot about me, Miss Blackwood.’‘I know you’re a Bow Street Runner but I have little idea of what Bow Street Runners are meant to do. I can see you’re confident to the point of vulgarity. I would guess your age to be a little over thirty. I have heard other less agreeable rumours about your profession in general which I do not wish to dwell on. Beyond that, I have been blissfully unaware of your existence and intend to remain that way.’Emily Blackwood was, indeed, very pretty, but not as pretty as she might have been had her dress been tattier, or her hair not so immaculately pinned up, or had she not worn her breeding so aggressively in the company of others.Pyke had been told he was handsome, although not in the suave if effete manner of an English gentleman. His thick black hair, curled in places, mutton-chop sideburns and swarthy olive skin suggested someone coarser, more readily associated with Continental peasants and bandits. A former lover, after she had been discarded, had described his lips as cruel and his pale grey eyes as lacking in sentiment. Another, while running the tips of her fingers suggestively across his bare chest, had commented that there was not an ounce of fat on him, although she too had delivered more disparaging remarks about his appearance after he had admitted growing bored of their affair.‘I have heard something about your own good work, Miss Blackwood. Since Mrs Fry first visited Newgate there have been some important changes.’‘It’s a shame that our interests largely concern the female prison, for otherwise you yourself might benefit from the reforms at some future point.’Pyke allowed her remark to pass. ‘Your fine looks belie a sharp intellect,’ he said, amiably. ‘But then your piano playing already revealed that fact.’ He was interrupted by the sound of raised voices and the urgent clip of heeled shoes striding across a wooden floor. Edmonton himself entered the room, wheezing like a wounded animal, followed by someone Pyke knew only by reputation; in the flesh, Edmonton’s brother William seemed frightened of his own shadow.‘Dammit, Pyke, were you not told to wait in the entrance hall? Do you imagine I care to walk through my own home searching for hired help?’Pyke bowed his head. ‘Please accept my apologies. It was selfish of me to forget that such strenuous exercise might cause you discomfort.’ He detected a smile on Emily’s face.Edmonton’s bloodshot eyes narrowed. ‘As I am reminded that conversing in a manner above one’s station does not make one a gentleman.’Pyke let the insult pass. It was true he had worked hard to erase any lingering trace of the rookeries from his speech and was as comfortable holding forth with aristocrats as with the working poor of St Giles.‘You seem agitated, Father.’ Emily’s demeanour belied her apparently sympathetic words. ‘What vexes you so?’‘What vexes me?’ Edmonton, who was carrying a newspaper, glanced down at the front page. ‘ “The particular case of Catholic Emancipation will not be stated in detail . . .” Pah. The cowards are afraid to, that’s why.’ He crumpled the newspaper and threw it into the fire. ‘It’s the consequence of handing over power to a military man and a turncoat industrialist with liberal blood running through his veins.’‘Except liberal blood doesn’t extend to easing the hardships most ordinary people have to endure,’ Pyke said, looking across at Emily. ‘And the idle rich remain idly rich.’‘What poppycock,’ Edmonton said, wiping spit from his chin. ‘You sound like a damn Jacobin.’‘Or worse still, a reformer,’ Emily said, playfully. ‘Excuse me for being presumptuous, Mr Pyke, but perhaps you might enlighten us as to your own political convictions.’‘The word “conviction” implies I have a firm opinion on such matters, one way or the other.’‘You would like us to believe you are entirely without conviction?’ Her eyebrows were raised.Pyke smiled as best he could. ‘I think tradition should be upheld only when under attack from reformers, and reform should be upheld only when under attack from traditionalists. Apart from that, the business of politics is best undertaken by those of us who seem to believe our goal as human beings is a selfless one, rather than to serve our own ambitions.’‘How delightfully cynical.’‘What I mean is I have no politics myself and am happy to leave such business to men of your father’s . . . abilities.’Edmonton accepted the compliment without apparently detecting its irony. ‘That’s enough of such pleasantries. Make yourself scarce, girl. The menfolk have some important matters to discuss.’ He rearranged his white waistcoat, revealing buckskin breeches that were stretched so tightly over his belly it seemed as though they might split at any moment.‘Please excuse me, Mr Pyke, I have some flowers to press,’ Emily said, smiling mischievously. ‘But I have no doubt our paths will cross again.’ She collected herself to depart. ‘Until they do, I bid you farewell and hope you have a pleasant trip back to the city.’ She glanced out of the window. ‘It is such a ghastly day.’ Turning to Edmonton, Emily added, ‘Father.’Edmonton muttered something inaudible and shook his head.As a Bow Street Runner, Pyke worked for two magistrates, Sir Richard Fox and his second-in-command Brownlow Vines, who both presided over the courtroom at Bow Street and oversaw the operations of the Runners. The Runners were the capital’s de facto police force; foot patrols roamed the city streets as far east as the Ratcliffe highway, while the horse patrols covered an even wider area stretching as far north as Enfield. In his ten years as a Runner, Pyke had served on both patrols, though he had more quickly taken to the latter, in spite of the showy uniform - a blue greatcoat over a red waistcoat and spurred Wellington boots. Chasing highwaymen and livestock thieves on horseback, armed with pistols and truncheons, across rugged country terrain had been eminently preferable to patrolling the city’s back alleys on foot. Now, however, Pyke was employed almost exclusively as a thief-taker and as a recoverer of stolen goods. Under Sir Richard’s instructions, his job was to arrest those malefactors accused of crimes as various as murder on the one hand and embezzlement on the other, and deliver them to Bow Street. But part of his job was also to provide a service to well-heeled clients who had been victims of crime, usually robberies. If he successfully recovered what had been stolen, Pyke would be paid a finder’s fee. Two years earlier, Pyke had performed such a service for Edmonton, whose Belgravia town house had been relieved of six thousand pounds’ worth of jewellery and bonds. On that occasion, Pyke had orchestrated the return of all the stolen articles, and had earned a fee of three hundred guineas.What Edmonton did not know was that, in collaboration with another Runner who had a personal score to settle with the aristocrat, he had executed the robbery.Edmonton introduced his brother, and Pyke remembered he was a banker. His double-breasted jacket and trousers were cut from cheap cloth and made him look more like a Puritan minister than a successful businessman. He was frail in comparison with his brother, and seemed to occupy the background, as if it were his natural place in the order of things.‘I don’t know how much you know about banking, Pyke, but suffice to say, my brother owns and manages a collection of small country banks . . .’‘We have branches in Norwich, Ely, Colchester and King’s Lynn.’ William spoke in a soft, almost effeminate voice.‘Yes, quite.’ The lord turned a hard stare on his brother. ‘A small business, then, but not an insignificant one, you’ll understand. I take an interest only when scandal or ill fortune threaten to impugn the family’s good name. I fancy my brother will not mind if I let it be known that my judicious intervention helped save the business from ruin during the last banking crisis a little over three years ago.’‘Well, that’s not entirely the case . . .’ Beads of sweat had gathered on the brother’s forehead.‘For heaven’s sake. If I wanted your opinion on the matter, I would have asked for it. Can I speak without being interrupted?’‘I just didn’t want Mr Pyke to think the banks were managed recklessly. A well-regulated country bank only issues notes in fair demand . . .’‘What Pyke thinks of your rather modest acumen as a businessman is quite beside the point,’ Edmonton said, ‘but then again we would not be in this mess if it were not for your childlike sense of what constitutes appropriate security and your wholly predictable lack of judgement.’William glared but refrained from starting an argument.‘Now, would you permit me to speak without interruption? ’William mumbled something weakly in response.The function of a country bank, Edmonton went on to explain, was to oversee the circulation of banknotes in a particular area, and exchange banknotes belonging to the Bank of England and other smaller banks for their own. It was also to facilitate the transfer of funds from cities to towns and vice versa.‘Usually there is no need to transfer hard currency between banks, unless one is embroiled in a banking crisis, in which case it might be necessary or prudent to bolster one’s cash reserves.’William stood in silence next to the fire.‘Presently, however, the opposite is the case. All our banks are performing admirably and it is incumbent on us to transfer the surplus capital to where the demand is greatest. For our bank, that is London. Now, we keep all our surplus currency and a great proportion of our general circulation in government security inside the Bank of England itself but, and this is the vexed issue, on occasion we have to take it there ourselves. We currently lease an office close to the Bank of England on Cornhill in which we have installed a vault. The funds from our various country banks are transferred there for safe keeping, and when it is deemed appropriate, are taken under heavy guard to the Bank of England.’Pyke forgot about the icy temperature. Large sums of money were being discussed.‘Until now everything has worked perfectly well.’ Edmonton drank liberally from a glass of claret. As he did so, his Adam’s apple swelled to the size of a small plum. ‘But, I am afraid to say, the last two deliveries, one from the bank in King’s Lynn and the other from the Colchester branch, have been . . . how can I put it without sounding vulgar ? Well, suffice to say, two thousand pounds has gone missing. Not enough to break us, you will be relieved to hear, but banking is a business built on trust, and if our investors discovered that such a sum had been stolen from under our noses, well, you can understand the awkward position it would put us in.’He made a point of glaring at his brother. William kept his eyes on the floor. His face, however, was crimson.On each occasion, Pyke was told, the carriage transporting the money had been held up by a team of four masked riders, once near Waltham Abbey and once just outside Chelmsford. On both occasions, the guards riding with the carriage, who were also employed as parish watchmen, had been beaten unconscious. Although the men had been armed, they had not managed to let off a single shot. Pyke did not bother to tell Edmonton that, as someone who had served on Bow Street’s horse and foot patrols, he considered watchmen to be wholly ineffectual. Edmonton explained that he did not imagine for a moment the attacks had been random. Rather he believed information regarding the transfer of money had been leaked by someone within the bank to his associates. Edmonton also claimed he knew who was responsible and berated his brother for employing this man in the first place.William continued to stare in silence at the floor but his hands were clenched so tightly the whites of his knuckles were shining.‘Would you care to share that information with me?’ Pyke asked.‘That would depend on whether I can count on your services regarding this matter or not.’‘Since we are what one might call old acquaintances, how would you feel if I proposed a modest fee of, say, five hundred guineas?’Edmonton’s face puffed up like a bullfrog’s throat until it was so blotchy he could no longer hold in his indignation.‘Modest! ’ He made to loosen his collar. ‘My God, you are an impudent sort. It’s almost half of what was stolen.’‘I see your mathematics is as well developed as your generosity as a host.’ The brother, Pyke noticed, was also without a drink.‘Or my sense of righteous outrage is as well developed as my prudence.’ Edmonton’s neck wobbled as he spluttered.‘In which case, I would be prepared to accept as little as four hundred.’‘You’re a man to be reckoned with, aren’t you?’ Edmonton’s laugh was without warmth. ‘Perhaps you could furnish me with the name of any true-born Englishman of good stock who might agree to such an offensive fee?’‘I could intimate there are no such persons, but my final offer would still be four hundred.’‘A thoroughgoing cad as well as a rascal.’ Edmonton addressed his brother in a manner that suggested he was almost enjoying himself. ‘Can you believe I am being spoken to in such a manner?’‘I’d wager you make more than double that figure in the rents you collect every week of the year.’‘You see what I mean?’ Edmonton slapped his brother heartily on the back and turned to face Pyke. ‘Since I’ll admit you have amused me with your show of youthful temerity, I will offer two hundred.’‘Three hundred or you can find yourself another man.’ This time Pyke folded his arms. He sensed Edmonton’s resolve weakening, which surprised him. Pyke had planned to settle for as little as a hundred.‘You know how long it would take a skilled worker or a manservant to earn that kind of money?’ Edmonton said, not quite mollified.
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‘Perhaps three years. In the case of your staff, nearer to six, I would fancy. You could get a man for less money, but not one who might be able to recover what was stolen.’‘Of course, I forget that recovering stolen items is a particular skill of yours.’ Any trace of amusement disappeared from his expression. Pyke wondered how much he knew about their previous business arrangement.‘Are we agreed upon two and a half?’Edmonton stared at him for a while without saying a word.‘Then if we’ve nothing left to talk about, perhaps you would have one of your servants inform my driver that I intend to leave at once.’‘By God, man, will you stop being so damn hasty?’ Edmonton took out a handkerchief and wiped his mouth. ‘I’m persuaded that a fee in the order of two hundred and fifty guineas might be appropriate in these very exceptional circumstances. Of course, it goes without saying such a fee would only be paid on successful completion of the task. Should you fail, you would receive nothing.’‘Naturally.’‘Good,’ Edmonton said, shaking his hand. ‘Now, perhaps, I can tell you about this rascal Swift. My brother, I am afraid to say, made the mistake of hiring this man six months ago and put him in charge of security for the Cornhill office. I am told he served with the duke in Spain. He is the only man apart from my brother and the branch managers who knows where and when any monies are to be transported. Since the managers only have knowledge of their own affairs, and the two carriages robbed thus far hailed from different banks, we can safely rule them out. That’s why I suspect this Swift fellow. He’s your man, I would lay my life on it.’ Edmonton spoke as if his life was worth a great deal. ‘Follow him from the bank’s Cornhill offices. My brother can furnish you with the address. That scoundrel will lead you to the money or at least to the brigands who took it. It will be the easiest fee you’ve ever earned.’In the entrance hall, while Pyke waited for his coat, he witnessed an encounter between Edmonton and his daughter that made him reassess his first impression of her. In fact, he heard as much as he saw; raised voices swelled into full-blown shouts, Emily’s as well as her father’s. Pyke was sufficiently intrigued by their argument to approach the half-closed doors behind which their altercation was taking place, but before he could determine what was being argued about, Emily flew through the doors and almost knocked him down. He had no choice but to fend her off with his hands, but his touch seemed to provoke her to further outrage. Brusquely she pushed him away and, gathering up her skirt, ran past him without uttering a word.TWOAfter an hour spent trawling the numerous taverns and alehouses surrounding St Paul’s Cathedral, Pyke found his uncle, Godfrey Bond, in the Boar tavern on Fleet Street across the road from Middle Temple Gate. The old man was slumped back in his seat in the corner of the taproom. Since there was no natural light and the room was illuminated only by candles and the reddish flame of occasional grease lamps, it was difficult, if not impossible, to tell who anyone was. This suited most of the customers, who appeared less interested in social activities than in pouring gin down their throats.The exposed brick walls and the low ceiling, covered with begrimed, grey-patterned wallpaper, augmented Pyke’s fear of confined spaces. He had suffered from the condition for as long as he could remember. Or rather ever since, as a ten-year-old boy, he had watched his father lose his footing in a stampeding crowd and disappear under their feet. Forty thousand people had been gathered outside Newgate prison to witness the execution of Holloway and Haggerty, two robbers who had been convicted of stabbing a London botanist and leaving him to die at the side of a turnpike in Hounslow. The crowd had been too great for the space they had been herded into and chaos had ensued. Pyke had seen women and children suffocating to death as they were pressed against walls and barricades. Later, once the crowd had finally dispersed, he had found his father lying battered and not breathing in a ditch. His face had been crushed and his clothes were dirty with other people’s shoe and boot prints.Pyke pushed his way through the mass of bodies gathered in the tiny room and chose to ignore the stares of ill-concealed antipathy from those who either recognised him or simply disliked being watched by a stranger.Collapsed between empty pewter ale pots and gnawed pork chops was the unconscious frame of his uncle’s drinking companion. Pyke recognised the Reverend Foote, Ordinary at Newgate prison. Godfrey often plied Foote with drink in exchange for stories of woe and despair that Foote collected or overheard from the prison’s condemned men and women. It was Foote’s task to compile an account of their lives. For a small fee, he would pass these details to Godfrey, who would then print and sell them for a penny to the assembled crowd on the day of the execution.As far as Pyke could tell, these stories carried several contradictory messages: on the one hand they suggested crime did not pay, that it was a sin against God, and that the most heinous crimes were still punishable by death; and on the other hand they made it clear that crime was exciting and heroic, and that criminals acted as they did because society left them no other option. Pyke thought all these explanations were too simple. For him, crime was simply a means to an end. If stealing was the only available means to achieving one’s freedom and well-being, then it made sense to steal.In his earlier life, Pyke’s uncle had been a respectable publisher of radical political pamphlets and as a much younger man had counted figures such as Paine, Wollstonecraft and Godwin as his friends. He had long since abandoned such lofty inclinations, and for the last twenty years had scraped a living publishing sensational tales of criminal wrongdoing which he cobbled together from the annals of old Newgate calendars and from confessions sold to him by Foote. His editorial policy was to concentrate on tales that were especially gruesome and dwell upon specific instances of deviance. In each case, he would try to remove attempts by previous writers to impose moral judgements on the stories. The published sheets were cheaply reproduced and sold for a penny, mostly to the working poor. Godfrey would often tell Pyke that his readers found more of their own lives reflected in his stories than in tales penned by Jane Austen.Godfrey was the closest thing Pyke had to a father. But theirs had always been an ambivalent relationship that reflected their shared desire both to remain independent and to cultivate familial support and companionship. It was a bond that had finally found its own equilibrium. While they no longer shared the same living space or felt any compunction to intervene in one another’s lives, a certain degree of warmth had begun to emerge in their dealings.As a surrogate parent, Godfrey had never imposed even a modicum of discipline on him. Rather, he had provided Pyke with a small room in the attic of his Camden Town apartment and allowed him to come and go as he pleased. It was an arrangement that had suited Pyke, and one that permitted him to gain his education in the ways of the street, in such a manner that if things ever got too dangerous or intimidating, then the door of his uncle’s home was always open.‘Oh, it’s you, dear boy. You know Arthur, don’t you?’ At the mention of his name, Foote did not actually move but, for a moment, stopped snoring. ‘All he can offer me these days, it seems, are dreary tales of common thievery and domestic woe. Think about it. Who wants to read about real life? If I published the stuff he’s giving me, I’d bore my readers half to death. They want piracy and mass murder, not stories about the grinding effects of poverty.’ He shook his head, wistfully. ‘Where, I ask you, are the Jack Sheppards and Jonathan Wilds? Outlaws who defined an age. Who do we get instead? Who are our heroes? Bentham? Peel? That oaf Bulwer? Where’s the unpleasantness or the proper violence in his stories? Believe me, dear boy, I feel like a vulture gnawing on a stripped carcass.’ Godfrey rubbed his eyes and yawned. ‘So tell me, what brings you down to this gutter to see me?’Godfrey had a mane of unkempt white hair and was not preoccupied by how he looked. He cared little for contemporary fashion and, aside from his small publishing business, he took an interest only in what he could eat and imbibe. Though his sexual proclivities were a mystery to Pyke, he’d warmed to abstinence in recent years with a dedication that surprised those who knew him.Pyke told Godfrey about his visit to Edmonton’s country home and asked what he knew about the man’s business.‘Edmonton, you say? Hmmm.’ He closed his eyes. ‘His wife’s a descendant of the earl of Essex, if he’s the one I’m thinking about. You say his brother owns a bank?’ He frowned. ‘I’ve heard Edmonton’s tight with the Tory Ultras but that’s hardly news. I’m afraid that’s it, but if you give me a couple of days, I can ask around, see what else I can dig up.’‘There’s a daughter, too. Emily Blackwood. She’s part of Elizabeth Fry’s circle.’‘A daughter, eh?’ Godfrey’s grin widened so that Pyke could see his blackened teeth. ‘That sounds intriguing.’ His grin evaporated. ‘And dangerous.’‘Anything you can find out for me would be much appreciated.’‘Acquaintances, business associates . . . corset sizes?’‘I’m reliably informed that Edmonton doesn’t wear corsets,’ Pyke said, smiling at last.‘What a pity. I do so like a man who’s concerned about his figure.’ Godfrey patted his own girth but his expression became serious. ‘They’re an abominable lot, the Ultras. Edmonton, Eldon, Newcastle, Cumberland. All of ’em would shit in their own food and eat it if it would hold up reform,’ Godfrey said, working his way around the various ale pots, looking for dregs.Still drunk, Foote heaved his head off the table and stared at Pyke, confused. Saliva hung from his mouth. ‘That’s right, an abomination. We’re an abomination to them, you know. A veritable abomination. Mark my words, times are changing, boy. We’ll be for the rope. Our faces don’t fit. They won’t tolerate us for much longer. The whole thing’s a disgrace.’ Foote looked up at him, expectant of an answer, but since Pyke didn’t know what was a disgrace and who ‘we’ or ‘they’ referred to, he said nothing.But Godfrey nodded solemnly in agreement. ‘We’re a dying breed, that’s for certain. A dying breed.’ He reached for an empty ale pot. ‘Hail to the new captains of industry, the bureaucrats, the politicians. The future is yours.’It saddened Pyke to see Godfrey so old and out of sorts. As someone who had witnessed his uncle hold his own against Godwin, discussing the relative merits of polite anarchy, or Paine, arguing about the evils of organised religion, Pyke felt angrier than he had expected that Arthur Foote now constituted his uncle’s preferred drinking companion. As he left, Pyke kicked the chair away from under Foote’s hulking frame and watched him tumble on to the floor. From the position Pyke had taken up in Batson’s, the coffee house across the road from William Blackwood’s Cornhill office, there was plenty of time, over the following two days, to assess his subject. Swift, if that was the man’s name (for Pyke took nothing Edmonton told him at face value), was punctual, arriving at the office on the dot of nine and leaving at five. He appeared to live an orderly life. On both days, Swift took the same route from work to his moderate apartment on Finsbury Square, and on both occasions it had taken him exactly twelve and a half minutes, walking at a brisk pace.Swift was moderately built, with sandy hair and bushy eyebrows. He had a large brown mole on his chin. If Pyke had to make a snap judgement, he would say that he didn’t care for the man. Like many ex-military sorts, Swift had a mincing, almost arrogant gait that suggested that the folk who traversed the pavements in his immediate vicinity were necessarily of a lower order.On the third afternoon Pyke had taken up his usual position in the window of the coffee house when he spotted a carriage rattle past him carrying Emily Blackwood and a female companion. On impulse, he picked up his coat and set off after the carriage, which had slowed to allow a procession of sheep and their drover to pass by, heading north to Smithfield market. It took him a few moments to catch his breath, and while he did so, Pyke peered into the well-appointed interior of the carriage.Emily did not seem to recognise Pyke or did so only reluctantly, once he had made his introductions. He made an inconsequential remark about the cold weather.Her companion, Jane Norman, was introduced as a member of Emily’s committee of female prison visitors. She couldn’t contain her excitement. ‘But has Miss Blackwood told you our wonderful news? It seems an anonymous benefactor has bequeathed a not insignificant sum of money to us and we will be moving to more respectable offices on the Strand, no less, within the month.’ As she spoke, she pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders.Pyke said it was good news and, with a broad grin, added he’d always felt it was easier to spend other people’s money on frivolities than his own.This drew an amused look from Emily. ‘Mr Pyke is, indeed, a dour, puritanical soul who does not believe in frivolities of any kind.’ She was wearing a heavy overcoat, a printed wool dress and a matching wide-brimmed bonnet. She wore no gloves and her slim fingers had turned blue in the icy temperature.Mrs Norman screwed up her face. ‘Really? What does he do for amusement?’Emily turned to face him. ‘What do you do for amusement, Mr Pyke?’ she asked, her eyebrows arched.‘You mean when I’m not robbing from the undeserving rich?’That seemed to upset Mrs Norman but Emily just laughed. ‘And oppressing or locking up the deserving poor?’Mrs Norman asked, ‘Is this man really a thief?’‘He’s a Bow Street Runner,’ Emily explained, looking at Pyke. ‘I’m told it’s the next best thing.’‘Except when you come face to face with a real villain and you holler for someone to keep you safe.’ He held her stare and whispered, so that her companion could not hear, ‘Tuck you up in bed.’
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She proffered a throaty laugh. ‘Somehow I can’t see you as my nursemaid.’‘You don’t think the outfit would suit me?’ he whispered, again so Mrs Norman couldn’t hear.Emily seemed to be enjoying herself. ‘I’m not sure you’d have the stamina for it.’ She lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘Or the figure.’‘And if I told you I shaved liberally . . .’The procession of sheep had passed by and Emily’s carriage was now blocking traffic behind them. Pyke smiled, said he hoped their work continued to save souls and dug his hands into his pockets.As the carriage pulled off, he looked back along Cornhill and saw Swift emerge from the bank’s office and hurry down the crowded street in the direction of Wren’s great cathedral.Swift pursued his usual path to the bottom of Cornhill, but instead of rounding the Bank of England and turning northwards for home, he continued across the road until it turned into Cheapside. The dominating presence of St Paul’s loomed. Pyke followed him at a discreet distance and was actively intrigued by Swift’s urgency and the apparent change in his manner. On other occasions, Swift had seemed utterly at ease, taking no notice of his surroundings, but this time he was much less certain of himself and constantly looked behind him. Even his irritating gait was notable by its absence.After the cathedral, they headed down Ludgate Hill, where the street became narrower and the surroundings less salubrious. The buildings were shabbier and the road filled with potholes and horse dung. On Cornhill, most of the premises had been banks, offices and coffee houses. Here they were taverns, pawnshops and tobacconists, and the cobbled streets they spilled out on to were choked with people of every class and hue. Pushing his way through a throng of unfamiliar faces, Pyke struggled to keep his prey in view and willed himself to shut out the unmelodious din of iron-clad hoofs clattering against the stone cobbles and market traders pushing their barrows loaded with stale vegetables.On the far side of the street, Pyke was suddenly distracted by four boys closing in on a well-dressed man. Two stalked him from behind, two from the side. One of the boys from behind tipped the man’s hat and, as his hands left his pocket to catch it, Pyke saw his watch being removed and his vest pocket being emptied by the boy next to him. Only when the boys had parted ways and disappeared into the adjacent back alleys did the man realise what had happened, by which time it was too late. No one came to his rescue when he cried for help.On Fleet Street there was a noisy procession involving a ragtag bunch of poorly dressed whiskered men; some were banging tins, others shouted anti-papist abuse. They were heading for Hyde Park, where one of Daniel O’Connell’s supporters was organising a rally in favour of Catholic emancipation. Pyke knew this because all the Bow Street foot patrols had been summoned by Sir Richard Fox to police the situation and keep the two warring sides apart. They had been told to act as peacemakers, but Pyke knew as well as anyone else that, should there be trouble, many of the assembled Runners would join forces with the Protestant mob and turn on the papist rabble-rousers. Pyke had no special affinity with the Protestant religion, which he saw as joyless and disciplinary. But he would not lose sleep over the spilling of Catholic blood. In the end, Catholics and Protestants could kill themselves and others to earn glory from a God who didn’t care about them, but Pyke would not be fooled into such pointless sacrifice.But he was grateful for the distraction of the march, because it meant he could conceal himself in the crowds. As he walked, Pyke occupied his mind by trying to guess where Swift might be heading and, for no other reason than the habit of adjusting himself to the worst outcome, he opted for the rookeries of St Giles. A man could instantly lose himself in the warren of blind alleys, passages and yards that made up London’s most overcrowded slum.Nowadays Pyke rarely ventured into the rookeries, both because of the physical danger and because the chances of catching someone were remote. Bow Street Runners were usually well known and often found their paths barred by hostile onlookers. Furthermore, the dense network of interlinked yards and passages meant that thieves could escape pursuers without too much exertion.Yet when Swift crossed over on to Drury Lane and darted into a side passage adjoining one of the street’s many theatres, Pyke decided not to give up his pursuit, even though the alley led into the heart of the rookery. He was now excited by Swift’s presence in such a place. Who did he know here? And what was the purpose of his visit?Pyke had grown up in this neighbourhood but still didn’t know all its nooks and crannies. Nor did it ever feel like home, whatever that term might mean. He had never tried to romanticise its narrow streets and ripe smells, either to himself or to others. It was a brutal place where desperate men and women lived desperate lives. He knew the buildings all too well, just as he knew what might be inside them, together with plagues of rats. Cobblers and gin distillers trying to put together a living in rotten hovels that stank of human faeces; broken-down forgers oxidising coins in substances that would eventually kill them; prostitutes fucking against alley walls while pimps waited in the shadows to mug the customer of whatever money was left; tricksters on the lookout for their next mark; scavengers trawling the slum’s black holes for signs of food and life; travellers crammed ten to a room swapping germs and tales of other places; men and women living in near-constant darkness who shouted and fought and drank and swore and fucked until their despair no longer seemed to matter.But of all the rookeries Pyke knew and feared - feared because in his world you were only ever one step away from poverty - the bleakest was the Holy Land, an area that housed most of the city’s transplanted Irish population. It was there, in ‘Little Dublin’ as some liked to call it, that Swift ended up. Antiquated hovels backed on to narrow streets. In windows filled only with tattered paper, grim stares met his wary gaze. Livestock roamed freely in and out of open doors and the smell of burned animal fat wafted from rooms that housed as many as could lie top to toe on bare floors. These people didn’t care about political emancipation, he thought grimly, only about where their next meal was coming from.Halfway along a typically windy street, Pyke was close enough behind to see Swift disappear, without warning, into a run-down building. A small sign on the door indicated it was a lodging house for dock workers and their families.Pyke waited for as much as a minute and followed Swift into the building. Without natural light, the candle-blackened entrance hall was gloomy and the room smelt of wax and cooked food. The walls and ceilings seemed to press in on him. Hearing a noise from somewhere above, he started to ascend the rickety, corkscrewed staircase; on the next floor, he inspected the various closed doors but, on hearing the sound above him once more, he opted to continue his ascent of the staircase and found himself on the upper-floor landing. Everything was quiet. In all probability he had lost Swift downstairs or out of the back of the building. Looking around him, he counted five doors, all of which were closed.Pyke tried one of the doors and found it was locked. Turning to the adjacent room, he eased the handle and applied pressure to the door. As it swung open, the rusted hinges groaned audibly.The stench hit Pyke with an explosive force. It seemed to invade his nostrils and peel off the skin from the inside. Pyke did not think of himself as delicate and, in his work as a Runner, he had been confronted by rotting animal carcasses and the occasional dead body, perhaps even of his own doing. Still, he had to check himself as he entered that room, and take his time to adjust to a smell that was so visceral it made him want to be sick.It was a bleaker room than many prison cells and it had neither heating nor natural light. A torn mattress filled almost a quarter of the floor space. The rest of the room was occupied by two motionless figures pressed against the wall farthest from the door. Taking a candle lantern from the landing, Pyke set it down on the wooden floor in the middle of the room. He called out but did not get an answer. Nor did the occupants move or even flinch. At first he fancied they might have been high on laudanum, but almost at once a squelchy feeling underfoot put paid to such a notion. Pyke had known even before he’d stepped into the room that the smell was that of putrid flesh and fresh blood, and it took less than a few seconds of rational thought for the two figures to become corpses. Still, it wasn’t until others arrived with gas lamps and replacement candles that the full horror of the scene would reveal itself. Then he would see for himself what had happened. He would see that a man and a woman no older than twenty had been bound and gagged. He would see that their throats had been cut from ear to bloody ear, and that the cuts themselves went so deep their heads had almost been severed from their bodies.If that had been the extent of the horror, then, gruesome as it was, Pyke might have been able to walk away from what he had witnessed there, with his fortitude and resolution intact, for he had long adjusted himself to the fact that human beings were capable of committing acts of unfathomable cruelty.In those first moments, he did not see the bloodied sheets tossed on to the floor nor the metal pail beside them until his eyes had fully adjusted to the darkness. While both corpses had been propped against the wall like rag dolls, the metal pail was right in the centre of the room. Pyke kicked it and felt something move inside. Gingerly, he edged the lantern into the middle of the room with his foot and bent over, peering into the pail.Pyke spotted a tuft of hair. It looked like a small animal.He brought the lantern closer.What he saw, then, was a collapsed jumble of tiny, delicate limbs and soft, pinky flesh. He saw a head, then two legs, two arms, a body, some feet and fingers. He strained for a better look, not able to trust his eyesight, and saw that the head, tiny as it was, had been squeezed out of shape, as though someone had taken it between their thumbs and pressed as hard as they could until it split apart like a piece of overripe fruit.There was a faint whiff of urine but no liquid in the pail, just a dead baby. Pyke prodded it with his finger and instinctively pulled back. It did not move. The bruised flesh resembled melted wax. Pyke looked into its staring eyes, like small chunks of freshly mined coal, and felt unsteady on his legs. Supporting himself against the wall, he tasted bile in the back of his throat and barely had the chance to open his lips before a hot spike of vomit exploded from his mouth.THREEOnce reinforcements from Bow Street arrived, it took them a further two hours to clear the upper floors of the lodging house and herd the curious residents downstairs into the apartment and back yard of the landlady, a plump spinster called Dulcibella Clamp. She, of course, objected vociferously to her home being overrun, as she put it, by foreign hordes, but only, Pyke fancied, because it gave her lodgers the chance to see how comfortably she lived, in comparison with the squalor of their own quarters. Pyke, whose task it had been to take her statement, dismissed her objections and went to rejoin Sir Richard Fox and Brownlow Vines, who were waiting for him on the second-floor landing. Having summoned as many gas lamps as they could solicit in such a short space of time, Fox and Vines were surveying the upper floors of the lodging house, now flooded in brilliant light.Pyke was not surprised by the enthusiasm with which they had responded to his discovery, for they had dispatched all available men under their authority to the scene. He knew they were not necessarily moved by the incomprehensible horror of the murders. Rather, as politically minded bureaucrats, they intended to use this opportunity to stake their claim on the events of the day.Fox and Vines had come from separate dinner appointments and looked utterly out of place, dressed in formal attire and standing in a dismal building in one of the worst slums of the city.‘There will have to be a proper investigation, of course,’ Fox said, as though the matter had already been agreed upon. ‘The sooner whoever did this is behind bars the better it will be for everyone.’‘I can’t imagine Peel would want it otherwise.’ Vines nodded.‘Perhaps, but then again, I wouldn’t want to speculate on what our venerable Home Secretary might have in mind.’‘Given Peel’s propensity for changing his mind, who would?’ Vines glanced disparagingly at Pyke. ‘But he’ll use this as an opportunity to limit your authority.’ He disliked Pyke’s closeness to Fox and as a result took every opportunity to make his life as uncomfortable as possible.‘Peel might want to,’ Fox said, absent-mindedly rubbing his chin, ‘but does he yet have the power? I am still the most senior police officer in the city.’‘For the time being anyway,’ Vines muttered, with dejection.As all runners were, Pyke was aware that Peel was shortly going to introduce the Metropolitan Police Bill to the Commons with the expectation of winning the House’s approval.‘Peel can do what he likes. I have the law on my side. So until I am informed otherwise, this investigation will be run from Bow Street.’But Pyke noted wryly that Fox had still been sufficiently worried about Peel’s plans to arrange a dinner with Sir Henry Hobhouse, a retired Tory who continued to enjoy a close relationship with Peel.Vines also seemed to detect Fox’s anxiety and said, ‘Except that the law is only what the law-makers say it is.’He was meticulous about his appearance, and was rumoured to be the favourite of more than one lady of good standing. His fashionably cut jacket evoked the spirit, if not the style, of Brummel. Pyke often caught Vines staring at his thinning hair and truncated sideburns in the mirror. Vines made no secret of the fact that he wanted to succeed Fox when he retired, and was no doubt distressed by Peel’s proposals for a new police force because they threatened his own plans for advancement.
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‘Have you any thoughts in these matters, Pyke?’ Fox said, turning to him.It might have seemed strange to outsiders that Fox would value and solicit his opinions, but in the light of their long-standing association, this was neither unusual nor revealing.‘You know what I think, Sir Richard. When Peel wins the vote, which he will, the first thing he’ll do is try and incorporate all policing activities under the direct control of the Home Office.’For weeks, the ranks of the Runners had been buzzing with rumours about the planned reforms and the sense of unease this news created was not helped by the fact that Fox himself believed that Peel might prevail. In the past, Peel had overstepped the mark by unfairly castigating the existing system for being corrupt and inefficient, but this time he had sensibly opted to stress the positive aspects of the proposed reforms: that everyone in London would have the same access to the same force, regardless of rank, situation or address.When Fox had solicited his opinion, what Pyke did not say, because it would have implicated himself, was that Peel disliked the Runners not just because they received incentives and rewards for work successfully undertaken but rather because, in order to do so, they had to mix freely with criminals. In other words, Peel did not understand that they could not do their job without information provided by criminal informers. And while Pyke took it upon himself to personally benefit from these illicit associations, he had also made more arrests and gained more convictions than any other Runner attached to the office.But unlike Fox, who believed in the Bow Street Runners so completely that it blinded him to the political realities of the situation, or Vines, whose main concern was to haul himself up the career ladder, he had no love for the organisation he worked for, and no special feelings for its leaders.For him, being a Runner was simply a means to an end. It enabled him to travel to all parts of the city under the protective cloak of Fox’s authority.Fox told them that he had briefed Sir Henry about the situation during dinner. This news would be passed on to the Home Secretary. Vines seemed disturbed by this information.‘Was that wise, telling Hobhouse so quickly?’ he said, unable to conceal his frown.‘Perhaps not wise but necessary,’ Fox said, firmly.‘But surely it might have been prudent to take stock of the situation ourselves before asking for outside assistance.’‘Even if you don’t, I have to consider the wider implications of all this. A young couple and their newborn baby, slaughtered in their own lodgings? My God, it’s the Ratcliffe highway all over again.’Though Pyke had been only thirteen at the time, he still remembered the froth of panic and moral outrage that had been whipped up when a man called Williams had murdered two families in their homes on the Ratcliffe highway.‘And look what that did,’ Vines said, shaking his head. ‘It placed police reform right back at the top of the political agenda. You can guarantee Peel will use this situation to push the police bill forward. It’s like a gift, fallen into his lap. If there are any waverers left in the House, it’ll drive ’em running into Peel’s grateful arms. And we will have a new police force before the month’s out.’Pyke allowed Vines’s words to settle before he said, ‘Even a man of Peel’s undoubted ambition would not consider a mutilated newborn to be some kind of political gift.’Vines reddened. ‘Yes, well, I’m sure you know what I meant.’‘Pyke’s right,’ Fox said. ‘Whether Peel will exploit the situation for his own purposes is not for us to speculate. For now, I fear we have more pressing issues of public order to deal with.’ He looked up at Vines. ‘I take it the building and its perimeter have been secured and the mob outside placated?’Sullenly, Vines said it had been taken care of. He explained that two of his men, Goddard and Townsend, were questioning the residents, particularly those who roomed on the upper floor, and any pertinent information would be relayed back to him. Pyke was tempted to ask how Goddard and Townsend would know what information was pertinent or otherwise but he kept his silence. He also knew for a fact that Goddard and Townsend were, by no means, Vines’s men.‘Good, well, perhaps we should start by paying some attention to the three victims. That would seem to me to be a matter of enormous sensitivity.’ Fox turned to Pyke. ‘Have you managed to identify them yet?’Pyke realised Vines had not yet grasped the significance of Fox’s concerns and he was not about to make it easy for him.‘The landlady, Miss Clamp, told me that the building has five rooms on the top floor she rents out to lodgers. All of them are a good deal larger than the one hired by the victims. Most have seven or eight people sharing, each person paying two shillings a week. This room, on account of its size, went for four shillings in total. The two victims shared it with another girl. Young and pretty, according to Miss Clamp. She didn’t know the girl’s name but had overheard rumours to the effect that she might be the dead woman’s cousin. Miss Clamp gave us a good description, though, and the men downstairs are looking for her as we speak.’‘There was a girl who shared the room with them,’ Fox said, sounding aggrieved. ‘You say a cousin?’ He rubbed the ends of his moustache, as though deep in thought.‘According to the landlady.’‘And she’s downstairs, as we speak?’‘Townsend and Goddard are looking for her downstairs, as we speak,’ Pyke corrected him.‘Well, for heaven’s sake, let’s find her and talk to her, see what she knows.’ Fox seemed irritated, to the point of distraction.‘I’ll talk to Townsend and Goddard once we’ve concluded our business here.’‘Do that, man.’Dressed in a wool coat and plaited undershirt, with a waistcoat, cravat, pantaloons and boots, Fox looked and sounded more like a military general than a magistrate.Pyke remained silent.‘And what about their names?’ Fox demanded, impatiently.‘Stephen and Clare.’ Pyke waited for a moment. ‘I don’t know if they were married or not.’‘Did you get a surname, dammit?’Pyke nodded. ‘His name’s Magennis. One “g” and two “n”s.’Fox took a moment to digest this news. ‘If I’m not mistaken, that’s an Irish name.’Vines, who came from an Anglo-Irish background, said, ‘Indeed it is.’‘I know these things are, how should I put it, rather complicated, Vines, but do we know whether Magennis is a Protestant or Roman Catholic name?’Vines finally seemed to grasp the problem. ‘I believe it’s a name that can be associated with both traditions.’‘I see.’Pyke waited for a moment. ‘Stephen Magennis kept an informal diary. I read what little I could understand. It seems the two of them arrived in London together during the middle of last year. From Ulster. They took the boat from Belfast to Liverpool and travelled to London by coach from there. The landlady informed me he worked at the docks, as do most of her lodgers. There was a brief mention in the diary of his father. It seems he’s part of the Orange Order.’Into the silence, Vines muttered, ‘God.’Fox nodded. ‘And news of the murders has already spread far beyond these walls.’‘Just take a look outside,’ Pyke said, digging his hands into his pockets to keep warm. ‘The lynch mob is beginning to gather.’‘Yes, quite,’ Fox said.‘Right now there are forty or fifty people downstairs. Any or all of them might know of the identity of the victims. No doubt there are others in the neighbourhood who also know, or soon will. Very shortly, I have no doubt, the street below us will be swarming with journalists from The Times, the Chronicle, the Post, the Herald, the Advertiser, the Public Ledger - need I go on? They will be gleaning this information from whoever will talk to them, and tomorrow we will all be reading about how two honest, upstanding Protestants and their newborn baby were slaughtered in their beds by a papist assassin dispatched by Satan himself.’Fox stared at him, aghast. ‘Very imaginative, I’m sure, Pyke, but I don’t see how that helps us.’Pyke shrugged. ‘I’m just trying to outline the seriousness of the situation to everyone in the room.’‘I think we’re aware of the seriousness, without your vulgar theatrics,’ Vines said, hotly.‘Are you? Then how might news of these murders affect the mood of the Protestant mob I saw earlier today heading for Hyde Park and a showdown with O’Connell’s supporters?’Vines did not have an answer.Fox looked at Vines. ‘On this occasion, the confrontation in Hyde Park passed off without incident but only, I have to concede, owing to the fine work of my men.’ He paused for a moment, to smooth out the tips of his moustache. ‘But the whole business of Catholic emancipation has poisoned the atmosphere. Pyke’s right. This could not have happened at a more inopportune moment.’Having read the newspapers, Pyke knew that Catholic emancipation had become a hot political issue because O’Connell had recently thrashed the duke of Wellington’s candidate in a County Clare by-election and demanded to be allowed to take up his seat in Westminster. As Roman Catholics were barred from serving in high public office, O’Connell’s demands could only be fulfilled by changing the existing legislation. Pyke had also read that, as a blue-blooded military man, the duke was instinctively against granting relief to Catholics but, in his capacity as Prime Minister, he also understood that compromise was inevitable. Pyke appreciated that Peel, risking the ire of his Tory peers, was preparing to change sides and throw his support behind Catholic emancipation.‘I, for one, am greatly perturbed by the prospect of a Protestant mob, swarming through the city attacking anyone who crosses their path,’ Fox said. ‘And until any changes to police affairs are sanctioned by the House, we are expected to enforce civil obedience and the rule of the law.’Vines nodded glumly in agreement.‘Sir Henry insisted that I go to Whitehall tonight and report directly to Peel.’ Fox looked at Vines, then at Pyke. ‘Perhaps I could call upon one of you for some assistance in this matter.’Vines said, quickly, ‘I would be more than happy to accompany you, Sir Richard.’Fox rubbed his chin. ‘In part, it is my responsibility to present our initial findings to the Home Secretary. In such a role, perhaps you could outline what you might say at the meeting.’Vines glanced nervously at Pyke. ‘Well, I shall report exactly what has happened and what steps we’ve taken to secure the area and find the man, or the men, who did this wicked thing.’‘Yes, quite so. But we will be addressing intelligent men, and therefore cannot offer them flimflam. How would you describe what might have taken place in that room?’‘I would say that it was the work of a maniac, a madman,’ Vines said, pacing around the landing.‘Is that it?’‘You don’t think it was the work of a sane, reasonable man, do you?’‘Perhaps not.’‘Well, I don’t see how one can draw a more definitive conclusion at this early stage in the investigation.’Fox nodded briskly. ‘Perhaps you might share your thoughts on this subject with us, Pyke. After all, you were the one who found the bodies.’‘What does Pyke know?’ Vines asked, glaring at him. ‘And reason would suggest that we can’t parade a man of Pyke’s dubious standing in front of the Home Secretary. His type are the very reason Peel’s got it in for the Runners.’Vines had long suspected some of Pyke’s actions erred on the side of illegality but had been consistently unable to prove his complicity in any wrongdoing.‘You mean the type whose physical exertions involve inevitable risks and whose intimate knowledge of the city’s less salubrious environs garners results?’‘What rot,’ Vines said, turning away. ‘You should hear what this Flynn character has been saying about Pyke. We can’t shut the Paddy up. The man’s clearly—’‘A stinking liar,’ Pyke interrupted.‘He’s a receiver. Swears Pyke here paid him a fee for looking after items that had been stolen . . .’‘Enough,’ Fox barked. ‘For the time being we have more pressing matters.’ He glared at Pyke and then at Vines from under his greying eyebrows. ‘Tell us what you saw in that room and speculate on what it might mean.’Pyke told Fox he would try but was not sure that he had very much more to offer. Vines snorted. Pyke held in the urge to strike him and took a deep breath.He described how he had discovered the bodies and briefly sketched out the circumstances that had led him to the building in the first place. He did not mention Lord Edmonton’s name or anything about the robberies he’d agreed to investigate. Fox chose not to push for the information but Pyke knew he would want to know about such things eventually. He explained that once reinforcements had arrived, he’d taken their lamps and re-entered the room in order to see what he might have missed. He had also given the victims’ possessions a cursory examination and found little of note: a necklace and ring, a pocket handkerchief, some letters and two Bibles.As for the adult victims, their hands had been tied behind their backs with strips torn from their bed sheets. Although he could not be certain, it seemed probable that whoever had killed them had also bound them up. Both victims had suffered heavy blows to their heads and Pyke speculated that their attacker might have entered the room, knocked them unconscious and then tied them up; in that order. He did not know why this had happened. The door had a basic locking device but it had not been forced, which suggested either that the lock had not been used or that one or both of the victims had invited their attacker into the room. This did not prove that they knew him but it didn’t disprove it, either.Describing how the strips of material had also been used as gags, Pyke noted that the two adults had not been blindfolded. He said he didn’t know what this meant. He had inspected the mouth and hand bindings and detected on them the unmistakable scent of urine. He had detected the same scent in the metal pail where the dead baby had been discarded but on closer inspection had found no urine in it. It was pure speculation, he went on, but what if the murderer had beaten the victims unconscious and, for some reason, had wanted to bring them around? Might he have looked around for water and, if no water was immediately at hand, might he have not used what was immediately at hand to do so? Might he have not taken the pail filled with urine and thrown it into their faces?
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Pyke underlined the fact that this was only a guess and heard Vines mutter something under his breath.The extent and depth of the cuts indicated that whoever had administered them was a powerful man. A razor blade had probably been used, and since no such weapon had been found in the room, it seemed likely that the killer had taken it with him. Indeed, on reflection, the scene itself seemed quite orderly. Whoever had done this was not a madman. The neatness of the scene suggested the murderer’s actions were premeditated.Both victims had bled to death; Pyke explained that he had found two pools of fresh blood surrounding both corpses. In addition, their bodies had begun to stiffen. Therefore, he proposed that the killings had taken place during the previous night. Other residents had heard screams coming from the room and had assumed that the woman, who’d been heavily pregnant, was in the process of giving birth. He had found another set of sheets, this time stained with dry blood, stuffed under the mattress. It seemed likely these had been used during childbirth. Clearly, he added, the killings had taken place after the baby had been born, but perhaps only by a few hours. The birth and the killings had taken place on the same day. Pyke did not know how or whether the two incidents were connected, and said he could not think of anything that might link them.Pyke left the hardest part until the end.The baby, he said, dry-mouthed, had died when its skull had been crushed between the killer’s thumbs. Because he did actually see thumb prints gouged into the baby’s temples, and around its throat. He hadn’t been able to summon up the strength of mind to lift the baby out of the pail, in order to determine its sex, but when he had done so, he would pass on that information.Once he had finished, Fox offered him a generous smile. ‘I think, Brownlow, your skills might be better used here tonight, keeping up the men’s spirits.’Vines looked away without speaking.‘I think that settles it, doesn’t it?’ Fox nodded his head vigorously, apparently pleased with himself.FOUROutside, the temperature had plummeted and the cobbles of Drury Lane were as slippery as sheets of ice. The footman who had pulled down the steps from Fox’s carriage said, ‘Watch how you go, sir,’ but something about the way he’d said ‘sir’ suggested he did not believe the word applied to Pyke. The street was still thronging with carts and wagons, in spite of the late hour, and the yard in front of a nearby hotel was a hive of activity in the wake of a coach that had just come to halt. It was a murky night and the air tasted of dirt. Pyke had never ridden in Fox’s carriage before and was surprised at its luxuriousness. The seats were cushioned and the curtains made of lace. Fox pulled them closed in order to block out the sea of faces outside on the street and tapped on the ceiling of the carriage, to indicate that they were ready to depart.As Fox pushed backwards in his seat and exhaled, Pyke took a moment to consider the man he had always thought of not exactly as a friend but certainly as a mentor. The lines etched on to his forehead indicated fatigue as well as worry. Perhaps the strain of having to safeguard Sir Henry Fielding’s vision for the Bow Street Runners was beginning to take its toll. Certainly he had been more irritable than Pyke had seen him for a long time. Neither of them spoke for a while. Fox’s mood was funereal; Pyke suspected he was less affected by the deaths than he was concerned about the likely implications for the future of the Bow Street operation.‘Did you find the girl?’ Fox asked, eventually. He had a habit of peering down his nose at people as he spoke to them. He pulled his woollen muffler tight around his neck and blew into his hands.Pyke said he’d talked to Goddard and Townsend but they hadn’t managed to locate her yet. He assured him that they would continue to look for her. Fox shook his head, as if the blow were a personal one, and told Pyke that locating the girl was their top priority.‘I hope you don’t think I was too harsh with Brownlow earlier,’ Fox said, with studied casualness.Pyke had enjoyed Vines’s humiliation but said nothing.‘I fear he might have already struck a deal with Peel, or at least with someone involved in the process of setting up this new police force.’‘What kind of a deal?’‘Brownlow is not an idiot. He senses that the writing is on the wall for us, so to speak, and he’s been making contingency plans to safeguard his own future. Exactly what has already been agreed upon, I’m afraid I don’t know.’ Fox seemed disappointed, above all. ‘When things are changing so quickly, it’s difficult to know who one can trust.’ He waited for Pyke to look at him. ‘We trust one another, don’t we, Pyke?’Pyke nodded in a non-committal way. He didn’t think Fox wanted a firmer response.Shortly after he had joined the Runners - he had been recommended by George Morgan, the now bedridden father of Pyke’s mistress Lizzie - Pyke had been compelled to come to Fox’s rescue; and his actions had forever affected the way in which Fox dealt with him. At the time, Jim Salter, a blackguard who had been arrested by a team of Runners and was awaiting trial on multiple charges of theft with violence, grand larceny, embezzlement and house-breaking, had arranged for members of his gang to break into Fox’s office and hold him at knife-point until Salter had been released. Pyke had inadvertently interrupted their efforts to subdue Sir Richard and, by chance, had had on his person a Long Sea Service flintlock pistol that had just been requisitioned from another villain. While Salter was a truly formidable character, his gang lacked his fortitude in the face of adversity. One of them had attempted to hold a knife to Sir Richard’s throat but seeing the man’s shaking hand and sensing his lack of resolve, Pyke had produced the pistol and raised his arm, as if to take aim. He still remembered how calm and in control of himself he had felt. When the man had refused to release Sir Richard, Pyke had simply fired the pistol, narrowly missing his head. The loud blast of the exploding weapon was sufficient to ensure his capitulation. The rest of the gang had surrendered and were later tried and hung. Fox himself had been impressed and even a little awed by Pyke’s performance and, afterwards, told Pyke he had made a friend for life. At the time, Pyke had simply been grateful for Fox’s gratitude but, as the years had passed, he had come to rely upon, and exploit, the protective cloak that the man’s continuing support afforded him.‘I want you to be my eyes and ears on this investigation. I am not privy to Peel’s intentions in this unfortunate business, whether he will want to be involved in an official capacity or not. But whatever Peel decides, and whatever he says, I want you to look into this matter on behalf of Bow Street, and I want you to find the man who did those things.’ In an unusual display of emotion, he grabbed Pyke’s arm and stared with watery eyes. ‘Do you understand?’Fox’s sudden outburst, whether it was provoked by passion or outrage, took Pyke by surprise.He nodded and assured Fox that he would do as the old man asked. In fact, he had already made up his mind to conduct his own investigation, whether Fox sanctioned it or not.A little later, Fox wanted to know whether Pyke had any business that might distract him from the matter in hand. ‘If you have to share out some of your work, I’ll see that you’re properly remunerated.’Pyke assured him he had no such business.‘Even what took you to that lodging house in the first place?’ When Pyke said nothing, Fox continued, ‘In the past, I have been aware of instances in which the activities of persons under my authority have transgressed the official sanction of the law. Perhaps I should have taken a firmer stance against such practices. Perhaps this laxness on my part is one of the reasons why the Home Secretary does not seem favourably disposed towards us.’ His stare intensified. ‘I am well aware of the business Brownlow alluded to earlier, Pyke. A man by the name of Flynn, a known receiver of stolen goods who is currently being held in the felons’ room, is making all kinds of scurrilous accusations against you. The man claims that you have been personally responsible for countless burglaries during a period extending as far back as the last days of our current monarch’s much-lamented father. Am I to assume that his accusations are entirely false?’Pyke appeared wounded by the slight and assured Fox he had never dealt with the man in any capacity.‘If I am prepared to draw a line under whatever you may have done in the past, I’d like to feel I had your unequivocal support on this matter.’It was a strange request, one that bristled with repressed anger.Still, Pyke said he would do whatever the old man asked him.‘Excellent.’ Fox nodded, seemingly back to his old self. ‘And you’ll keep me informed with regular reports?’Pyke promised he would.‘Well, that’s settled, then.’ Fox held out his hand and Pyke shook it without knowing what had been settled.It struck him only later that, in agreeing to be Fox’s eyes and ears, he had permitted himself to be used in a way that he couldn’t quite fathom. But then again, he had no plans to disclose everything that he turned up. Fox would find out only what he wanted him to. The fact that the private chambers of the Secretary of State for the Home Department were disappointingly spare was not a reflection on the rest of the building. Indeed, as they were led through a maze of interconnected rooms, it was hard not to be impressed by the ornate furnishings and gilt decorations, and, in one instance, a cantilevered staircase that extended through the full height of the building. But when they were finally ushered into Peel’s private chambers, Pyke was surprised to discover that, with the exception of the vast library of books that lined every part of the wall, the man’s office was small and functional. The impression of being cramped was augmented by the large number of people already in the room. This was not the informal meeting between themselves and the Home Secretary Fox had been expecting. Even to Pyke’s untrained eye, it resembled a full-scale conference of war.Peel was standing in front of a large mahogany desk. He was a tall, elegant man with a long distinguished face and a full head of curly, reddish hair. He was fashionably dressed and wore powder, though this was perhaps explained by the fact that he had come directly from an official function in order to convene the meeting. Excusing himself from another conversation, Peel came over to greet them. He seemed to know Fox well and referred to him amiably as ‘Sir Richard’, but there was no warmth in his voice, and he treated Pyke as he might have done a servant. He wasn’t actively rude but simply seemed to look through Pyke as though he were not there.‘Right, gentlemen, if you could all take a seat, perhaps we could make a start.’ He spoke with a faint Lancashire accent. ‘First of all, I would like to thank you for coming here at such short notice. Your assistance at such a vexing time, I can assure you, is much appreciated. Most of you will already know one another but for those who are less familiar with the persons gathered in this room, perhaps you will permit me, for the sake of expediency, to go around and make your introductions.’Their chairs were arranged in a semicircle arching around the desk that Peel now sat behind.‘To my right,’ Peel began, ‘is, of course, Sir Henry Hobhouse, the now retired Home Office under-secretary who, along with the gentleman next to him, William Gregson, a fine barrister in his own right, has been assisting me in drafting the new Metropolitan Police Bill. As I’m sure you all know, I will be presenting the bill to the House next month.’ He glanced over at Sir Richard. ‘I’ve asked them to sit in on this meeting because the terrible events of this evening, and my proposed response, have implications for our legislative programme. Next to them is James Hardwick, the esteemed criminologist who, I am reliably informed, studied under Becarria. Mr Hardwick will provide us with a preliminary report into the psychological background of the man who killed these people.’Pyke looked at the bespectacled young man with his smug expression and oiled hair and wondered how he was able to comment on something he knew nothing about.‘To my left, we all know Sir Richard Fox, the chief magistrate at Bow Street, and next to him is . . .’ Peel looked at Fox rather than at Pyke. Fox said, ‘Pyke,’ and Peel nodded and said, ‘This is Mr Pyke, who is a Bow Street Runner and had the misfortune of discovering the dead bodies. Mr Pyke will, I hope, report precisely what happened. And finally we have Charles Hume, who served under the duke at Waterloo.’ Peel did not elaborate beyond this and left Pyke and others in the room wondering in what capacity Charles Hume had been invited to the meeting.The only other person in the room was a large, bug-eyed man with black hair and coarse skin. Peel did not introduce him and he took a seat at the back of the room.‘I’m sure I don’t need to underline the seriousness of the public-order situation we’re now facing. Nor do I need to stress the significance of what’s happened in relation to the Metropolitan Police and Catholic emancipation bills that I’m planning to present to the Commons in the next few months. You’ll understand, of course, these events threaten both pieces of legislation, yet also underline their importance . . .’As Peel spoke, Pyke studied the impassive faces of those gathered in the room and then the expensively bound editions mounted on the wall behind him. He wondered how many of them Peel had actually read. He seemed like an intelligent man but Pyke could not help but think that the quantity of books functioned, in the main, as a reminder to others of Peel’s superior learning.Peel asked Fox to explain what measures had already been undertaken to police the area and secure the scene of the murders, and Fox outlined what had already been done by the Bow Street magistrates and Runners. If nothing else, Fox’s account served to reinforce Pyke’s belief that he had authorised such an extensive deployment only in order to garner the political capital.
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The more he was seen to be doing, and the more the Runners were seen to be involved with the investigation, the harder it would be for Peel to push them aside.When he had finished, Peel thanked Fox for all the fine work that had been done, and in his forthright way said that, as someone who remained integral to the business of policing the city, Sir Richard, when it came to the preservation of public order, was still very much needed for his expertise.No one in the room could have missed the implication behind what he was saying.Fox seemed appalled. ‘With all due respect, Home Secretary, as the events today in Hyde Park demonstrated, there is no other organisation or group of men currently available to perform such a task, except of course the armed forces.’‘At present, yes, you’re quite right.’ Peel regarded Fox with amusement.‘So it’s not a gift you’re bestowing on us, Home Secretary, this burden of policing the city.’‘It is a duty I’m asking you to perform.’‘Asking or commanding?’ Fox said, like a bad-tempered card player, unable to see he was compelling Peel to show his hand.Peel just smiled. ‘This is the problem with having to make decisions within a system comprising different and sometimes competing authorities. As a military man, the duke would say the same thing. Can you imagine what would happen on a battlefield if there were two generals on the same side, each employing a different strategy? It’s why I intend to bring all aspects of policing in London under one single authority, to be established under the direct control of this office.’In that moment, whether Fox realised it or not, Peel had driven a nail into the coffin of the Bow Street organisation.Fox tried to gather his thoughts. ‘But that still leaves the pressing question of how to proceed with this particular investigation.’Peel regarded him with amusement. ‘In what sense?’‘Well, as de facto head of policing in the capital . . .’‘Nominal head of policing,’ Peel said, as though clearing up a minor quibble. ‘As of tonight, the investigation into the St Giles murders will be handed over to a team assembled under the authority of this office, to be led by our friend Charles Hume. Charles distinguished himself serving under the duke at Waterloo and if, as expected, the new bill is passed, I intend to ask him to be one of two commissioners responsible for overseeing the new force. The investigation will be run from what I hope will become the headquarters of the new force at number four Whitehall Place. The adjoining watch house that backs on to Great Scotland Yard will house his team while number four is being prepared. Of course, Charles has my full authority in all matters regarding the investigation. I hope you will all work closely with him to ensure that we find whoever perpetrated this abominable act before the mob rears its ugly head and before a drop of Catholic blood is spilled.’Pyke was impressed with the ruthlessness with which Peel had dealt with Fox.But Sir Richard was not quite beaten. ‘Pardon me, Home Secretary, for bringing up a matter so trifling as the law, but will the arrangements you propose earn the approval of the House?’Peel wasn’t even slightly thrown by the question. He explained that it was for precisely this reason that he’d invited Sir Henry and William Gregson to the meeting. Perhaps he might hand over to Gregson to explain where the government stood from a legal standpoint? Gregson ran through some preliminary details and stated that so long as any authority with a mandate relating to policing functioned under the guidance of a sitting magistrate appointed under the terms of the 1792 Middlesex Justices Act, it had the full sanction of the law.Fox sank back into his chair, folded his arms and said nothing. Pyke made a guess that the ‘sitting magistrate’ selected by Peel and Gregson would be Brownlow Vines.Behind them, Pyke could still feel the intimidating presence of the anonymous heavy-set man.‘Now that’s been taken care of,’ Peel said, moving swiftly on, ‘and since all of us here share some kind of interest in these terrible murders, perhaps we can direct our attention to possible avenues of enquiry, so that Charles can properly proceed with the investigation.’ He looked across at Hardwick and said, ‘I believe Mr Hardwick here has some ideas he’d like to share with us.’Whereas Peel had delivered his address from the comfort of his chair, Hardwick rose to his feet and turned to face the group, as though about to give a lecture. He was a weedy man, a bookish type who looked as though he had been bullied at school and had never recovered from the experience. In Pyke’s view, although this type might be successful in their adult life, they always remembered their humiliation at the hands of others and, as a result, set out to wield their intellect like a weapon. His hair had been oiled and slicked back and his face, even without powder, was so wan that he seemed almost transparent. It took him five minutes to outline his own credentials.Pyke yawned loudly and did not bother to cover his mouth.‘In recent years,’ Hardwick explained, ‘psychiatrists and criminologists have begun to devote their attention to a seemingly new phenomenon: examples of extreme violence usually enacted within domestic settings and displaying cruel and unusual properties that do not have a clear-cut explanation. We have called such a condition “homicidal monomania”. Let me give you an example. A man, let’s call him Edwards, without any record of violence or history of insanity, attacks a young child with a hammer for no ostensible reason. Why? Is this a passing outburst or a permanent state? And are both of these states mutually exclusive? At present the intervention of psychiatry into the realm of the law is only partial and questions such as these can only be answered provisionally, but having briefly looked over the details of this particular case, I believe it to be another example of homicidal monomania. As such, I would suggest that we are looking for a deeply disturbed man, not necessarily with a history of insanity in his family but one who displays, I am afraid to say, a pathology of the monstrous.’Hardwick looked at his audience, expectant and pleased with himself.Without raising his hand, Pyke said, ‘I’d imagine that - how did you put it - “the intervention of psychiatry into the law” will be personally beneficial to you. It’ll give you patients and, of course, status.’Hardwick frowned, as though he had not understood the question. ‘I’m sorry? You are . . . ?’‘I mean, I can see how you might personally benefit from inventing a condition such as - how did you phrase it? - “homicidal monomania”. You say something exists, so it exists.And because it exists, it needs to be treated. And who can treat it but you? It’s like finding or, in your case, inventing a disease that only you have the power to cure. I’m impressed by the effrontery of the scheme, if not by its scientific foundations.’The murmurs around the room were, he suspected, of consternation at his impudence, and Pyke wondered whether he had overplayed his hand.‘And what do you know of science, Mr . . . ?’ Hardwick’s face was as black as thunder.‘Pyke will do.’‘What I am alluding to, and what a lesser mind such as your own might not have grasped, is that such ideas inevitably have much wider applications, Mr Pyke. At the heart of modern psychiatry and criminology is a belief that we have the power to treat and transform human behaviour. I’m sure if you had seen the fine work being undertaken by Philippe Pinel in France and Samuel Tuke in York in bringing to bear a moral regime on deviant behaviour, then you would not be so dismissive of the role psychiatry can play in bringing order to our world.’ Peel nodded his head and Hardwick smiled.‘I have no personal experience of those places, but as is the case with all institutions, I’d wager that they are as oppressive in their own right as Newgate itself.’That drew a thin smile from Hardwick. ‘Except that the condemned man in Newgate prison would tear you apart, given half a chance, while those under Tuke’s supervision would happily go on about their business. In whose company would you prefer to spend some time?’‘And let’s say you were in physical danger from an invading army or were being bullied by someone stronger than yourself.’ Pyke stared at Hardwick and smiled. ‘Who would you turn to for help? A smiling lunatic or violent outlaw?’‘Good God, man, criminals of any denomination should not be lauded as heroes. They are but children who lack the necessary self-discipline to control their excessive passion.’‘Unlike you, Mr Hardwick, I grew up around such people and there is nothing childish or ill-disciplined about most of them. They are just poor, desperate people doing what has to be done in order to survive.’ Pyke decided it was time to move in for the kill. ‘And is that who murdered our newborn baby just delivered from its mother’s womb? A child?’For the first time Hardwick’s composure seemed to crack. He stammered something about the difference between conventional criminal behaviour and homicidal monomania.‘But practically speaking, Mr Hardwick, how does your diagnosis assist those of us actually involved in the process of trying to catch whoever murdered these people? Who, or what, are we supposed to be looking for? By the sounds of things, any of us here could be suffering from homicidal monomania, if the symptoms are undetectable under ordinary circumstances. Surely you don’t suspect one of us?’A laugh rippled around the room. An indignant Hardwick was about to respond but before he had a chance Peel intervened, to bring their discussion to an end. He thanked Hardwick for enlightening them with his theories and, addressing Pyke, said, ‘If you find our friend’s ideas to be less than useful in this particular instance, perhaps you could share with us your own thoughts regarding what you witnessed and how they might assist us with the investigation?’Pyke made a point of addressing the room from where he was sitting. As he had done to Fox and Vines, he explained what had happened, what he had seen and what it might mean. When he had finished there was a sober hush in the room. Peel glanced nervously at Charles Hume. Hume merely nodded. Peel thanked Pyke for his illuminating thoughts, and said he was sure his discoveries would be of tremendous use to the investigative team.Charles Hume agreed. Hardwick sat in silence, scowling. Beside him, Pyke heard Fox whisper, ‘You stuck it to the bastards. Well done.’As the gathering broke up, Peel came across to where he was sitting and asked Pyke whether he might be able to stay behind for a few minutes, so they could chat in private.Fox answered him first. ‘I think we’d be prepared to discuss relevant matters in a more congenial atmosphere.’‘I had rather hoped I might have a word with Mr Pyke on his own. I am assuming, of course, that such an arrangement might be acceptable to you, Sir Richard.’‘Why on earth should it not be acceptable?’ Fox said huffily. ‘I will wait for Pyke in my carriage.’Peel put his hands into his pockets. ‘You go on ahead, Sir Richard. It’s late and I’m already concerned that I have taken up too much of your valuable time. I’ll make my own carriage available to Mr Pyke.’‘Really, I don’t mind waiting.’‘No, really, I insist that you are delayed no more.’ His manner indicated that the subject was closed for discussion.‘Well, I’ve been told, haven’t I?’ Fox said under his breath. Peel either did not hear him or chose not to answer him. ‘It perhaps does not need to be emphasised that any investigation, whether it’s carried out by Hume or yourself, should be a discreet one. The public is fickle and their willingness to sanction a new police force is conditional on the belief that its role will be one of prevention and not detection. It’s one of the areas where I disagree with Hardwick’s assessment. He sees detection as one of the characteristics of preventive policing, whereas I believe prevention to be preferable to detection.’ Peel had ushered Pyke into a chair just across from him. Up close, his skin was pockmarked and lumpy.‘I understand you’re asking me to conduct some kind of unofficial or parallel investigation,’ Pyke said, trying in vain to read Peel’s expressionless face. ‘I’m just not sure in what capacity that might be.’That drew a shrill laugh. ‘If you’ll permit me to speak plainly, I would say that you’re not a fellow who needs, or indeed cares for, official sanction.’Pyke acknowledged the remark with a nod. ‘And if you’ll permit me to speak plainly, that is the kind of remark I would expect from someone who clearly enjoys such sanction as a matter of course.’Peel’s eyes narrowed. ‘Allow me to further speculate, then. Perhaps Sir Richard has already asked you to continue with your investigation, regardless of the outcome of this meeting. For some reason, he has been quick to identify this incident as crucial to the continuing survival of Bow Street.’ He looked at Pyke and smiled. ‘You don’t have to respond.’Behind them, the brooding man entered the room and took up a chair. Peel did not acknowledge him.‘I didn’t think it was a question.’‘I stand corrected.’ The smile vanished from Peel’s face. ‘Correct me if I’m wrong, and forgive my crude attempts to read your mind, but when you were describing what you found in that room, I got the impression you have already developed a strong attachment to the investigation. Perhaps you will pursue this matter, irrespective of whether or not you are sanctioned to do so.’‘Perhaps I will.’‘Then all I am asking is that you keep me informed of your progress. In an unofficial capacity, of course.’Usually Pyke did not have a problem reading the nuances and inflections of people’s speech and actions. He could tell when someone was lying to him or trying to flatter him, even when those deceptions were dressed up in the most oblique disguises. In this instance, though, he could scarcely begin to decipher the various masks Peel had worn throughout the evening: cold, calculating pragmatist, political statesman, personal confidant. He had heard that Peel was quick-tempered, stubborn, oddly self-conscious and lacking in assurance, but he’d seen none of these characteristics on display. What he had seen was someone who could be a formidable opponent or a useful ally.
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‘You are perhaps wondering what advantage this type of arrangement might afford you?’ Peel said, staring at Pyke with an unsettling intensity.‘It had crossed my mind.’‘It would not be possible to offer you any financial inducement.’‘Nor would I expect it.’‘But if, say, you were to continue with your own investigation, then perhaps as a courtesy to my office, you might share your findings with Charles Hume. Such an arrangement might be beneficial to our shared ambition of finding and being seen to find whoever carried out these abominable acts.’Pyke digested this request. ‘And if, for any reason, I needed to get in touch with you?’‘I would expect all of our correspondence to take place through Charles.’Pyke decided to push the point. ‘But say I had some cause to pass a message to you in person?’For the first time, Pyke sensed Peel’s unease. Taking his time, Peel motioned towards the dark-haired man who was sitting behind Pyke and said, ‘Let me introduce Fitzroy Tilling. He served under me while I was Chief Secretary in Ireland.’ Pyke turned around to acknowledge Tilling.‘Let’s just say, should the need arise and should Charles Hume be unable to assist you, you could contact me via Mr Tilling here.’‘It means you can have it both ways.’ Pyke held Peel’s formidable stare. ‘Find out what I know and keep an eye on me at the same time.’‘You think me too devious.’ Peel rested his large hands on his desk. ‘I’m going to be blunt with you, Pyke, and you might think me hard for saying this. I am not particularly concerned about the deaths that you’re investigating. I think them abhorrent, of course, but I am compelled to address my attention to a more general set of circumstances. If I am honest, I believe the Irish race to be an inferior one, at a lower stage of development than our own and, therefore, do not intend to alter any course of action already deemed by myself to be in the best interests of this country as a result of a few deaths, whether those who died were Catholics or Protestants. But I am, and have to be, concerned about the implications for public order, and the sooner this business is resolved the better it will be for everyone. I am not afraid to call in the armed forces because I am not afraid of being unpopular, but I see this course of action only as a last resort.’When Pyke said, ‘It is far better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both,’ he saw the recognition register in Peel’s eyes.He was about to follow it up with another quote from the same source when the door to Peel’s private office flew open and into the room strode a tall, muscular man, older than Peel by some years, dressed in a red riding coat, a silk cravat and buckskin breeches worn over stockings. He was striking rather than handsome, with grey hair, sideburns, a Roman nose and ear lobes that were as fat and long as half a pear. He limped ever so slightly. ‘The King really is the worst man I have ever had to deal with, the most false and with no redeeming qualities.’The man still hadn’t noticed Pyke and continued, ‘And have you heard the King’s brother has recently returned from Hanover and is causing untold mischief?’ As he slumped into a chair next to Pyke, the man finally realised Peel was not alone.That was how Pyke found himself sitting next to the Prime Minister, the grand old duke himself, and he smiled inwardly at the thought of what he could do in that moment. Pyke was not enamoured of the aristocracy, nor did the duke’s battlefield exploits impress him. He did not necessarily like or dislike the man, but simply because the opportunity had presented itself he imagined drawing out his pocket knife and driving it into the duke’s heart.‘Arthur. Mr Pyke here and I were just discussing the relative merits of Machiavelli’s account of statecraft.’‘Who? ’ The duke looked at Peel and frowned.‘Mr Pyke is a Bow Street Runner.‘Not him, dammit,’ the duke muttered, ignoring Pyke. ‘The other fellow.’‘A Florentine consort, I believe. He wrote a book called The Prince.’‘Oh.’ The duke turned back to face Peel and shrugged. ‘Why is this man relevant here?’‘Machiavelli lived in the early sixteenth century . . .’‘I’m not stupid, Robert. I meant this chap here,’ the duke said, motioning without enthusiasm at Pyke.‘Mr Pyke was the man who discovered the bodies in St Giles.’‘What bodies?’ The duke seemed both confused and annoyed. ‘I’m the Prime Minister and no one tells me a bloody thing.’Peel looked at Pyke and said, ‘I think the Prime Minister and I need to have a talk . . .’Pyke stood up and left.FIVELizzie’s gin palace did not, as the name might suggest, belong to Lizzie Morgan, the woman who occasionally shared Pyke’s bed. Nor did it belong to her father, George Morgan, who had once been a Bow Street Runner and had first initiated Pyke into the ways of earning additional income from the job. The establishment, which occupied a position at the north end of Duke Street, at the back of St Bartholomew’s Hospital and adjoining the livestock market at Smithfield, was owned by Pyke himself - the happy byproduct of a business arrangement that had also led to the capture and imprisonment of a notorious criminal. For a while, after this man’s conviction, his base of operations had remained vacant. Pyke had bought the lease with reward money paid to him by the grateful owner of valuables Pyke had recovered. He had then transformed it into a drinking establishment replete with plate-glass windows and gilt cornices, ornamental parapets, spittoons, gas lights and illuminated advertisements announcing the ‘medicinal’ properties of the gin on sale. Initially George, who had just retired from the Runners, had assumed the day-to-day running of the bar, but a stroke had subsequently confined him to his bed and propelled Lizzie into the limelight.Pyke had christened it the Smithfield gin palace, but ever since Lizzie had put on her apron and taken over the running of the bar, most folk simply referred to it as ‘Lizzie’s place’.It was after three in the morning by the time Peel’s carriage dropped Pyke outside the entrance. The main bar was deserted - the gas lamps had been switched off - and Pyke went straight up to his room, ignoring the powerful scent of human sweat, sawdust and alcohol. To his dismay, Lizzie was curled up in his bed, gently snoring. He envied her peace. Without waking her, he closed the door behind him and went back downstairs to the bar.Pyke knew that sleep was beyond him, just as he also knew that he did not want to wake Lizzie and have to field well-meaning questions about where he had been and what he had been doing. But he could not settle in the empty bar and found himself yearning for someone to distract him from the unpleasantness of his own thoughts.Even the laudanum, which he kept hidden away in a bottle behind the counter, did little to alleviate his anxiety.A while later, still numb from the drug, he found himself walking, unaware of his surroundings or the biting wind, not knowing where he was going until he had reached the cobbled streets surrounding St Paul’s. The giant cathedral stretched so far above him that he could hardly see the starless sky.When he couldn’t help himself, Pyke tended to prowl the streets around Wellington Barracks on Birdcage Walk, looking for ‘dollymops’: maids, shop girls and milliners who moonlighted as prostitutes to earn additional money and perhaps find someone to support them in a flat of their own. But given that he was half an hour’s walk from the barracks, he didn’t expect to find anyone except a street-hardened prostitute. Usually Pyke did not much care for their crude ways, preferring the faux innocence of girls who still believed in the possibilities of true love. This time he had no intention of being selective.To his surprise, in a grubby all-night coffee house, he found a nervous red-headed girl, no more than sixteen years of age, wearing a loose coat over a tatty wool dress. Her nails had been chewed but were clean, and before she could tell him in a soft voice that she didn’t do this sort of thing, he thrust a crown into her shaking palm. It was more than treble the going rate. He took her hand and led her, firmly rather than forcefully, outside. Her resistance crumbled when she saw the colour of the coin.Outside, when she tried to speak, Pyke pressed his hand against her mouth, harder than he had intended, and saw the fright register in her dull eyes. In other circumstances, he might have stopped to say something to her, reassure her, but on this occasion he was too far gone to stop himself. As he pushed her against a wall in an alley adjoining the coffee shop and guided himself into her, he closed his eyes and tried to block the image of what lay inside that metal pail from his head. Moments later, as Pyke emptied himself into the nameless girl, rigid with terror, in a series of grim spasms, he felt as though he were standing over the metal pail peering down at his own corpse. At one o’clock the following afternoon, Pyke was awoken by the unmistakable sound of cattle and sheep being driven along the narrow street below towards the vast market. On market days, the entire downstairs would be filled with traders, drovers, buyers and meat cutters standing three or four abreast along the entire length of the mahogany counter, smearing animal blood from freshly slaughtered carcasses on to cheap glasses from which they drank their gin. Even without the window open, Pyke could smell the filth and mire of the market and hear the screeching din of ten thousand frightened animals squealing, bleating, lowing and awaiting their demise. In spite of the rosemary and lavender sprigs thrown liberally on the floors throughout the building, the whole place would soon smell of offal, excrement and dead flesh.Lizzie must have heard him splashing his face with water she had left in a bowl for him, because shortly afterwards she was in the room with him, wanting to know how he felt and where he had been until five in the morning, masking her suspicions with affection. She was an ungainly woman, sinewy and powerful despite her apparently slight frame, and easily capable of throwing a man twice her size out of the bar when it was called for. Up close, Pyke could smell the soap he had bought for her last birthday on her scrubbed skin and felt a pang of remorse: remorse that, despite her physical toughness, business acumen and loyalty to him, he was never more than ambivalent about the notion of sharing his bed and his life with her.She had already lit his fire and piled it high with coal.When he had finished telling her something about the previous day, downplaying the grimness of the murder scene and omitting his visit to Whitehall, her face was still creased with worry. According to rumours circulating in the bar, a Catholic family had been burned from its home in Saffron Hill and a man of Irish descent had been clubbed to death in Hoxton.Pyke asked whether she had heard anything at all about the dead family. Lizzie shook her head.‘Should I be worried ’bout you?’ she said, after a few moments of awkward silence.Pyke reached for the trousers he had tossed on to the floor. ‘I’ll not be able to see you much in the next few weeks.’‘And you don’t think I’m used to that by now?’Pyke stared out of the window.‘That’s all I’m owed, is it? A quick pat on the head and some words that don’t mean a ha’penny.’ Her skirt clung to her legs, emphasising the thickness of her calves.‘Lizzie?’She looked up at him, surprised perhaps by the sudden tenderness of his tone.He almost managed a smile. ‘You know that you’re a better woman than I deserve.’Her expression filled with sadness and, as she turned to leave the room, her attempt to provoke a discussion dissolved into the space between them. ‘Before his death, did your brother ever talk about his experiences serving Edmonton?’Pyke turned from Townsend, with whom he had been talking, to a constable from the local watch who was blocking their path to the lodging house. He informed the affronted man he was there at the behest of Charles Hume. In the narrow street, there was none of the hysteria of the previous night: apart from a few curious onlookers, the place was almost entirely deserted. Certainly the residents, all potential witnesses or sources of information, had either been taken somewhere else or, worse still, dismissed. No doubt they had given false assurances and willingly taken the opportunity to disappear into the welcoming anonymity of the city.Pyke wondered who had let them go. Did this mean Hume already knew something he did not? He dug his hands into his coat pocket and looked over at Townsend.Townsend shrugged. ‘He talked about lots of things, mostly what a ghastly, tyrannical creature the old man was.’ Though a Bow Street Runner for longer than Pyke, Townsend had none of Pyke’s ambition, and willingly permitted Pyke to act as he saw fit, so long as he was allowed to prosper from Pyke’s enterprises. It had been entirely fitting that Townsend had come to Pyke three years earlier with news that his brother, a valet for Edmonton, had expired under mysterious circumstances and with a proposal to gain revenge on the man whom he suspected of arranging the death.Townsend’ s brother had been accused of stealing from Edmonton. But before the charges had been laid out before the magistrates, his body was found floating in a lake in the grounds of Hambledon Hall. The coroner’s jury had returned a verdict of suicide but Townsend had long suspected foul play. He had always believed his brother had discovered something about the aristocrat; something that had, in turn, hastened his demise.Pyke had worked with Townsend to successfully realise a plan to defraud Edmonton, but Pyke knew the rancour his friend felt towards the man had not withered with time.‘Did he ever mention Edmonton’s daughter?’Standing at the bottom of the rickety staircase inside the lodging house, they looked up and saw two men struggling down the steps carrying a large crate. One of them said, ‘Is that the last of it?’ The other said, ‘I don’t reckon we need to bother with the mattress. If he wants it, we can always come back for it.’ Upon seeing Pyke and Townsend, they lowered the crate to the floor. One of them, perhaps the foreman, who was a pugnacious man with a neck like a chimney stack, stared at Pyke as though there was some kind of bad blood between them.
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When Pyke explained they were hoping to talk to Charles Hume, the man replied that Hume had returned to number four Whitehall Place, adding, ‘You want him, you ask for him there.’Pyke explained who he was and that he wanted to inspect the room where the killings had taken place.The man said he didn’t give a damn what Pyke did, but he wouldn’t find anything in the room itself.Once the two men were out of earshot, Townsend said, ‘I remember him saying she was wilful. Wilful and able to turn heads, even as a girl. It goes without saying that the old man’s genes can’t have had much to do with her looks. I’m told the mother was a fair beauty.’Pyke looked at Townsend, interested, ‘What happened to her?’They started to ascend the staircase. The whole building was eerily quiet.‘Apparently she went insane. This was well before my brother worked for Edmonton. But there were rumours that she’d been committed, against her will.’ Though they were alone, he lowered his voice. ‘The money was always on her side of the family, if you know what I’m saying.’ Behind him, Townsend paused on the stairs. ‘I heard that she died shortly afterwards. Convenient, don’t you think? Just like my brother.’Pyke digested the implications of this information for a few moments. ‘Do you know anyone who works for Edmonton now?’‘Not any more,’ Townsend said, breathing heavily from the exercise. He was a barrel-chested man with thick forearms. ‘But I could ask some questions, see what I turn up.’ At the top of the building, Pyke held up his lantern and motioned to the room.Townsend looked at him. ‘This is the place?’Pyke wondered where the corpses had been taken and whether anyone had claimed them for burial.At the threshold, Townsend hesitated for a moment and said, ‘Why did you ask me about Edmonton?’ His bloodshot eyes suggested his hate for the old man burned as brightly as ever. ‘Has he got something to do with this business?’Pyke thought about Swift but told Townsend that there wasn’t a connection. He had other business with the old man. He did not mention the robberies. Townsend asked what he wanted to know about the lord’s affairs and his family. Pyke shrugged and said he didn’t know, but any information or gossip about the mother or indeed the daughter might be helpful. ‘Family skeletons,’ he said, half distracted by their proximity to the murder scene.Townsend assured him he would do whatever he could. ‘Shall we go in?’Pyke did not want to, but since a further inspection of the room itself seemed necessary, he did not have a choice in the matter. He needed to know more about the victims and this was his last attachment to them, to their world. If, as he believed, the murders were not the work of a crazed madman, an escaped Bedlamite perhaps, then it followed that the victims had been selected and indeed killed for a reason. Find the reason and he would find the killer. Though he had said little to Fox on the subject, Pyke instinctively believed the victims had known their killer or killers.They stepped into the room.Apart from the mattress, it had been stripped bare. Even the floorboards had been scrubbed clean, and aside from the dark stains that remained, there was little or nothing to suggest what had taken place there.Initially, when he had been told about the removal of all possessions to number four Whitehall, Pyke had been disappointed and angry because he had thought their usefulness as clues depended on their physical presence in the room. But as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom, Pyke felt relieved by their absence and indeed by the absence of the three bodies. The room seemed both larger and more peaceful. It afforded him the opportunity to think, to put himself in their places and try to imagine what they had gone through. Taking no notice of the dark stain, he sat down against the wall farthest from the door, in the position that he had found Stephen Magennis in, and put his hands behind his back, as though bound.‘Why did he tie them up?’ Pyke said, half to himself and half to his companion.He imagined his mouth was gagged, imagined the metal pail in front of him, and closed his eyes.‘You reckon he tied ’em up before he slit their throats?’‘Possibly.’‘Perhaps he tied ’em up in order to slit their throats. Keep ’em still.’It made some kind of sense but Pyke was not quite convinced. Sitting in the darkness, he tried to imagine what had happened: in what order had the killings taken place? Had the murderer slit the throats of the parents and then throttled the baby? Or had it happened the other way around? What if the parents had witnessed the killing of their baby?This thought struck him with the force of a lightning bolt. What might it have been like for them: having to watch as their own baby was strangled in front of their disbelieving eyes? To watch, bound and helpless, while someone squeezed the life out of the most precious thing in their life?‘What if they were tied up because the murderer actually wanted them to witness him killing their baby?’Townsend was standing on the threshold. His figure was silhouetted in the door frame. ‘Why would he want ’em to witness it?’‘What if he knew them?’Townsend did not say anything.‘What if it was personal?’ Pyke thought about it: what if they had been attacked and knocked unconscious initially, bound and gagged while unconscious, and brought round by having urine thrown into their faces? What if they had been brought round because they were meant to see it happen?‘That would be a brutal thing,’ Townsend said, guardedly.‘The two of them were propped up against the wall, where I am. The metal pail was placed in the middle of the room. It resembled a stage. In which case, the parents might have been the audience.’‘You think someone would be capable of such . . .’‘Cruelty?’ Pyke said, looking up at Townsend. It was almost impossible to imagine so, but instinct told him it was an idea worth pursuing. It didn’t mean he was any closer to actually finding who had done these things, or why, but it did mean finding out more about the victims would perhaps lead Pyke one step closer to their killer. Or, indeed, their killers, because Pyke could not be sure that only one man was involved.Townsend shrank back on to the landing. Pyke heard him mutter something under his breath.Standing up, Pyke stretched his numbed legs. On the blackened wall he noticed a small crucifix. Nothing in the room indicated anything of the victims’ personalities and, in order to find their killer, he needed to know something more about their lives. Therefore Pyke knew his first task was to do as Fox suggested: finding the missing cousin was now his main priority.SIXIt had always amused Pyke that the view from Sir Richard Fox’s walnut-panelled office at the front of number five Bow Street took in the Brown Bear tavern, where prostitutes as young as fourteen cavorted with thieves who used its upstairs rooms to plan robberies, exchange gossip and dispose of stolen goods. It amused him that the portrait of Sir Henry Fielding, the man who had founded the Bow Street Runners, which hung on the wall above a marble fireplace, stared down at Fox, who, in turn, stared out of his window at criminals going about their business. It seemed to make a mockery of Sir Henry’s ambitions.Fox did not appear to be suffering from any ill effects as a result of his humiliation at the hands of Peel. In fact, he seemed to be more enthusiastic than Pyke had seen him in a while - when Pyke stepped into his office he leapt up off his armchair, came over to greet him and launched into questions. What had Peel wanted and why had he insisted that Pyke stay behind?Certainly Fox did not seem to be worried about the lynching of Catholics taking place across the city. All he said on the subject, with some satisfaction, was that Peel and the duke would have to postpone their plans to introduce the Catholic Emancipation Act. He didn’t mention the Metropolitan Police Bill.Pyke explained that Peel had merely wanted him to elaborate on his speculations. Peel had seemed worried that, if there were parallel investigations into the St Giles murders, they might arrive at different conclusions and such a state of affairs could end up being politically embarrassing.He said Peel had requested that he leave the investigative work to Hume’s team, but he was to make himself available, to assist them if his help was needed. Pyke believed something of what he told Fox was true: Peel’s desire to keep him close at hand was motivated by the fear that he might unearth something potentially threatening to the cause of police reform and Catholic emancipation.Fox appeared to believe Pyke’s account of his meeting without reservation. It was as he had expected.But Fox was not about to relinquish his responsibility without a struggle and had already questioned Goddard and Townsend about what they had learned of the victims from any of the residents who lodged with Miss Clamp.Pyke asked about the missing cousin.Fox returned to his chair and sat down. ‘A neighbour, Mrs Jackman, who shared one of the upper-floor rooms, was on speaking terms with the deceased. She informed Goddard that she didn’t know whether the young girl who shared their room was Clare’s cousin or not, but she provided him with a name and a description. Mary Johnson. No more than twenty years old, attractive but frail, with brown hair, a thin face and freckles. The neighbour chatted to her once. The girl had an Irish brogue. She told Mrs Jackman that she worked in a nearby factory as a seamstress, but Mrs Jackman said to Goddard that she often saw her dressed in expensive clothes, dresses made of satin and silk, and that she doubted Johnson would have been able to afford such items on what she earned as a seamstress.’ He looked up at Pyke, pleased with himself.‘You’re saying that she was not a seamstress at all,’ Pyke said.‘Perhaps.’‘A pretty young girl with expensive clothes.’‘It means one of two things, doesn’t it?’Pyke nodded without much enthusiasm. ‘That she had a suitor with money or she worked as a prostitute.’‘It’s a start, isn’t it?’ Fox said, seeing his reaction. ‘We have a name, a description and perhaps also know how she earned her money.’Pyke gave him a hard stare. ‘Even if that was the case, do you have any idea how many prostitutes there are in this city?’ The task of locating a young Irish girl who may have been whoring for money was not quite as daunting as it sounded, but it was not too far from finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. Pyke could rule out having to look too far from St Giles and the community in which she lived. Prostitution was rife across the entire city - from the taverns of the Ratcliffe highway to the fashionable assembly rooms of Haymarket - and theoretically Mary Johnson could have travelled to any part of it to ply her trade. But Pyke believed it was more likely she would have done so somewhere in or close to St Giles. This only helped slightly, for St Giles, since it bordered on the theatres of Drury Lane and taverns, hotels and private clubs of Covent Garden, contained the largest number of brothels and the highest concentration of prostitutes anywhere in the city.Pyke knew that the image of a prostitute in respectable circles - a foul-mouthed tart with painted lips and false hair who called herself Sal the Siren or Anytime Annie - applied to just a fraction of them. Women from a variety of social backgrounds came to prostitution for a myriad of different reasons: to avoid destitution, to supplement a low income, to escape the shame of pregnancy or a broken engagement, to find a husband, to pay off a debt, or to run away from family.Pyke was not looking for a type of woman. He was looking for a particular woman and it paid to know the difference.As with all professions, there was an established hierarchy. At the top were the courtesans, who worked in the most fashionable areas and who solicited only wealthy gentlemen, and women who were kept in their own apartment by a single suitor. Below them were the board lodgers who worked and lived in brothels and paid a proportion of what they earned to a madam. Below them were those who hung about the lodging houses and taverns of the rookeries, and the dollymops who had other jobs as maids or cleaners and worked only to supplement their meagre income. At the bottom of the pile were the streetwalkers. Pyke doubted that Mary Johnson was anywhere near the top of that hierarchy. Nor did it seem likely that she worked full-time in a brothel or lodging house since she appeared to board with her cousin. This meant that either she worked on a casual basis, picking up men in taverns and coffee shops, or she walked the streets. And Pyke did not see her as a streetwalker; according to the neighbour, her clothes were too refined.Though he had a full description and a name, his task remained a prodigious one: there were hundreds of young, pretty, dark-haired girls who picked up men in the taverns of the area.But Pyke had two things going for him: first and most obviously it stood to reason that somebody knew Mary Johnson or knew of her and might know where he could hope to find her. More importantly, however, there was also the fact that Pyke had money and was prepared to pay generously for any information that might lead him to the girl.Even though Pyke was aware of how badly he wanted to find and talk to Mary Johnson, it struck him as odd that he was willing to fund the exercise from his own pocket and had no chance of turning a profit on it. As he walked along Bow Street towards Long Acre and stared upwards at the vast canopy of frozen blue sky that stretched far beyond the limits of the city, he felt light-headed, as though the recklessness of his decision meant that he no longer understood himself as well as he once had.After noon the temperature started to plummet, so that by the time dusk arrived the usually bustling streets of the capital were practically deserted. The conditions had driven even the hardy porters, cabmen and dung collectors indoors. It was so inhospitable that the river itself was in danger of freezing. Though it was only early afternoon, it also meant that the taverns and coffee houses were bursting with custom. In these establishments, Pyke found a cavorting mass of stinking bodies.
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Even Pyke, who was used to the harshness of the city, was weary from his exertions, from walking its unforgiving streets and smelling its noxious smells: the grim odours of its wet pavements, the stench of the river at low tide, the tanneries where human excrement was used as an astringent, and the ubiquitous smells of horse dung, animal sweat, fried meat, rotten fruit and discarded herring bones.Over lunch purchased from a street vendor, a hot meat pie dripping with warm gravy, he had watched as two men, one dressed as a Protestant minister, staged a ‘conversion’ play for the unwary crowd. The minister said a few prayers and sang a hymn and the other man rose up and started to spit on some rosary beads and an effigy of the Pope. Apart from Pyke, everyone in the crowd applauded wildly. The minister passed round a collection plate. Once the crowd had dispersed, the two men tipped the coins into one of their hats and disappeared into a nearby tavern.During the day, Pyke visited countless taverns and brothels, asking for Mary Johnson and spreading the news about the reward money. He had narrowly avoided being attacked with a broken glass in the Black Horse on Tottenham Court Road and had come close to breaking the neck of a young thief who had tried to pick his pocket outside a brothel on the corner of Church Street and Lawrence Street in the heart of the rookery.He had also suffered the stares of ordinary men and women in most of the taverns that he had visited. These were his people and yet they were as strange to him as a South Sea islander or an African pygmy.The Rose tavern on Rose Street in Covent Garden had, during the last years of the previous century, hosted posture molls who stripped naked while standing on overturned crates. These activities still happened, though on a more informal basis, but the tavern’s main business was straight-down-the-line prostitution. Upstairs, the madam, Polly Masters, an ugly woman with no front teeth and thick black hair sprouting from her bulbous nose, greeted Pyke with measured enthusiasm.‘The word’s already got out that you’re willing to pay twenty pounds to anyone who can deliver this Paddy lass, Mary Johnson.’‘Do you know her?’As she shrugged, she afforded Pyke a glimpse of her cleavage. ‘Maybe.’Pyke paid no attention to it. ‘Did she work here?’ ‘Might have done, I couldn’t rightly say.’‘Twenty pounds is a lot of money, Polly.’‘Maybe, maybe not.’ She adjusted her dress to conceal her bosoms. ‘A few of my gals could earn as much in, say, a month.’‘Was Mary Johnson one of them?’She met his stare. ‘Could’ve been but she was a flighty one, that one. Her ’eart was never in it. Sweet lass, pretty, popular with the gen’lemen.’Pyke asked Polly to describe Mary and she gave him a description that fitted with the one they had been given by Mary’s neighbour. Polly shrugged. ‘Haven’t seen her for a while, I’m afraid.’‘Do you know where I might find her?’‘What’s in it for you, Pyke? I mean, from what I can see, there’re plenty of tarts in the city, more ’n enough to go round.’‘If you have anything worth telling me, you can leave a message at Lizzie’s place, next to Smithfield.’She gave him an amused look. ‘Is it true love, then? You and Lizzie Morgan?’He turned to leave.‘That lass, Mary, she came and went as she pleased. Not the kind of girl I much care for. Two days ago, when I weren’t ’round, Mary crept in ’ere and cleared what little she had out of her room and scarpered. Vanished into thin air.’This made Pyke turn around. ‘You say this happened two days ago?’‘One of the gals might know where she went. And if I manage to dig it out of ’em, you’ll be ’earing from me, Pyke. Keep that money for me. I’ll want it paid in legal notes, too.’Because it seemed to be a solid lead, Pyke said that if he managed to locate Mary Johnson as a result of her information, he would pay her fifty pounds.Downstairs in the taproom, a man that Pyke recognised but whose face he could not place lunged towards him through a crowd of drunken bodies. Pyke stepped to one side with ease and the knife that the man had been carrying sank deep into the flabby midriff of someone standing next to him. Pyke cocked his elbow back and punched it into the helpless face of his attacker, heard the bone in his nose crumple, and watched as the man careened sideways and sprawled on to the wet floor, taking down a dozen grown men as though they weren’t any more substantial than a set of wooden skittles. Godfrey Bond’s publishing business, if it could be called that, was located in the basement of a building in St Paul’s Yard, number seventy-two, which had once been home to the renowned publisher Joseph Johnson. Now, though, despite its proximity to Wren’s great cathedral with its magnificent dome, the neighbourhood was an uninspiring one and, in recent years, had lost what little sheen remained, as pawnshops and lodging houses took over from more respectable businesses. Before long, his uncle often said, with amusement, the whole area would be awash with taverns, chop houses and slop shops.Pyke found his uncle hunched over a manuscript in the back of the shop. Around him were piles upon piles of messily stacked books, pamphlets, papers and newspapers.Godfrey looked up, saw it was Pyke and said he’d hoped it might have been a choirboy from the cathedral, lost and wanting his help. ‘If it isn’t enough I’ve got people sniping about the integrity of what I publish, I’ve also had word back from the pedlars who hawk my penny dreadfuls that readers think the stuff is boring and not nearly salacious enough. Meanwhile, I’m only too aware that what I’ve been putting out of late has been unoriginal, but there are quite simply no new stories, no one stimulating enough to write about. Defoe had Jonathan Wild and Jack Sheppard. Who have I got?’ His uncle gave him a calculating look. ‘Of course, if you were to agree to—’Pyke cut him off. ‘No, Godfrey. You know what I think about that.’‘Folk are bored with material like Life in London. They want the real thing. That’s why Vidocq’s memoirs are selling so well. They’re calling him the first detective.’‘People like Vidocq because he’s a rogue.’‘Exactly, dear boy.’ Godfrey smiled. ‘You wouldn’t have to write it yourself. I’d get a proper writer, not one of those horrible balladeers. You wouldn’t have to write the damn thing or even put your own name to it.’‘I value anonymity.’‘Ha, that’s why you walk into any tavern in the city and people sink into their seats or crawl up the walls.’‘I don’t want my life becoming public property.’‘It’s not as if I’d expect you to tell me the truth, dear boy. My readers don’t give a damn about the truth. They just want a good story with someone they can cheer for. We could even make you look good.’ He glanced at Pyke and shrugged. ‘Or bad, if you wanted to be bad. Good or bad. Just not both at the same time. It confuses people. They can’t work out whether to shout for the man or rail against him.’‘You know what my answer’s going to be. I don’t know why you bother to ask . . .’Godfrey nodded glumly. ‘It gives you some indication of how bad things are.’ He went to fill his glass from the jug but noticed it was empty. ‘I assume you’ve read about the murders in St Giles? It’s an awful business, I know, but if I could somehow get my hands on that story, well, it would sell like hot pies. Times like this, people need answers and explanations. You should’ve heard some of the preposterous tales that folk are spinning. One lad thought it was King Herod, returning to finish the job, another reckoned it was the vengeful ghost of Queen Caroline. These weren’t the brightest minds, you’ll understand.’Pyke thought about not telling his uncle about his involvement in the events of the previous few days, beginning with the discovery of the bodies, fearing it might lead to a torrent of unwanted questions. But Godfrey would hear about it sooner or later and Pyke decided the news would be better coming from him.To his surprise, though, the first thing that his uncle did, once he had been told the whole story, was to touch Pyke gently on the knee, look him in the eye and ask how he was bearing up.Pyke had always felt it necessary to guard against his uncle’s attempts to solicit favours from him. Yet as he looked into Godfrey’s guileless eyes, he couldn’t help but feel moved by the concern in them. Pyke started to open his mouth, but the extent to which recent events had unsettled him suddenly made him feel weak and the words wouldn’t come. He thanked Godfrey for his concern and assured him everything would be fine.Godfrey shrugged as though he did not believe Pyke. ‘That other business you were asking about. You know.Lord Edmonton. I did a little digging.’In the strains of the past few days, Pyke had almost forgotten about Edmonton and the robberies. He made a mental note not to overlook Swift and the question of what had taken him to the St Giles lodging house in the first place.‘It would appear that Edmonton’s estate is in some trouble. The usual thing: the cost of maintenance outstripping the yield from rents. You mentioned his brother William, the banker. My source claimed that the brother’s bank has been propping up Edmonton’s estate for a while and keeping the lord himself in clover. He hadn’t heard anything about the robberies, though. I’m afraid I can’t help you there.’Pyke thought about Hambledon Hall, Edmonton’s shabby country estate, and about the strange act he’d witnessed, the two brothers openly bickering in front of him, Edmonton silencing his apparently weaker sibling.‘For what it’s worth, I also heard that Edmonton is tight with the King’s brother, the Duke of Cumberland. Damn nasty piece of work, that one. I’d be wary of anyone who claimed him as a friend.’ Godfrey proceeded to regale Pyke with stories that he had already heard. Apparently Cumberland had once raped Lady Lyndhurst; he had also driven Lord Graves to suicide, possibly raped his own sister and, on one occasion, having received a blow on the head in the middle of the night from his valet in a botched assassination attempt, Cumberland had, according to some accounts, slit the man’s throat and then convinced the authorities his valet had committed suicide. Godfrey also repeated rumours to the effect that Cumberland was engaged in a dastardly plot to poison the young Princess Victoria in order to steal the crown for himself and safeguard the Protestant ascendancy.Godfrey pulled down his wine-stained shirt to cover his girth. ‘You also asked about the mother.’ He watched Pyke suspiciously. ‘And the daughter.’Pyke nodded but said nothing.‘The daughter, Emily, is an acquaintance of Elizabeth Fry. She’s a committed reformer or an interfering do-gooder, depending on your point of view. They visit prisons, asylums and even factories, and write reports as a way of pressuring the authorities to improve conditions. Most of ’em are your wearisome God-bothering types, motivated by the usual nonsense about bringing the poor to the Lord, as though prayer and a few homilies about the Almighty will put food in their stomachs. Apparently this one doesn’t do the work for the glory of God. I asked Reverend Foote about her. As the Ordinary, he knows her quite well. He doesn’t much care for the reforming type but he told me something you might find interesting. Edmonton is not the kind of man who would readily allow his only unmarried daughter even the tiniest smidgen of freedom or the financial support to carry out work he, no doubt, regards as unbecoming.’Pyke affected a frown. ‘What are you telling me?’‘Well,’ Godfrey said, enjoying himself, ‘at the time of their marriage, control of the Hambledon estate, as the law demands, passed from wife to husband, but I’m told that the marriage settlement included a number of unusual provisions. A certain sum of money was settled on their future offspring by trust. I don’t know if the wife had doubts about Edmonton’s character even then but, at the time, he wasn’t in any position to dictate terms. You see, Lord Edmonton was by no means a member of the landed gentry in those days. He was only titled as a result of his connections with Tories like Eldon and Winchelsea.’ Godfrey tapped his nose. ‘The old man, it would appear, has little power to prevent his daughter from doing what she damn well likes with her income and, I’m told, it’s driven him nearly to the point of apoplexy she has chosen to use it in the manner she has.’Pyke thought about Emily Blackwood and the violent argument with her father he had overheard. But he was also preoccupied by something else, something that had been on his mind for the entire day, something that related to the living arrangements of the deceased and their missing cousin.First thing in the morning, he would pay a visit to number four Whitehall Place and examine what had been removed from the lodging house.SEVENBut the following morning, Pyke found himself standing outside the entrance to Newgate prison, waiting for Emily Blackwood to finish a conversation she was having with the Reverend Arthur Foote. Though he had walked past the prison, just a short distance from his gin palace, on numerous occasions since his visit to Hambledon Hall, this was the first time he had come across Emily. Pyke stared up at the building’s blackened stone-clad exterior.There were other prisons in London but Newgate remained the most notorious. In the past, Pyke had visited the interior of the prison, mostly in order to elicit information from convicts, and found it to be a depressing but unremarkable place. Others, however, did not share his ambivalence. To them, the prison would always represent a system of justice that was as brutal as it was unfair.They were standing almost directly outside Debtors’ Door, from where condemned men and women emerged on the day of their execution and began their last journey to the scaffold. Pyke watched Foote shuffle across the street in the direction of the King of Denmark pub, a cabman’s watering hole that occupied a three-storey tenement building directly opposite the prison.
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In the middle of the previous century, public hangings had been moved from the open spaces of Tyburn to the more confined areas surrounding Newgate and, indeed, other prisons in the city, in the hope that this might restrict crowd sizes and turn the events themselves into more sober occasions. This hope had not come to pass; what had happened instead was that the same multitude now thronged into the narrow streets surrounding Newgate on hanging days, at a risk to themselves and others. Pyke’s own father had found this out, to his cost. Old Bailey was a street of ghosts. Pyke thought about the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who had died in these environs, either inside or outside the prison walls, and of the throng who went there to witness people hang. He did not believe such people did so either to be entertained or reminded that the justice system worked. Watching another man die was essentially a way of clinging on to what little humanity you had left that had not been taken away by the city.As he approached her, Pyke waved to attract Emily’s attention.‘This is a surprise, Mr Pyke, and a very pleasant one.’ They shook hands as etiquette demanded and she smiled warmly, revealing dimples on either side of her mouth. Up close, her teeth were a brilliant white and in the weak morning sunlight her hair, which sat just above her shoulders, glistened. She made a comment about the weather, pointed out that it was cold enough for them to see their own breath, and said, ‘Imagine how it must be for those inside the prison without access to heat.’Though his grooming regime consisted only of shaving on every third day, changing his outfit weekly and his underwear twice weekly and bathing irregularly, he found himself self-consciously arranging his hair in some imaginary mirror.‘I am about to visit the quadrangle allocated to the female prisoners. Perhaps you would care to accompany me?’The last thing Pyke wanted to do was witness the squalor and misery endured by Newgate’s unfortunates, but he found himself accepting her invitation. She seemed pleased by his decision and later, once the formalities had been taken care of and they were standing in a small courtyard inside the prison, she told him their society had been trying to impress upon the Ordinary and the gaoler the nature of their responsibilities to the prisoners. The gaoler should visit all parts of the prison and see every prisoner on a daily basis and the Ordinary should perform a daily religious service and visit the sick. Of course, this did not happen. She laughed bitterly.Pyke said Foote was more famous for his powers of consumption than for his pulpit oratory. This time her laugh seemed almost flirtatious.The prison was smaller than Pyke had remembered but its fortress-like buildings, cramped together in an almost piecemeal fashion owing to the lack of space, and the sheer granite walls that stood guard over the maze of concealed courtyards and passages inside the prison, revived his fear of confined spaces.It was a crisp day but the washed-out blue sky was not visible, even from within the prison’s open courtyards, so steep were the walls and so cramped were the buildings. From within the blocks and wards, Pyke could hear the shouts and wails of the prison’s inhabitants.He tried to imagine what it might be like, to be held in such a place, with no access to the outside world.Emily seemed entirely at ease in their surroundings. She explained how the prison was laid out. She pointed to the north side where the debtors were housed and explained that they lived in relative comfort. They were visited by vendors who hawked newspapers and tobacco, potmen who sold pints of beer and local merchants who brought with them cold joints, fish and mince pies. The condemned, she explained, occupied the press-yard side of the prison. There were two dozen rooms and fifteen cells to accommodate eighty or ninety prisoners, many of whom were likely to be granted a reprieve or have their sentence commuted to transportation. Emily said children as young as twelve mixed freely with sodomists and murderers.In the press yard in front of the condemned wing, she pointed to a large movable scaffold. Pyke had spotted it already. The condemned man stood on a false floor with a noose around his neck, she explained, and on the executioner’s signal, it dropped, leaving him hanging in the air.Pyke said he had seen many executions and that their pointless barbarity never failed to shock him.‘Really?’ she said, squinting, even though the sun could not penetrate the interior of the prison. ‘I would’ve imagined that their violence might have appealed to your baser instincts.’‘And what baser instincts might those be?’This time Emily blushed. ‘Perhaps the ones that endow you with such self-confidence.’‘You think my confidence to be unfounded?’‘Not unfounded,’ she said, looking away, half-smiling. ‘But I fancy you wield it as one might a weapon.’‘What sort of a weapon?’‘I don’t know,’ she said, still affecting a smile.‘A rapier, perhaps?’‘I was thinking more of a bludgeon.’‘Ah,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Then perhaps you are mistaking confidence for heavy-handedness. For I would not consider myself to be confident.’ He waited to catch her stare. ‘Especially not around you.’She looked away quickly. ‘In any case, I would have imagined punishment better suits your world than reform.’‘Quite,’ Pyke said, grinning now. ‘Let’s return to the safer subject of barbaric violence.’ He made to wipe something from his eye. Above him, a crow was circling in the small patch of sky still visible from within the prison walls. ‘Just because I believe the only way of subduing any power is through the exercise of a greater power doesn’t necessarily mean I find such a state of affairs appealing.’‘That’s quite a bleak view of human nature, isn’t it? The weak being torn apart by the strong and the strong being torn apart by the stronger.’Nodding, despite himself, he found her instinctive grasp of his position impressive. He had never tried to have a similar conversation with Lizzie.‘I would’ve thought that description perfectly fits what’s happening inside this prison.’ Pyke pointed towards the condemned block.‘But that’s exactly it,’ she said, excited. ‘At present, that’s how these unfortunates are treated and so they act as animals. Wouldn’t you?’ Her eyes glistened with enthusiasm. ‘But what if they were treated differently? What if they lived in separate cells, had access to proper clothes, hot food, time to exercise and read, a routine, bedsteads provided for them? Might they act in a more humane way themselves?’‘You believe people are essentially altruistic?’ Pyke tried to keep scepticism from his voice.‘Call me simple-minded but I believe that a tendency for goodness exists within all of us. Even you.’ Then Emily did something that surprised him: she threaded her arm through his and said, ‘Come with me. I’ll show you the quadrangle allocated to women.’All Pyke said was, ‘I would not have called you simple-minded. ’She did not release his arm.The space for female prisoners awaiting trial was limited to two cells and two large wards. Something like three hundred women and children were crowded into these rooms. The fact that the female prisoners were now overseen by a female gatekeeper was the result of pressure exerted by their committee, Emily explained, as the gatekeeper led them along a thick-walled passage to one of the two main wards. From the entrance, and protected from the ward by iron bars, Pyke watched the scene in front of him with fascination and horror. He counted ninety or a hundred people crammed into a room no larger than Sir Richard Fox’s office. Some wore rags. Others were naked. The only warmth in the ward was provided by the inhabitants themselves. They huddled together in small groups. The smell of unwashed bodies and stale alcohol made him want to gag. A little girl, no more than ten, caught his eye. Her lackadaisical body and hollow stare spoke of a hopelessness that seemed so all-encompassing he had to look away. These were the human dregs, criminals perhaps but with their own explanatory tales of woe and despair, and Pyke didn’t want to be among them - to have to see and smell them.‘Though it might seem hard to believe, considerable improvements have been made since Mrs Fry first visited here fifteen years ago. There’s now better ventilation and lighting, fixed bed places, a new dining room and dining tables, an enlarged infirmary and a new wash house.’Pyke said he had seen enough.Outside in the yard, Emily said, ‘When we talked at the hall, I got the impression you thought all reformers to be either petty meddlers or well-meaning tyrants wanting to transform the world in their own image. What we are trying to do here is rather small. Desks for the condemned, the removal of rubbish once a week.’Pyke admired her forthright nose and hazel eyes. Emily did not seem out of place inside Newgate’s walls. She was part of this world and, in a strange way, it suited her.‘Perhaps not you,’ he said, choosing his words carefully, ‘but others have grander visions.’‘And what’s wrong with grand visions?’ she asked, quickly. ‘Even to me, Newgate isn’t just a prison. It’s a word that’s become synonymous with a whole system of justice, a barbaric and arbitrary one in which the educated and privileged escape punishment because of who they are and who they know and the poor are killed regardless. You asked me why I did this. Let me ask you a question in return. Is it right or fair that one prisoner should have a good flock mattress, a double allowance of provisions, an endless supply of ale and prostitutes when required, while another, equally deserving prisoner is beaten, abused, starved and left to die?’Pyke waited until he had her full attention. ‘People who can’t help themselves come from all ranks and stations. Even aristocratic families.’Her surprise registered before her anger and she recoiled from him, as though he had slapped her. ‘Men always imagine power is tied only to social class,’ she said, recovering some of her composure.‘You mean, your father’s power is more a product of his masculine position?’‘Is that such a surprise to you? That men like my father have been shaping the world to fit their needs for centuries?’‘Including who is defined as sane and insane?’Emily’s expression hardened. ‘Don’t presume to speculate about my family, Mr Pyke.’‘I was referring only to your father.’‘Your point is made,’ she said, trying to appear unaffected. ‘And I commend you on your skills as an investigator, though I was not in any doubt as to your . . . abilities.’ She smiled coldly.Outside the prison, on Old Bailey, Pyke said, ‘If I said that’s just the way of the world, the fact that some prosper, yes, because of their inheritance but also because they’re ruthless or committed or just plain lucky, while others wither and die because they aren’t, would you think me hard-hearted?’She touched his forearm and pulled him into her stare. ‘Is that you, Pyke? Are you ruthless and committed?’‘I would hope so.’ He shrugged. ‘But I also believe we live or die ultimately according to the whims of chance.’‘But what about those who aren’t ruthless or lucky? What happens to them?’ Her face was flushed with energy. ‘When you see pain and injustice, can you really just walk away?’What she said caught him by surprise and he pulled away because he didn’t want her to see that he was capable of being moved.Waiting for her footman to pull down the steps up to the carriage, Pyke asked her what she had been arguing about with her father during his visit to Hambledon. At first, she did not seem to know what he was talking about. Her eyes dulled a little and she seemed to withdraw into herself.Emily shook his hand and while doing so pulled herself towards him and whispered, ‘People aren’t always who you imagine them to be.’ Her breath felt hot and sticky against his ear. ‘That applies to you and me as well.’As she climbed up into her carriage, Emily was assisted by her servant, a young woman with a plump figure and a full, round face. Briefly, Pyke and the servant exchanged a glance, and in that moment Pyke was left with an uncomfortable sense they had met somewhere before, though he could not remember where or when this might have been. Renovation work on number four Whitehall Place had already started, a sign perhaps that Peel was more than confident about his chances of forcing the police bill through Parliament. It was a sturdy, imposing three-storey red-brick building with ornately carved arched windows on the ground floor.Pyke had perused the morning papers and all the editorials seemed to agree: the St Giles murders made the case for a centralised, uniformed police force even stronger. But the same editorials had not been so kind to the proposed Catholic Emancipation Bill. Only the Chronicle called for caution and circumspection and urged its readers to wait and see what the police investigation revealed. Others failed to denounce the wave of anti-Catholic violence that was sweeping the city and demanded, in varying tones of outrage, that the Catholic relief bill either be abandoned or put on hold until people had had the time to reflect on the situation. One had even called for Catholics to be forcibly converted to Protestantism or thrown out of the country. Pyke had read a letter in The Times written by Edmonton in which the old man had called upon his ‘fellow countrymen’ and ‘brother Protestants’ to ‘stand forward and defend our Protestant religion and constitution’ from ‘disgraceful attacks’ by ‘Tory turncoats, papal agents and lovers of Rome’.Pyke found himself wondering how such sentiments would affect his investigation.Finding the main entrance boarded up, he wandered around the side of the building, along a narrow passage leading into Great Scotland Yard, and tried the door that led into the old watch house.Almost at once, he found himself confronted by the same surly man whom he had encountered at the lodging house. Pyke said that he wanted to see Charles Hume and was told, curtly, that he would have to wait a long time. The man explained there had been an important development in the St Giles murder investigation but he did not reveal what it was and Pyke did not ask.
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Pyke asked to see the possessions of the deceased. At first, the man informed him that such a request was out of the question. It was only when Pyke threatened to solicit the help of the Home Office that the man relented and directed him, reluctantly, into a small room that looked out over the side alley. He pointed at a cupboard and told Pyke that what little they had removed from the room had been placed on the top shelf. The dust already gathered on top of the cupboard indicated that the Magennises’ possessions had not been regarded as important to Hume’s investigation.He removed the few possessions from the cupboard and arranged them carefully on a wooden table. One at a time, he picked up both the Bibles and opened them. The first was a King James edition. It was marked and dated: Edinburgh, 1792. He idly flicked through it but found nothing of interest. The other was a Douay Bible. It was marked and dated: Dublin, 1803. The fact that they had owned two Bibles intrigued him, as did the different editions and, indeed, the different places of publication. Edinburgh and Dublin. King James and Douay. Pyke paused, to consider the name. Douay. Wasn’t that a place, too? He closed his eyes and racked his brain for an answer.He heard Emily’s voice: People aren’t always who you imagine them to be. Who did he imagine Stephen and Clare to be?What did he know about them? That they were poor, working folk from Ulster, Ireland. They were Protestants . . .Then it struck him: what had been bothering him all along. At first it was just the cousin’s name. Mary. The mother of Christ. The Virgin Mary. There were plenty of girls called Mary who had nothing to do with the Catholic faith but, then again, how likely was it that Protestant parents from Ulster would call their little girl Mary? Pyke did not know, of course, whether Mary’s parents were Protestants or not but the point was an intriguing one. What if Mary and indeed Clare were not, in fact, Protestant? What if Clare was Catholic and Stephen was Protestant? Douay, he now remembered, was a place in France. It was home to a Catholic monastery. One of them was Roman Catholic. That was what he had missed, what they had all missed.Pyke sat at the table for a while and tried to consider how this new information altered the nature of his investigation. On its own, it did not explain or justify anything but it seemed to be a significant discovery, if only because of the ill-feeling that such a mixed attachment might have engendered in both families. Was that why they had fled Ulster in the first place? And had someone followed them to London and discovered that Clare was, in fact, expecting a baby? Was it possible that such news could have unbalanced a relation to such an extent that he had taken matters into his own hands? Did such hate exist, Pyke wondered, when directed at one’s own kin?One thing was for certain, Pyke decided as he stared down at the two Bibles on the table. It meant that finding Mary Johnson was more crucial than ever.Later, when Pyke was finally shown into Charles Hume’s office, the man did not want to hear about what he referred to as Pyke’s ‘fanciful notions’ about Catholics and Protestants. Rather, he glowed with self-satisfaction.‘Listen, Pyke, I can tell you this much. We have now arrested someone and I’m almost certain he’s our man. I cannot tell you his name but he’s thirty years old, mentally ill, with a history of violence. He escaped from a nearby asylum two weeks ago. His sister lives in the street adjacent to the lodging house. We found a razor in his room and blood on his clothes. We’re questioning him at the moment. It’s only a matter of time before he cracks and when he does and we elicit a confession, that will be the end of it. The investigation will be closed.’Pyke waited for a moment, allowing his anger at the man’s complacency to pass. ‘Tell me this, Hume, are you merely incompetent or is someone compelling you to arrive at a hasty and ill-judged conclusion?’Hume put down his pen and stared at Pyke. ‘You dare to presume that I am corrupt?’‘What motivation did this man have to kill these people? How do you explain that kind of hatred?’‘You can’t apply rational logic to the deeds of the insane,’ Hume said, as though the issue were beyond discussion.‘Except that this wasn’t the work of a madman. A man blinded by hate, perhaps . . .’‘This city is about to tear itself apart and you’re proposing that we further stoke the flames by making it public we’re looking for some kind of religious bigot?’‘I’m not proposing to make anything public,’ Pyke said. ‘I just don’t want to see a man go to the gallows simply to expedite the government’s political ambitions.’That pushed Hume too far. He was a military man and didn’t understand the subtleties of political brinkmanship. He rounded his desk and stepped towards Pyke, as though preparing to strike him.‘Take that remark back, sir.’ Hume’s neck was corded with veins.‘When your man hangs and your puppet-masters pat you on the back, remember this conversation and think about how you feel.’‘If and when he hangs, it will be because a court of law and a jury of his peers have found him guilty.’Pyke made to leave. ‘Tell that to yourself when you are lying awake at night,’ he said, hesitating at the door without turning around to face Hume.Behind him, Hume was now shouting: ‘This investigation is closed. Go back to Bow Street while you still have a position.’EIGHTThe springs of the carriage groaned as the figure inside edged towards the window. The footman, an unsmiling man Pyke did not recognise, stood beside the carriage but made no attempt to pull down the steps, or open the door, either to permit the passenger to disembark or to invite Pyke into the carriage’s interior. Nonetheless, it was clear from the manner in which the vehicle was parked outside the gin palace, and from the general demeanour of the footman, that Pyke’s attention was being solicited. It was a windy night, and the visibility, impaired by swirling fog, was improved only slightly by a gas lamp that hissed noisily at one end of the narrow street. The unusual sight of a gentleman’s carriage in the vicinity of Bartholomew’s Field had already attracted the attentions of a gang of children who were prodding the unsettled horses, compelling the footman to round the vehicle and chase them away with an umbrella. Pyke took this opportunity to step forward and peer into the gloom of the carriage’s interior. Edmonton’s chalky face, slick with perspiration, stared back at him, like an apparition.‘It’s always revealing and indeed gratifying to see creatures in their natural habitats,’ Edmonton said, glancing contemptuously at the entrance to the gin palace. ‘I thought the other day, when you visited Hambledon, that there is nothing more unpalatable than seeing vermin feast at the table of a gentleman.’Pyke looked into the old man’s arid eyes. ‘Your servants seem to manage well enough.’This drew a flinty smile. ‘Part of me wants to admire you, for your spirit, pathetic and misguided as it is.’‘You’ll forgive me if I don’t feel able to reciprocate your generosity.’They eyed one another warily, like two beasts circling in a cage.‘I presume you have followed Swift and that he has led you to my money,’ Edmonton said, eventually, settling back into his cushioned seat.‘I have certainly followed him.’‘But not found my money?’ It was Edmonton’s money now, not the bank’s.Pyke heard a scream from one of the adjacent buildings and momentarily looked away.Edmonton coughed up some phlegm into a large white handkerchief and then said, ‘You will, of course, know that Swift has vacated his position in the bank and disappeared, then.’Pyke didn’t know but concealed his interest in this development. Again, he wondered what business Swift had in the lodging house.Edmonton continued, ‘But since you have been keeping a close eye on him, you will no doubt know whereabouts the brigand has fled to.’‘I have had other business to attend to.’‘What other business?’ Edmonton’s face glowered with indignation. ‘Damnation, man, I’m paying you to work for me.’ He spat these words out.‘You’ll remember that you haven’t as yet paid me a farthing.’‘You’ve an answer for everything, haven’t you? Pray, tell me how you might yourself fare inside a prison.’‘Is that a threat?’‘It is, if you don’t pull yourself together, find where this Swift fellow has gone and get my money.’ Spittle flew from his mouth.‘And you’re in a position to make such terms binding?’ Pyke said, amused more than concerned.‘I heard there’s a papist recidivist, Flynn, who’s been making certain accusations about you. Claims you’re no better than him: a dirty, dishonest thief.’Now Edmonton had Pyke’s attention. ‘And?’‘What if Flynn’s accusations could be substantiated? Corroborated, as they say.’ The old man’s grin revealed teeth as yellow as his skin.‘Evidence can always be fabricated. In any case, it would be a foolish man who did not take advantage of all available circumstances to further his own interests. These sentiments are as true for a poor man who steals an apple as for a rich man who steals a whole estate.’Edmonton seemed taken aback but Pyke was more interested in searching his own brain for an explanation of how Edmonton might have found out about Flynn.Pyke had used Flynn to store items that he had recovered from thieves but which he could not claim any ransom on. Flynn had tried to defraud him by selling on some of these items without consultation and would pay the ultimate price for his dishonesty on the scaffold.With some effort Edmonton leaned forward, almost so that his head protruded from the carriage, and whispered, ‘You know enough to make things awkward for yourself, boy, but not enough to make things awkward for me. Think on that before you do anything rash.’Before Pyke could answer, Edmonton disappeared into the cab’s interior and left Pyke to ponder his threats.Lizzie was drunk and agitated. That was part of the problem. It made her combative, whereas he was just tired. The skin around her neck was flushed and blotchy.‘Thirty-seven messages, Pyke, and all from thieves and swindlers. You think I got the time to be your secret’ry?’ Lizzie tucked her straw hair behind her ears. ‘Why do you want to find this whore anyhow? Are you fucking her?’Pyke could smell the bar on her clothes: the spiced gin and tobacco. He had once found her muscular forearms attractive but now they just seemed vulgar. He knew other men found her desirable, the kind who clung to the bar as though it were a lifeboat set adrift in the ocean. On occasions, the gin palace would attract doctors fresh from carving up human beings in St Bartholomew’s Hospital, but mostly their customers were men who traded and slaughtered animals. In either case, they smelt of fresh blood. This was the kind of man who lusted after Lizzie, but Pyke was as certain as he could be that she had been faithful to him, even though he could not claim the same thing.It was unfair, expecting something from Lizzie he was not prepared to reciprocate, but he did not lose any sleep over his own double standards.His room was kept warm by a plentiful supply of coal. There were a few ostensible trappings of wealth - a large Turkish rug, a feather comforter on the bed - and one of the walls was adorned entirely with shelves of books. It was an unremarkable room, one that aptly suited Pyke’s needs. Though he had in excess of three thousand pounds lodged in a City bank, Pyke did not like to draw attention to his modest wealth. Still, he sometimes enjoyed the envy money elicited in others and would show off his gold watch or a wad of banknotes simply in order to witness the stares of those less wealthy and fortunate than himself.He asked whether Lizzie had heard anything from Polly Masters at the Rose tavern in Covent Garden.‘Whoever left you a message, they’re all written out. I put the list on your desk.’Later, in Lizzie’s room, as Pyke guided his erection into her, his face pressed into her pillow, he tried to picture Emily Blackwood’s expression, the way she would close her eyes whenever she laughed or the looks she gave him, with eyes that were inscrutable and alluring.Pyke felt himself harden and used the jolt of excitement to finish, so he could return to the comforting silence of his own room. But as he lay there, staring up at the ceiling, Lizzie’s sadness was tangible.‘What is it about me?’ There was no anger in her voice. Only regret.‘What do you mean?’‘Sometimes I think you despise me.’Sighing, Pyke shifted away from her. ‘If I despised you, would I still be here?’‘But you’re not here.’ She looked at the empty space next to her. ‘That’s the problem.’‘Everyone has their problems.’‘Everyone has problems. Is that supposed to make me feel better?’Earlier Pyke had read through the list of names that Lizzie had compiled, but found no message from Polly Masters.
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‘Am I just another woman to fuck?’Pyke rolled over, out of the bed, and reached down to pick up his shirt, strewn across the floor. In the dimness of the candlelight he had to strain to see where he had left his shoes.‘You’re right.’ He was by the door, with his back facing her. His tone was as soft as he could manage.‘Right about what?’ There was hope in her voice. He hated himself for it.‘I’m sorry.’ He pulled the door open but still did not turn around to face her.‘Is that it? You’re sorry?’ She sounded angry. ‘What the fuck are you sorry for?’‘You deserve better.’ He made to leave.Lizzie exhaled loudly. ‘God, you’re a cold bastard.’ Pyke guessed she probably had tears in her eyes but did not turn around to see whether he was right.Much later, when he could not sleep, Pyke ascended the staircase up to the garret under the tiles where George Morgan’s crippled form lay on the bed. Often, Pyke had wondered why Lizzie insisted upon tending her father, when he hardly seemed to know who or where he was, but equally he could not imagine casting the old man out on to the street or into an asylum.Pyke stood by the window cut into the roof and looked out at the brick chimneys of the slumbering city.In the darkness, George’s chest expanded slightly as he slept, the only indication that he was alive. Until his stroke, he had been an impressive figure, but now he seemed as frail as a rose petal.Under George’s tutelage, Pyke had developed from ingénu into a hardened professional and he could still hear the man’s raspy voice: The law is what men want it to be. Only a fool or a coward fails to take advantage of the opportunities available to him. Between them, they had once set up and arrested the capital’s most notorious robber. As George put it, afterwards, that they had prospered from the spoils of this man’s crimes was incidental to the fact that someone who had once bitten a prostitute’s ear clean from her head, and pummelled an apprentice to death with his bare fists, had hung by the rope.Stroking George’s sweat-matted hair, he said, ‘You were never concerned whether what you did was right or not, were you, old man?’George, near comatose, had not spoken a word in two years.‘Do what you need to do and to hell with the consequence, that was always your motto.’Outside, it had begun to rain and the drops of water fell on to the tiles of the roof like small pebbles.‘Take what you can but don’t lose sight of who you are.And, above all, don’t get caught.’The darkness hid the fact that the stroke had immobilised one side of George’s face. He seemed almost normal.‘So why am I bothered, old man?’Pyke didn’t know why Lizzie had never produced children, whether she was barren or not, but as he stood up beside the old man, he wondered whether he would ever be in a position to affect someone’s life in the manner George had affected his. Fox’s cheeks were flushed and his moustache was ruffled and unkempt.Newspapers were spread across the surface of his desk. He was reading a particular report. He ushered Pyke into the chair across from him and said that special police constables had arrested an escaped lunatic for the St Giles murders and would be charging him with these crimes. He read from the newspaper. The report made it appear that the man’s guilt had already been proven beyond all doubt. This sense of certainty was matched only by the hyperbolic relief the newspaper’s readers were no doubt supposed to feel at the prospect of this man being behind bars.The journalist looked forward to the spectacle of the hanging and wondered whether the seriousness of the crime merited some additional form of punishment.Still, news of the man’s arrest had done little to stem the growing wave of anti-papist violence. A Catholic church on the Whitechapel Road had been burned to the ground. Another had been ransacked and desecrated.Fox, though, was not interested in stories about mob violence. His ire was directed at Charles Hume’s ‘botched’ investigation.Briefly Pyke told him about his own argument with Hume and about his hypothesis that the murdered couple were from different religious traditions. Fox muttered something about cover-ups and deception.He was about to excuse himself when Gerrard, Fox’s personal secretary, appeared in the room, closely followed by a young boy, dressed in rags, who explained he had been told by Miss Lizzie to pass a very ‘hymn-portant’ message to Mr Pyke and that he had been promised a shilling in return. He wanted the shilling before he gave Pyke the message. Pyke procured the money from Fox’s indignant secretary. He glanced down at the note and saw Lizzie’s scribbled writing. Gerrard chased the young boy out of the office and closed the door behind them.‘Anything important?’ Fox said.‘I might’ve found the woman.’ The note instructed him to contact Polly Masters at the Rose. Briefly he wondered how much longer Lizzie would continue to come to his assistance when he treated her so poorly.‘You mean Mary Johnson?’Pyke just nodded. Fox had remembered her name. ‘Then you must go at once to talk to her.’ Fox’s tone was insistent. ‘Take my personal carriage. It will be quicker than flagging one down. Less costly, too. There’s not a moment to lose.’Pyke wondered how far he might push Fox’s untypical generosity. ‘I have promised a reward for information leading to Mary Johnson’s whereabouts.’‘A fee?’ Fox’s expression darkened. ‘What kind of a fee?’‘A hundred.’‘Pounds? ’‘You told me finding the girl was our main priority. I took you at your word.’‘A hundred pounds?’‘It’s a lot of money, I know,’ Pyke shrugged. ‘If you don’t think it’s wise to pay it, we can always wait.’‘Wait? Who said anything about waiting?’ Fox winced, as though he were in pain. ‘But you need to keep a check on your expenditure, Pyke.’‘I’ll go and see Gerrard.’‘We’re not awash with money.’Pyke waited for a moment. ‘Can I ask you a question, Sir Richard?’‘What is it?’This time Pyke turned around to face his old mentor. ‘Have you ever had any dealings with Lord Edmonton?’Carefully Fox placed his pen down on his desk and looked up. ‘Edmonton, you say?’ He ran his finger over the tip of his moustache. ‘He’s one of the Tory Ultras, isn’t he?’‘All day, I’ve been asking myself how Edmonton knows Flynn has been making certain false accusations against me.’‘I’m sorry, Pyke, but I fail to see how Lord Edmonton is relevant here.’ But he would not meet Pyke’s gaze.‘But you haven’t had any communication with him?’ Pyke folded his arms and tried to gauge Fox’s reaction.‘Why on earth should I have had communications with that Tory bigot?’ Fox was a well-known Whig. He sounded personally hurt by Pyke’s question.Pyke shrugged. ‘If you hear that anyone has been passing information about me to other . . .’‘Then I will, of course, tell you about it.’ Fox sighed. ‘Flynn has already been before the grand jury. He’ll stand trial within the week. The scoundrel is currently being held inside Newgate.’ He hesitated. ‘Listen to me, Pyke. I know that you’ve had dealings with this man in the past and I accept that such arrangements are . . . necessary. This is the issue that Peel utterly fails to grasp. Policing can never simply be about prevention. As I’ve tried to impress on Peel many times, prevention makes absolutely no sense without detection. And effective detection, I know, means rubbing shoulders with the likes of Flynn.’ Pyke thought Fox was going to say something else but he picked up his pen and added, almost as an afterthought, ‘Find the girl. That’s the most important thing, Pyke.’ ‘Gimme the money and I’ll tell you where you can find the Paddy girl. That’s what we agreed.’ Polly Masters crossed her forearms, as though to affirm the seriousness of her intent.Pyke removed a ten-pound note from his pocket and held it out for her to see. ‘For now. You’ll get the rest if your information’s good.’Polly’s frown deepened. ‘If I tell you what I ’eard, I ain’t gonna see you ’gain.’‘And if I just give you the money and I don’t find this girl, I might not see you again.’‘I got me business to run. Where am I going?’‘What we have here is a failure of trust.’ He let the note fall from his fingers and flutter to the floor. They were standing in her drab office. Even though it was only ten in the morning, he could hear a man’s voice through the thin walls, grunting with desire.As she bent over to retrieve the note, Pyke reached out and gathered up the skin around her neck and pulled her upright, ignoring her chokes and threats. Her plump fingers gripped the ten-pound note as though her life depended on it. He adjusted his one-handed grip around her neck and started to squeeze, and watched as her eyes filled with water and waited for her yells to subside to whimpers.‘Listen to me, you old hag. You know where the girl is.I want that information. I find the girl, I might contemplate giving you what I promised. You don’t give me that information right now, then I’ll kill you. Simple as that.’ He squeezed her neck a little harder and kept his stare hard and dry, like a hangman’s or one of the butchers’ who frequented his gin palace and told stories of disembowelling terrified cattle with three swift moves of the cleaver. He felt her limbs loosen, life draining from her.He slackened his grip, to allow her to speak. He heard her fart. The stink filled up the office.‘Jonathan Wild was strung up for less than what you do.And people spat on his dead body.’ But there wasn’t any fight left in her.He let go of her neck and wiped his hand clean with a handkerchief.Sullen and beaten, Polly told him that the girl was hiding out at a small lavender farm owned by James Wren on the river at Isleworth.‘Did you tell anyone else about this?’ He slapped her hard around the face with his open palm. She bit her lip and licked off the blood.‘Answer me.’‘No.’‘You mention this to anyone and I’ll kill you. Do you understand?’She stared at him, humiliated, but as Pyke left she didn’t once mention the forty pounds he owed her. Sir Richard Fox’s private carriage, an old-fashioned wooden cab adorned on the inside with silk window curtains and velvet cushions, was pulled by two horses and driven by Gaines, a sour-faced man who seemed to resent having to transport Pyke to his destination, as though the act were somehow beneath him. The carriage transported Pyke through the traffic along Oxford Street and past crowds of people milling around the huge plate-glass windows of new luxury stores. The recently macadamised surface afforded them a smoother passage, as they passed parkland adjoining the Uxbridge Road and Paddington’s grand-looking terraces, decorated with pilasters and ironwork balconies and finished with stucco.Past Bayswater and Holland House, they rattled on new turnpikes into the countryside, with small farms replacing the West London mansions. The city, which always seemed endless when you were in it, now felt as insignificant as a twig dropping over the edge of a waterfall.Out here, Pyke felt a sense of release that he had not experienced for a long time. He had once served for three years on the Bow Street horse patrol pursuing thieves and housebreakers along turnpikes and across open land and had, ever since, hankered for country air.As a boy Pyke had witnessed the execution of two men who had murdered a man travelling to a lavender warehouse in Feltham. Now, many years later, he was journeying to meet a girl hiding out on a lavender farm in nearby Isleworth. Idly mulling over the web of connections that criss-crossed people’s lives, Pyke found himself returning to the murdered baby and wondering what might have become of its life, had it lived.As the frozen landscape flashed past him, he tried to remember what his own father looked like but could not summon forth a picture in his head. Often, he had watched as Lizzie tended to George, her bedridden father, and thought about his own father and mother and whether it mattered that he knew little or nothing about them, whether it hampered his progress through the world.They found the entrance to Wren’s farm with little difficulty and Pyke alighted from the carriage, instructing Gaines to wait in the same spot for his return. He decided to approach the farm itself on foot, not wanting to give away his position and frighten the runaway girl.Keeping an eye out for man-traps - metallic contraptions that could snap one’s arm or leg - Pyke undertook a preliminary tour of the farm, no more than a couple of acres in total. It was early March and there were no workers to be found anywhere. The ground was as unyielding as marble. There was smoke rising from the chimney of the main house, indicating that the owner and his family were perhaps still living there. If Mary Johnson was hiding on the farm without Wren’s knowledge or consent, then it meant she had taken up a position in one of the two small greenhouses situated on the river side of the farm. Pyke dug his hands deep into his pockets, to protect them from the cold, and hid himself in a large bush that offered him a vantage point to both greenhouses.He did not have to wait for long.NINEMary Johnson was too frightened to speak.In a ramshackle building that was both a shed and a greenhouse, she cowered under her blanket like a whipped dog. There was no warmth in the building and Pyke wondered whether she had already contracted pneumonia. Her brown hair was straggly and wet, her freckled skin almost translucent, and her lips had turned an eerie shade of blue. Her frame shook underneath the blanket. Under different circumstances, she might have been attractive, but on this occasion Pyke felt only pity for the girl. The smell of stale cut lavender was as oppressive as the freezing temperature.
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Pyke explained he just wanted to find out what had happened to Stephen, Clare and the baby.‘And who are ye?’ A boy who had introduced himself as Gerry stood guard over the girl and stared angrily at Pyke. He was a lantern-jawed adolescent, with freckles and thick tufts of ginger hair. If sufficiently frightened or provoked he might have been a dangerous adversary, but after Pyke had explained who he was, and that he just wanted to talk with Mary, the lad stood aside and let Pyke have a proper look at her.Pyke repeated that he had no intention of hurting either of them. He just wanted to ask a few questions. Mary didn’t even have to answer him directly. She could just nod or shake her head, as appropriate. He asked whether she could manage to do that. She looked up at him and nodded once. Pyke removed his wool coat, bent down and placed it over her shoulders. He saw her smile.‘From time to time, you’d stay with Stephen and Clare in their room in Miss Clamp’s lodging house.’Mary nodded. Now, with his view of her unimpeded, she did not look any older than sixteen or seventeen.‘And Clare was your cousin.’This time she spoke. ‘She was older than me. My da and hers were brothers. After Mammy died, when I was just a girl, Clare would look out for me.’ Her brogue was soft but distinctive.Pyke waited for a moment. ‘It can’t have been easy for your family, her running away with a Protestant.’The surprise registered in her eyes but his comments seemed to embolden her. ‘I can’t say any of us were too delighted by the idea but, then again, we weren’t the problem.’‘You’re saying it was his family who caused the difficulties?’This time she held his gaze. ‘You’ve not spent any time in Ireland, I’d wager.’‘Is it that obvious?’That elicited a thin smile. ‘I was going to say you wouldn’t understand but I suppose that’d be stupid.’‘So when his family, Stephen’s family, found out about their . . . attachment . . .’‘Stephen’s not like them. Weren’t like them, I guess.’ She made no effort to conceal her pain. ‘His da was a big Orangeman in this wee village in County Armagh. So was his uncle and so was one of his brothers. All Orangemen and all bristlin’ with hate. Fact that Stephen turned out to be as normal as he was, that was a genuine, God-given miracle. They’re mean people, Mr Pyke. Full of hate and resentment. Never accept our right to live in our own country. Myself, I don’t much care for any religion.’‘But they cared, didn’t they? And that’s the reason that Stephen and Clare came to London, to get away.’Mary nodded. ‘No one would marry ’em in Ireland. For that matter, no one would marry ’em in England neither. Not ’less one of ’em converted.’ She shook her head. ‘Look, Mr Pyke. Even though Clare and Stephen mostly grew up in the country, they came to live in Belfast. It’s a busy town, a port, in Ulster.’Pyke just nodded.‘It’s not a bad town, as towns go. Quite open-minded, compared to the country. But even in Belfast, they weren’t far enough away . . .’ Her eyes started to well up. ‘I don’t guess you can ever run far enough away from that kind of hate.’‘Only his family, the Magennises, they found out about Clare.’‘Moment that she and your man heard of it, they were on the next steamship bound for Liverpool.’‘And from there, they travelled south to London.’Mary nodded. ‘Didn’t tell a soul where they were going. It was like the earth had swallowed ’em up. Then out of the blue, ’bout six months later, I got a letter from Clare, so I did. Tellin’ me where they were and sayin’ I could join up with them, if I wanted to. It weren’t like I had anything in Belfast to give up, apart from a job in a mill . . .’‘So you left Belfast and travelled to London.’ Pyke waited for a moment before he asked whether she had been followed. But it seemed to upset her, the notion that she might have been responsible for leading members of Stephen’s family to London.To fill the silence, Pyke asked her to tell him more about the family.‘So, ’bout a month ago, I saw him, Stephen’s older brother, Davy, in London. In the name of almighty God, I almost died, almost keeled over there and then. Couldn’t miss him. A burly, ugly fellow. Country stock, you know, Mr Pyke. Now you got to understand me. I ain’t sayin’ country folk are all like Davy Magennis. He weren’t ever the brightest boy in the world but, see, he grew up around all these preachers, folks talkin’ about this massacre and that one, Catholics killing Protestants, what happened a hundred years before, like it was yesterday. He didn’t stand a chance, I suppose. He had hate beaten into him. That’s why I said you wouldn’t understand, Mr Pyke. This fear we have of the other lot. Now I’m from Belfast and I grew up around different people. Myself, I wouldn’t want to marry an Orangeman but I wouldn’t want to kill someone, if they felt different. But to Stephen’s folk, papists weren’t no better than whores and rapists.’Pyke smiled at Mary. He decided she was older than he’d initially supposed. Older and more intelligent.‘Tell me what you know about Davy.’‘He was one of the first to join up to the new police force, the Irish Constabulary, when it was first set up in Ulster, ’bout seven years back. According to Stephen, your man was specially chosen. All it was, some fellow came visitin’, said the new force needed good strong Orangemen like Davy. I guess his da pulled a few strings. Made Davy feel important. Way of getting the boy out of the house. Stephen didn’t talk a whole lot ’bout his brother, Mr Pyke, but when he did, he spoke in a quiet voice, like he was terrified . . .’‘And this Davy fellow, he’s been in the police ever since?’ Her expression darkened. ‘For a while anyhow.’‘He’s not any more?’Mary shook her head. ‘They had to discipline him. In the end, they threw him out just last year.’Pyke asked what had happened.‘I don’t guess you read about too much news from Ulster in your London newspapers, do you, Mr Pyke? This all happened last autumn. There’s a fellow, Jack Lawless, a journalist in Belfast, one of O’Connell’s lieutenants in Ulster. You heard of O’Connell?’ Pyke nodded. Mary continued, ‘And you probably know, us Catholics, we’re in the minority in Ulster. Well, last autumn, Lawless announces he’s going to raise a force in the south and enter Ulster, march from town to town holdin’ meetings and the like, raisin’ support for Catholic emancipation and collectin’ Catholic funds. So Lawless gathers up maybe eighty thousand men and crosses from County Monaghan into Ballybay, which is nearly all Presbyterian and full of about ten thousand Orangemen with pitchforks and scythes ready to defend their town. All of the army and police in the whole area rush to the town. At first, they manage to get Lawless to avoid Ballybay and travel via another route. But then the two sides come face to face on the Rockcorry road and all hell breaks loose. There’s a pitched battle and the police wade in, too. According to Stephen, in front of a thousand witnesses, Davy beats this Catholic fellow to within an inch of his life. Normally that kind of behaviour would go unpunished but there were witnesses. After that, there wasn’t nothing that anyone could do for him, even if his da was a well-respected preacher. Stephen just said his brother had dropped out of sight. No one knew what happened to him.’‘He didn’t go home?’‘Not as far as Stephen reckoned.’ Mary sat up a little and stretched her arms. ‘Though his family hold on to much hate, they still think of themselves as respectable folk, friends in the right places. Those friends like their violence to be carried out under the cover of darkness, not in full sight of a thousand other men.’Pyke liked her analysis. ‘And that’s how you think Davy got the police job in the first place? Because his father had friends in high places?’‘That’s what Stephen reckoned. Reckoned the da was friends with this fella, John Arnold, owns the biggest mill in Belfast, both of ’em up to their necks in Orange business.’‘I take it you can’t remember any other names. Did Stephen ever mention specific names?’Mary frowned. ‘What kind of names?’‘For a start, the man who came calling to the home, recruited Davy into the police in the first place.’‘Not that I can remember.’ She winced a little. ‘I’m sorry . . .’‘I have to ask, Mary. Did you see any of what happened?’‘You mean to Stephen and Clare and the wee baby?’ She was shaking, perhaps not just from the cold.Pyke nodded.A tear escaped from Mary’s eye and rolled down her cheek. ‘It was a small room. I didn’t always stay there. I didn’t like to get in their way and in the last month I had a room elsewhere . . .’She did not want to elaborate and he decided not to push her. ‘You didn’t see anything, then?’‘No,’ she whispered, staring down at the ground. ‘I just heard about it later. I heard about it and panicked. I collected up a few things and hid out with Gerry in his room but even there I didn’t feel too safe. I knew someone would want to talk to me but I didn’t want him to find out. Davy. Gerry knows a man who works on this farm in the spring and summer. We’ve been here a few days now. It’s brutal cold, too.’ She wiped her eyes. ‘In the name of Jesus, it was just a baby. Would you think it was even possible?’ She was crying now. Gerry sat down next to her, trying to offer comfort.Pyke wondered whether Mary was telling him the truth. There was no doubt she was terrified. But was she keeping something from him?‘Are you certain there’s nothing else you can tell me?’This time she looked away. Gerry put a protective arm around her shoulder and glared at him.He waited for a while before saying, ‘Do you think Davy killed them? Was he capable of doing something like that?’‘Do I think he was capable of it?’ Mary said, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of Pyke’s coat. ‘I wouldn’t imagine anyone was capable of doing something like that.’‘But you do believe he killed them?’Mary shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Honestly I don’t.’‘But it’s possible that he did it?’Her stare was devoid of emotion. ‘I fancy it is. The longer you live, the more you realise that anything’s possible. Even something as terrible as what happened.’ Once Pyke had deposited a bedraggled Mary Johnson and a grateful Gerry in a guest house in Isleworth, paid for a week’s accommodation and warned them not to go anywhere or talk to anyone without his consent, he told Gaines to return him to Bow Street. As he sat in the carriage on the journey back to the city, Pyke considered what Mary had told him and thought about the implications for his own investigation.He was close, now, to finding the real killer, not the unfortunate lunatic who was currently being held by Hume. For a lot of reasons, Davy Magennis seemed to be the likely candidate. From the start, Pyke had believed that whoever had murdered Stephen, Clare and the baby had known his victims. Nothing about the scene suggested a random attack. It had been premeditated and, Pyke had felt all along, motivated by hate. And now, according to Mary, Davy Magennis had been sighted in London: Davy Magennis, who was uneducated, physically strong and driven by hate; a man who had perhaps lost sight of familial links to his brother.Mary Johnson was intelligent and credible. Pyke believed everything she had told him.Pyke was now certain that Charles Hume and his investigative team had arrested and charged the wrong man. But he didn’t necessarily believe that Hume was corrupt. Pressure for a quick arrest had, no doubt, been forthcoming from Peel and charging an escaped Bedlamite was politically expedient. So how might Hume, or for that matter Peel, react to Pyke’s news? It was hard to judge. Or rather Peel was hard to judge. Hume would reject his claim outright and would threaten Pyke, should he continue with his own investigation. Peel, though, would have to be sensitive to the political implications associated with convicting and, doubtless, killing the wrong man. For Peel knew about Pyke’s relationship with Fox and would be only too aware that Fox continued to wield enough political clout to cause him considerable embarrassment.Peel could not afford to ignore his claims.Pyke thought about taking his discoveries directly to Fox but he was concerned that Sir Richard simply wanted to use the investigation as a stick to beat the government with. Fox didn’t care about the dead. Nor did Peel or Hume. But out of all of them, Peel was the one who could assist or damage Pyke’s cause and, for this reason, Pyke made up his mind to present his findings, in the first instance, to the Home Secretary, and give him the chance to pull Hume into line.Pyke leaned out of the window of the carriage and shouted at Gaines, the driver, to take him directly to Whitehall. Outside, the branches of the trees were just beginning to thaw and the first signs of green were starting to show themselves. As he blew into his cupped hands to keep them warm, Pyke thought about the dead baby, more than anything irritated that it continued to unsettle him in a way he did not understand. Pyke knew it would be hard to secure an audience with Peel himself, at least in the first instance. Peel, after all, had instructed him to deal either with Hume or Fitzroy Tilling.Still, he did not imagine it would be quite so difficult to convince the guards outside the Home Office to even ask inside the building for Tilling. None of them seemed to know who Tilling was. Pyke explained that he was Peel’s private secretary and offered them a brief description. He introduced himself as a Bow Street Runner working at the behest of the Home Secretary himself. He said he had urgent business to share with Peel. He said they would have to shoulder the responsibility, should his news fail to reach Peel, via Tilling. It was only when he made it clear that it was a matter of the utmost importance to the security of the state that they were provoked into action.
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One of the guards said he would go and make some enquiries. The other, meanwhile, led Pyke into a dingy antechamber, set off the building’s main entrance hall.Pyke waited for almost two hours for Tilling to rescue him from the stares of the two guards. The burly man greeted Pyke without warmth and led him in silence through the main hall, past the same cantilevered staircase he had seen previously on his visit to Peel’s offices and down a flight of stairs, to a room in the basement of the building. It was furnished with two chairs and a wooden table. A gas lamp hissed quietly in the corner of the room.Tilling told Pyke he could spare him ten minutes. He wore a well-cut jacket over a silk neck stocking and styled dark trousers. Though he possessed neither beard nor moustache, his sideburns were thick and as dark as the hair on the top of his head. He seemed agitated and distant, as though the prospect of spending even a few minutes in Pyke’s company was the last thing he wanted.He listened, evidently bored, while Pyke explained what had happened and recounted, as briefly as he could, the course of his investigation.While he spoke, Pyke wondered whether Tilling, as someone who knew Ireland well and had served under Peel while he had been under-secretary there, would be in a better position to comprehend the nuances of his account. He wondered, too, whether Tilling had Irish blood in him. He didn’t speak with a brogue and if he was, in part, Irish, then it was almost certain that he belonged to the Anglo-Irish planter class. This would, of course, influence the way in which he made sense of Pyke’s tale of Protestant bigotry and violence. Tilling might be hostile to the assumptions behind his claims. But in the end it was just a name that seemed to rouse the man from his indifference.Pyke could not, of course, be certain that the name ‘Davy Magennis’ had registered as forcefully as he imagined, but it was also true that, as a rule, he rarely misread other people’s reactions.Afterwards, Tilling’s demeanour did become more agitated and he stopped listening to Pyke’s account and fidgeted in his chair. His manner did not become obviously aggressive but almost at once, and without warning, he stood up and told Pyke that he had important business to attend to. Assuring Pyke that his claims would be properly investigated, he thanked him for his efforts.Tilling left him with the two guards and did not bother to issue any form of farewell.TENIt was a long time since Pyke had spent any real time in his gin palace and it struck him what an unpleasant place it had become. Perhaps he had deluded himself when he had first bought and transformed the building, hoping it would become a sophisticated drinking venue, with a better class of customer attracted by brilliant interior gas lights that shone through large plate-glass windows. Pyke’s own reputation may have been successful in deterring society’s dregs from regularly drinking there - the scavengers, petty thieves, coal-heavers and prostitutes who gravitated towards the neighbourhood’s less salubrious alehouses and drunken ex-sailors who preferred the gin shops on the other side of the river. But offers of cheap gin were enough to lure all types of working men and women to the bar: porters from St Bartholomew’s, animal drovers, stable boys and meat cutters from the market and traders who sold fruit and vegetables from their barrows, all of whom wanted to get fall-down drunk and didn’t care about the ornamental parapets or the fact that the drinks were served in glasses rather than clay pots or pewter mugs.Pyke had no affinity with his customers and showed little interest in the daily running of the place. It was an investment and it gave him a modest additional income. And if Pyke had no affinity with his paying customers, nor did he have anything in common with the people who worked for him. Aside from Lizzie, who was upstairs in the attic room tending to George, the faces were unfamiliar or hostile to him. But Pyke did not expect gratitude from his staff: those who worked behind the bar, the glass collectors, the cleaners, the ex-bare-knuckle boxer who policed the bar and the three kitchen hands who served up a simple menu of chops, baked eggs, hot eel and pea soup. The pay was low, the work hard and at times dangerous, and the hours were long. He exploited them but he felt no guilt for doing so. If they wanted to work elsewhere, he never tried to stop them.Pyke sat on an overturned barrel at one end of the zinc-topped mahogany counter and looked at what his gin shop had become. Somehow the term ‘palace’ seemed too absurd for words. He looked at the painted barrels behind the bar, signs advertising ‘The Real Knock-Me-Out Firewater’ or ‘The Devil’s Own’ and the wooden floor covered with sawdust and vomit.There were two fights in the bar that night and Pyke wondered whether that was typical or not. One incident was relatively minor: a meat cutter, still wearing his bloodied work apron, swung at and missed a younger man, who stepped inside the punch and landed one of his own on the meat cutter’s jaw. The single blow sent the meat cutter sprawling on to the floor, and he was picked up and dumped outside by Billy, the ex-bare-knuckle fighter. The other fight was more serious. A ferret-faced man pulled out a pocket knife on a larger adversary and thrust the blade into the man’s abdomen. He got away before Billy could apprehend him but Pyke watched as the ex-boxer picked up the bleeding man, dragged his limp body across the crowded room and tossed him out of the side door.But Pyke’s attention had been focused elsewhere. As he sat alone, amid the grim tumult of the place, a sea of unfamiliar faces quietly whispering to one another, just out of earshot, he could not get over the feeling that he was being watched; not simply by the drinkers lined up two or three deep along the entire length of the counter but maybe by an agent of the state who was masquerading as a market trader or a hospital porter. But he did not know whether his suspicions were genuine or had merely been fuelled by the laudanum he had ingested.Pyke had other significant matters on his mind, too. He could not avoid the conclusion that he had somehow miscalculated or overplayed his hand with Tilling. Again and again, he tried and failed to make sense of the man’s strange reaction to his findings. He’d certainly expected some kind of message from Peel or Tilling but so far nothing had come, and he was unable to determine what this silence indicated.By the following evening, Pyke still had not received any message from Peel or Tilling and his feeling of anxiety had intensified: so much so that he had further increased his intake of laudanum. The drug numbed him a little but did nothing to lift his unease.What had Tilling’s changed demeanour signalled? That he knew Davy Magennis? Tilling had spent time in Ireland and Magennis lived there but the idea that they knew or had met one another seemed fanciful. But if Tilling did know or had met Davy Magennis and Magennis was responsible for the St Giles murders, did that, in turn, suggest that Tilling was somehow mixed up in them as well? The idea seemed too preposterous for words, not least because it implicated Peel himself. And whatever Peel was - cunning and ruthless - he didn’t strike Pyke as an assassin, even if the assassination had been carried out by someone else.Then there was the question of motive. Certainly the murders had strengthened the case for a new consolidated police force, but as far as he could tell that particular argument had long since been won. The murders had also galvanised opposition to the Catholic Emancipation Bill; a bill which Peel supported and was about to present to the Commons. As such, the idea that Peel might be involved with the St Giles deaths did not make sense, but on the other hand Tilling’s nervous reaction perhaps indicated otherwise.Pyke watched Lizzie serving drinks and, for some reason, thought about the woman in the Blue Dog tavern who had called out his name, to warn him of Flynn’s imminent attack. It bothered him that, although her voice had seemed familiar, he did not have an idea of who she was.There was a time when he had thought Lizzie to be the most desirable woman in the whole of London. This sentiment was augmented by the fact that Lizzie had promised herself to a housebreaker whom George, her father, did not approve of. In order to break up this union, and to earn George’s respect, Pyke had solicited the man’s assistance, to steal jewels and bonds from a house on Great Russell Street, and arranged for four constables to make the arrest, while the robbery was taking place. During the trial the robber, who had a headstrong manner and a vicious disposition, had leapt from the dock, retrieved a knife from an associate who was seated in the public gallery and attacked Pyke. Now, a few years later, Pyke could not exactly recall how he had disarmed this man but he was struck by the gallantry of his own long-ago actions; the fact that he had been willing to risk life and limb for the woman whom he now took entirely for granted.So engrossed was he in these thoughts that he did not notice Brownlow Vines until the man was practically breathing in his face. In his hat and gloves, Vines looked utterly out of place. It did not strike Pyke until later that Vines might be the emissary from Peel.In an awkward gesture, Vines made to shake Pyke’s hand, and when he saw that Pyke had no intention of doing likewise, he patted him on the arm. ‘This is where you like to spend your time. How . . . colourful.’Vines was dressed in a cream frock-coat, cravat, tight-fitting trousers and immaculately polished boots, and in the surroundings seemed even more foppish than usual.‘What do you want, Vines?’Vines made a point of appearing to be hurt. ‘May I suggest that I buy us both a drink?’ He glanced over at the bar and tried to attract someone’s attention. ‘Miss. Miss?’ It took Pyke a few moments to realise he was talking to either Lizzie or one of the barmaids.It was a nauseating spectacle, Vines’s attempt to flirt with Lizzie while one of the other barmaids poured two mugs of stout and placed them on the counter before him. Vines seemed pleased with himself, as though his efforts revealed his common touch. Lizzie had acted along, laughing at Vines’s efforts at humour. She had even appeared to be flattered.‘Cheers,’ Vines said, lifting up his mug.‘You’re not from this world, are you, Vines?’‘Maybe not, but I can see its earthy appeals,’ Vines said, making a point of winking at Pyke.‘In a place like this, you so much as look at someone else’s woman, you’re a dead man.’The colour drained from Vines’s face. He glanced across at Lizzie and then around the room, to see whether anyone had noticed.‘Lizzie,’ Pyke called out.After serving another customer, she came to join them. Pyke reached over the counter and kissed her on the mouth. It was an ugly, sloppy gesture, made worse by the fact that Lizzie bridled at his feigned attempt at intimacy, doubtless realising she was being used. Still, it elicited the reaction Pyke had wanted. Vines stared at them aghast, though Pyke didn’t know whether he was appalled by the show of affection or by what it suggested about Pyke’s choice of woman.‘Don’t pretend this is a social visit, Vines,’ Pyke said, once Lizzie had left them. ‘What do you want?’Vines was ambitious but stupid. Usually he had nothing but contempt for Pyke, but now he was pretending to be his friend. Pyke wondered whether Vines really believed he was taken in by his false show of bonhomie.‘Straight to the point, eh?’ Vines looked at him with apprehension. ‘I wanted to talk to you, away from the eyes and ears of Bow Street, about Sir Richard.’‘What about Sir Richard?’They both took a long drink.This time Vines whispered, ‘I’m worried about him, Pyke. I think he’s losing his mind.’ He wiped froth from his mouth with his sleeve. ‘Have you noticed the way he’s been acting of late?’‘Acting?’ Pyke raised his eyebrows. He’d noticed Fox’s erratic behaviour but didn’t say anything.‘The mood swings, the ecstatic highs, the lows.’‘It must be a hard business, watching everything that you’ve worked to build threatened by the people you most trust.’Vines refused to meet his stare. ‘Quite so, but he’s blind to the realities of the situation, Pyke. This new police force is going to happen, whether he likes it or not. I know it. You know it. Why can’t he see it? Sometimes progress is inevitable.’‘Depends what you mean by progress.’‘Many people would call a new, uniformed, city-wide police force progress.’‘And you?’Vines smiled unconvincingly. ‘My admittedly humble task is to serve, and not to make difficult decisions.’Pyke rubbed his eyes and tried to focus. He felt light-headed, drunker than he should, even though he had imbibed only three gins and a mug of stout. Usually he could consume a bottle of gin and still shoot a man between the eyes at twenty paces.Through blurry eyes, he stared at Vines and tried to work out what the man wanted. Vines had not, as yet, mentioned the murders, and did not seem to want to know about the investigation. All of which suggested that he had not been dispatched to Pyke’s gin palace by Peel or Tilling.Vines ordered another round of drinks and insisted on paying for them himself.Emboldened by the alcohol, Pyke asked Vines whether he’d struck a deal with Peel or whether Peel had offered him a role in the new police force. They both took a drink.‘Is that what you think?’ Vines looked at him, shaking his head.Pyke didn’t like being this drunk. He didn’t feel particularly in control of the situation.‘Sir Richard thinks you’re the magistrate that Peel is employing to preside over Hume’s investigation.’‘Really?’ Vines said, sounding more amused than perturbed. ‘And that’s why you think he’s been acting strangely around me?’Pyke felt his vision blur and closed his eyes, trying to revive himself. The room started to spin around him. He tried to respond but words failed him. Vines placed his hand on Pyke’s shoulder and asked whether he was all right.
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‘I’m fine.’ Pyke opened his eyes and smiled.But Pyke was not fine. He was drunk: drunker than he had been in as long as he could remember. So drunk, all of a sudden, that he could barely sit up straight, let alone speak. The room became a jumble of noise and motion. He felt his mouth dry up, his head spin. He felt himself fall, and the next moment he was on the floor, lying in the sawdust, not knowing and caring how he had got there. It was a peculiar feeling, mellow and soothing in its own way, as though he had been deposited in his own soft cocoon. Hearing someone call Lizzie’s name, he recognised her voice. ‘Pyke, Pyke? ’ He wanted to smile, and suddenly it felt as though he were afloat. Above all, he wanted to be left alone, but the voices persisted. Someone lifted him up, two people perhaps. He heard other voices. Vines, proposing, ‘Take him to the bedroom.’ They dragged him upstairs. His whole body felt limp. He did not put up a struggle but rather felt himself falling. Everything went black. The first thing Pyke heard when he finally awoke from his feverish dreams was the squeals and grunts of petrified livestock being driven through the narrow streets outside the gin palace. Trying to open his eyes, he realised that the effort required to do so was beyond him. His mouth tasted stale and arid. He made another attempt to move but a sharp pain in his head wouldn’t allow it. Remaining still, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Weak shafts of morning light pierced the thin muslin curtains. He stared up at the unfamiliar ceiling and soon realised he was not in his own bed. His eyes opened a little more and he fought the sudden pain that streaked across his forehead. Moving his head a fraction to the left, he recognised Lizzie’s wallpaper, her dressing table.Gently, Pyke turned a little farther to his side and saw Lizzie’s sleeping form. Though Lizzie’s back was turned to him, from where he was positioned her hair looked oddly dishevelled.Pyke reached out and touched the back of her neck. As he did so, he tried to remember the last time they had woken up in the same bed.Moving his body for the first time, something squelched beneath him. He lifted his head from the pillow, felt something damp against the back of his neck and had to fight off a wave of revulsion. His initial reaction was that he had pissed himself. His self-disgust was visceral. More awake now, though not yet clear-headed, it took him a moment to work out that his back, his arms, his legs and his head were all covered in something wet and sticky.With a sudden movement, he sat upright, driven by a mixture of curiosity and unease. He was still fully clothed and his clothes were covered in the same moist liquid; the smell was sweet and yet overpowering.Sitting upright and fighting off the dizziness, Pyke ignored the icy temperature, pulled back the blanket and almost fainted. The bed was awash with blood, as though someone had slaughtered a cow. At first, Pyke supposed that he must be cut; that he was delirious from the loss of blood. But he did not feel any pain, at least not apart from the pounding headache which was quickly ebbing away under the onslaught of panic. Rousing himself from the bed, he began to check himself, his back, his clothes, all of them dripping with fresh blood. And it was everywhere: on the bed, the sheets, the blanket, the floor, his clothes, his hands, his fingers, his toes, his genitals, and in his eyes, ears, nose, lips, hair and teeth.Lizzie, though, was not moving, and it finally struck him what had happened, or at least that the blood was not his own.Pyke stripped the blanket from her motionless body.Wearing the dress he had bought her, she was lying half on her back, half on her side. There were two red-ringed stab wounds in the middle of her abdomen. Beneath her was a pool of her own blood. Quickly, he checked for a pulse but didn’t find one. Her body was cold, indicating that she had been dead for a number of hours.Lizzie had also taken a blow to her head. Pyke fought back the urge to gag.He stripped naked, pulled down the muslin curtain and wiped off the blood. The cream material quickly turned crimson. Leaving his soiled clothes in a heap, he ignored the freezing temperature and went downstairs to the bar and opened a fresh bottle of gin.Pyke put the bottle to his lips and did not stop imbibing the fiery liquid until he had to pause for breath.Outside in the yard, he poured two buckets of icy water into a metal bath tub. As he submerged himself in the water, it felt as though his chest might collapse but, gasping for air, he took a bar of soap in one hand and, splashing icy water over himself with the other, he started to scrub himself: his face, his neck, his armpits, his torso, his hands, his groin, his legs, between his toes. He took another bucket of water and tipped it over himself, rinsing off the suds. He rubbed himself dry with a cloth and, picking up the bottle and putting it again to his lips, took another gulp of gin.Upstairs he dressed in a dark jacket, plain shirt, trousers and boots and returned to the bedroom. He found the knife, a large hunting knife with a jagged blade, on the floor next to the bed. Having wiped it with the same muslin curtain he’d used to clean himself, he placed it carefully in his pocket.Later, it struck Pyke that if it had not been market day and the street outside had been empty of livestock, they might have caught him. As it was, one of the constables dispatched to arrest him screamed at someone to clear a path through the street, and Pyke looked out of the upstairs window and saw them through the fog: ten or more men wearing tall hats, forcing their way through a stationary herd of cattle.Even with these men bearing down on him, Pyke knew that he could not leave George to either perish in his bed or suffer some as yet unknown fate; perhaps a slow, painful death in a lunatic asylum. Ascending the stairs to the old man’s garret three at a time, he could feel some of the horror of what had happened begin to hit home. Lizzie was dead. She had been slaughtered in her own bed, while he lay beside her. Briefly, as he knelt beside his old friend, he imagined trying to rouse him from his slumber to explain what had happened, the pain that news of his daughter’s murder would cause, and he felt momentarily overcome by anger, bitterness and his own grief. But he could not afford to indulge these sentiments: men were coming to arrest him for the murder. He did not have time to wake George and talk to him and he did not need to do so. Pyke already knew what his old friend would ask him to do and without another thought he clamped George’s jaw closed with one hand and pinched his nostrils with the other.He had planned to count to twenty but did not need to go past ten.Back in his own room, he collected what little money he could find, tumbled down the stairs, let himself out into the back yard and from there into the alley at the rear of the building. Finding an open cesspool, he wrapped up the knife in the muslin curtain and dropped the whole bundle into the dirty water. He heard shouting as the constables forced their way into the gin palace.A freezing fog had enveloped the whole of Bartholomew’s Field, the site of Smithfield market, making it all but impossible to tell which direction over the treacherous ground he was heading and, advantageously to him, all but impossible for the ten constables to pursue or even locate him. There were other constables attached to the market, appointed by the Corporation of London to regulate practices, but Pyke was not concerned about them; though it was only seven in the morning, they would be ensconced in one of the taverns that bordered the market enjoying their second or third ‘rum hot’ of the day.Below him the ground was hard but slippery. The usual ankle-deep mulch of manure, rotten animal flesh and faeces had frozen solid, a boon as far as Pyke was concerned because it lessened the smell, but it meant the ground was not easy to walk across. In such conditions, he had seen people slip under the hoofs of frightened cattle and lose their lives. The slow-witted drovers did whatever they could, beat their animals with sticks and rods, gouged their eyes and squeezed their genitals, but they were rarely able to control beasts that were already well used to their cruel practices. When this happened, all one could do was look away and make out that the screams of terror were those of cattle rather than human beings. Afterwards, if the bodies were not at once attended to, they were snatched by the resurrectionists.Around him through the fog, Pyke could see that cattle and sheep were pouring into the field from every direction. The bleating and lowing of terrified beasts were matched by the barks issuing from the frothing mouths of the drovers’ dogs. Herds of long-horned cattle jostled for position among mounds of quivering animal flesh with Highland oxen. Visibility was less than ten yards and, perversely, was not helped by the drovers’ hand-held lamps, which did little more than transform the fog into an impenetrable wall of white.The cattle were arranged into smaller circles and between each circle was a pathway for pedestrians and a wooden handrail. Clutching the rail, Pyke followed the path until he was able to make out the faint silhouette of St Bartholomew’s Hospital.Surrounded by ramshackle buildings and the many narrow alleys and courtyards that made up the area to the east of the market, Pyke looked behind him to make sure no one had followed. He was still drowsy from the laudanum he had unknowingly imbibed and numb from the gin. Instinctively he knew he would need hard currency, but apart from this his mind was blank. Pyke knew, of course, that he was still in a state of shock, but he didn’t have the time to indulge such feelings. He also knew, despite the fog and the early hour, that he was well known in these parts and if news of the murder spread he wouldn’t last more than a few hours without being spotted and perhaps lynched.In Field Lane, a steep, poorly ventilated street that backed on to the sewage-ridden Fleet Ditch, he bought a smock frock, some corduroy breeches and an old hat from a street trader for two shillings and changed into his new clothes in a narrow back alley behind the Old Red Lion tavern. Two young girls, carrying a pail of milk between them, hurried past him and giggled to one another.In the Old Red Lion, he procured a pen and a scrap of paper from one of the pot boys and scribbled a note to Godfrey Bond, instructing his uncle to collect as much hard currency as he could manage, and meet him on the south side of London Bridge at midday.He didn’t want Godfrey arriving in a thieves’ den like Smithfield or Field Lane carrying a large sum of money. He wanted their meeting place to be public, safe and identifiable, somewhere that even Godfrey would know how to find. And should Godfrey be followed, it was important that Pyke had his route of escape planned. In this scenario, Pyke would see anyone who was following his uncle and would be able to slip off into the labyrinthine streets that surrounded Southwark Cathedral.Taking a half-crown from his pocket, he placed it into the pot boy’s hand and explained that if he successfully delivered a note to a Mr Godfrey Bond in person, then Bond would give him a whole guinea for his efforts. The boy looked down at the coin in his hand and gave Pyke a toothy grin. Pyke told him Bond could be found at number seventy-two St Paul’s Yard, and if he was not there the boy was to go to the George Inn on Camden Place. If not there, then the Castle in Saffron Hill, or the Blue Boar in Holborn, and if Godfrey was not in either of those places, the boy was to look for him in the New Wheatsheaf at the top of Ludgate Hill or the Privateer on Wellington Mews.The boy squinted at him and grinned. ‘I take it this friend of yours likes to take a drink.’ But stupidly, Pyke had not thought to take into account the fog, which had thickened throughout the rest of the morning, so that by the time he heard the Southwark bells, less than a few hundred yards away, chiming midday, he could barely see his own hands and feet, let alone the towering cathedral. The fog was thick but patchy, and as it swirled around him he caught glimpses of the new bridge, which was being built alongside the old one, wooden scaffolding supporting the giant granite arches, and beyond that, disembodied masks of tall ships bobbed up and down in the choppy waters like ghostly apparitions. It was bitterly cold, and his new clothes had left him desperately exposed to the elements. He dug his hands into his pockets and scanned the faces of those walking towards him across the old bridge for any sign of his uncle. The fog momentarily cleared and he saw Wren’s mighty dome appear in the distance and then vanish, as though by a malevolent act of conjuring.The bridge itself was, literally, falling down. There were no houses or shops on it, as there once had been - they had long since been demolished - and more recently the cobbled surface had been widened, to accommodate more traffic, but these changes had not made the bridge any more secure. The fact that a new bridge was being constructed was a testament to its decrepitude. The creaking arches, which housed waterwheels and supported the main crossing, had been badly damaged by the last big freeze, when the river had completely iced over.
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Pyke could hear the giant waterwheels turning beneath him, sucking up the river’s dirty water and pumping it across to both banks for human consumption. No wonder people existed on a diet of gin and beer and did not even think about drinking water they knew to be polluted.Figures appeared ten or twenty yards ahead of him out of the fog. A city clerk hurried past him clutching a bundle of papers, already late for his appointment, followed by a Jewish pedlar whose feigned shuffle belied his hawk-like gaze and a respectably dressed woman who made a point of passing Pyke on the other side of the road. A few minutes later, a sweeper with an unsteady gait and a sweaty visage stopped for a while in the middle of the bridge and propped himself up with his broom. For the briefest of moments, Pyke thought he saw a woman with a plump face and a white bonnet appearing in the distance, but she turned out to be no more than an apparition. Was he just imagining the woman who had shouted his name in the Blue Dog tavern?He blinked and rubbed his eyes, hoping they weren’t deceiving him. Again, he wondered who she was and what she wanted from him.At ten or fifteen minutes past the hour, Pyke was considering his options, wondering whether the boy had simply pocketed the half-crown and discarded the note, whether Godfrey had received the message at all, when out of the fog ahead of him appeared the portly frame of his uncle. Pyke recognised Godfrey by his shambling gait and the mane of white hair on top of his head.He called out to him but Godfrey had stopped moving. He was doubled up and looked to be in discomfort.‘Godfrey,’ Pyke shouted, louder this time. Still, though, the figure ahead of him did not look up.Pyke moved quickly towards him, both concerned and irritated. As he did so, he did not think to look behind him. That was his second mistake. His first was to imagine that his uncle had not been followed. Still wheezing, Godfrey dismissed Pyke’s attempts to help him but managed to utter, ‘I’m sorry, I really am sorry.’ Godfrey could have been sorry for a gamut of reasons but instinctively Pyke knew what he was referring to. Godfrey thrust a pile of banknotes into Pyke’s outstretched hand but Pyke did not need his uncle to explain that ‘they’ had made him do it, in order to work out for himself what was happening. By this point, Pyke had already turned around and broken into a run, ignoring the shouts of the battalion of constables who had gathered to block his escape to the north side of the river. For ten or twenty yards, Pyke sprinted as a hunted fox would run, motivated only by fear and an instinct for self-preservation. But while he had expected, and even planned for, his route across the bridge to the north bank to be blocked, he had not for a moment imagined there might be constables amassed at its southern end.Trying not to panic, he took a deep breath, while he considered his options. He looked at the massed ranks of constables, two or three thick across the bridge and gingerly closing in on him. Could he force his way through this human barricade? It did not appear likely. Nor did he think he would survive jumping from the bridge; if he did not drown, the icy waters of the Thames would kill him. Briefly, he cursed himself for not bringing some sort of weapon, a knife or a cudgel. Ahead and behind him, the two lines of constables edged warily towards him, as though they had cornered a wounded but dangerous animal. One of them yelled, ‘Give yourself up, Pyke. There’s no way through us.’ The man sounded as nervous as Pyke felt. Dizziness swept over him. There was only one option left. Closing his eyes, he launched himself at one of the advancing lines; as he did so, he unleashed a blood-curdling scream. Pyke did not know what he screamed but it emanated from the bottom of his stomach and propelled him forwards into the startled constables at such a speed that, for an instant, he thought he might just break through their ranks and earn his freedom.Then he took a heavy blow to his head, and another to his upper body, and felt his legs buckle, and the next thing he remembered was a bearded man with cheese-and-onion breath hunched over him, shouting that he was being arrested for the murder of Lizzie Morgan, while two other men applied leg-irons and handcuffs.As he lay there on the bridge, panting, he didn’t feel a thing: neither regret nor sadness nor loss, just a gaping emptiness that was one heartbeat away from death.ELEVENThe office at Great Marlborough Street magistrates’ court, once the parlour of a private house, was too small for its current function: hosting an examination into the evidence against Pyke in order to determine whether there was a case to be answered in a higher court. Because he had been accused of a capital crime, the ‘higher court’ meant the Sessions House on Old Bailey. In normal circumstances, the room might still have been too small, but in the light of the feverish interest that Pyke’s trial had generated, its size seemed even more diminished. It was not a grand room, by any stretch of the imagination: the blackened walls and ceilings and the oppressive smell made it seem more like a public house than a court of law. It was certainly shabbier than the corresponding office at Bow Street but the examination was being held at Great Marlborough Street on the insistence of the Home Office. Rightly, they felt that Pyke would receive a more favourable hearing from Sir Richard Fox than he would from any of the magistrates at Bow Street.The office was choked with all manner of spectators. From the dock, an elevated platform fenced off by a wooden rail facing the magistrates’ bench, Pyke watched as a line of eminent society figures took up their seats next to James Slingsby Bodkin, who was in charge of the hearing. He recognised Sir Henry Hobhouse, the retired Home Office under-secretary and a friend of Peel, the radical writer John Wade, and someone who resembled Edmund Kean, the famous thespian. Beneath the bench, the room was thronging with less salubrious types: people who had queued through the night for the chance to see one of their own - one who had risen too far above his station - take a fall.The fact that the working poor often sided with the pick of society never failed to surprise him.But it was a spectacle, not a committal hearing.Pyke did not have any doubt about the verdict or what would happen during the hearing itself: the coroner’s report would be read out, witnesses would be allowed to give their evidence (especially ones whose words might incriminate him), expert testimony about Pyke’s character would be aired, the prosecution counsel would lay out the evidence against him and Pyke would have a chance to refute the claims and challenge any of the prosecution’s witnesses.Bodkin would talk about the seriousness of the crime and the gravity of the evidence stacked against Pyke. He would ask Pyke whether he wished to say anything in his defence and when Pyke said nothing - as he planned to - the man would look around him at the packed office and then fix his gaze on Pyke and say in his small, affected voice, ‘Accused, you will be committed to Newgate to take your trial at the ensuing sessions commencing on the twentieth day of March eighteen hundred and twenty-nine for the willing, cold-blooded murder of Elizabeth Morgan on the night of the fourth day of March eighteen hundred and twenty-nine in a drinking establishment on Duke Street in the Smithfield area of London.’Pyke would say nothing in his defence, both in order to disappoint the expectant crowd and to rile Bodkin and the prosecution counsel, who, like all prosecution counsels, expected to use the committal hearings to elicit incriminating statements from the accused. He would also say nothing because it would hasten the court’s proceedings.If Pyke had no doubt he would be found guilty, however he conducted himself in court, what was the point of holding things up?This way, he would be committed to a ward in Newgate prison by nightfall, from where he would be able to plan his next move, even as the forces of the criminal justice system were being marshalled against him. The grim irony of the gaoler being jailed was not lost on him, nor was he under any misapprehension about the real dangers he faced from elements within Newgate itself. If Pyke survived the first night, then perhaps he had a chance. Chained by the hands and feet, Pyke was led by a turnkey through what seemed to be a never-ending maze of damp, narrow passages, illuminated only by occasional lanterns affixed to the walls. Periodically their progress was halted by heavy-set doors which were unbolted and opened in order to let them pass through. The sound of clanking iron drowned out the muffled shouts from the belly of the prison, but it was by no means a reassuring noise. As a Bow Street Runner, Pyke had heard numerous stories about Newgate. Sane men had become crazed within these walls; people had disappeared, never to be seen again; virile specimens had emerged from even short periods of incarceration as broken-down wrecks. Pyke, however, had more pressing concerns to address, and it did not surprise him that when he was led into the ward, his gaze fell upon Flynn, the receiver.Evidently Flynn had been waiting for him, and the man’s thin smile indicated that he had no intention of passing up this opportunity to exact his revenge, even if the man had tried to double-cross Pyke and therefore deserved his come-uppance.He was a thin man with bushy whiskers and translucent skin that contrasted strangely with his thin lips. A depressive character with few friends and fewer social graces, his only joy in life, as far as Pyke had been able to tell, was inspecting his ledger books in order to determine his financial worth.But Pyke was under no illusion about the threat that Flynn posed to him. He would slit Pyke’s throat without giving it a moment’s thought.The ward itself was a narrow room, lit only by a fire that burned at one end; it housed twenty or thirty men, most of whom were huddled under blankets around the fireplace. Though the stone walls were thick, they appeared to keep in little of the heat. It was a sombre place, and as he was led across to the wardsman, Pyke felt the hard stares of his fellow prisoners. Three years earlier, another Bow Street Runner had been imprisoned for theft; during his first night on the ward, someone had stabbed him in the neck. No one had admitted to the attack. The Runner had died and, as his corpse was dragged away, other prisoners had clapped and cheered.The wardsman introduced himself as Jack Cotton. Pyke ignored the scar that ran down one side of his face and offered him ten guineas as an act of good faith. Grinning, Cotton accepted the money without hesitation and led Pyke to a hemp-rope mat near the fire, gave him a horse blanket which he tugged away from another prisoner, put a platter of cold meat in front of him and produced a tankard of porter, which he thrust into Pyke’s hand, along with a wad of tobacco.Next to him, a toothless man with a boil on his forehead said, ‘So you’re the one they been talkin’ about.’ He broke into a chuckle and edged his own mat away from Pyke’s. ‘Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.’ From the other side of the fireplace, a man stared at Pyke and spat snuff from his bruised lips. In one of the darkened corners, a half-naked man defecated and far away at the back of the ward, a young boy sobbed. Flynn watched the proceedings from a distance, his arms folded.It was Pyke’s plan to withdraw a little from the group huddled around the fire and try to remain awake during the night. It seemed inevitable that Flynn would make his move at some point, knowing as he would of Pyke’s plans to be transferred, and Pyke wanted to be prepared for him. When the attack came, he had to act quickly; the last thing he wanted was a prolonged struggle, one that might encourage others to join in on the receiver’s side.From his position about ten or fifteen yards back from the fire, Pyke watched the men drink, gamble, laugh, swear and swap tall stories; soon they seemed to have forgotten his presence. Later, when the fire dwindled and the men passed into sleep, he listened for signs of his assailant but heard nothing. Eventually he feigned sleep in order to try to entice Flynn into action. A solitary rat scuttled past him, its claws scuffing against the wooden floorboards. Beside him the platter of meat and the tankard of porter remained untouched. He did not trust them not to have been tampered with.When it came, Flynn was much stealthier and stronger than Pyke had imagined he would be. From nowhere, he pounced upon Pyke like a wild animal. At the same time Pyke felt something splash him in his face and sting his eyes. Later he realised that it was urine. The stinging sensation momentarily disabled him, and had Flynn been armed with a knife instead of a garrotting rope his attack might have been successful. Digging his knees into Pyke’s arched back, the receiver tried to force the rope over his head, but Pyke was, in the end, the more powerful of the two, and he threw the older man in one jerk on to the hard floor, grabbing his throat with one hand, taking the rope with the other and threading it carefully around Flynn’s own neck, before pulling it tight.The older man spluttered and choked, but Pyke had neither the resolve to finish him off nor the desire to deal with another corpse. Releasing the rope, Pyke hauled the receiver up on to his shaking legs and pulled him close enough to be able to smell his breath. ‘You made a bad decision and now you’re paying the price.’‘Maybe they’ll hang us together.’ Flynn wiped spittle from his mouth.‘I’m a thief-taker, not a thief.’‘And now someone’s taken you,’ Flynn said, with a sneer.‘Maybe I’m not as corrupt as you think I am.’‘I don’t think you’re anything, Pyke.’‘If you come within a hundred yards of me again, I will kill you. Is that understood?’Flynn looked down at the floor.Pyke hit him in the mouth with such ferocity that one of the man’s teeth lodged itself in his knuckles. Flynn collapsed in a heap. No one came to his assistance; in fact, no one seemed to be concerned by what had happened.The following day Pyke paid ten guineas to the turnkey and a further thirty guineas was earmarked for the governor. He was transferred to a comfortable private room in the infirmary. If he had been a gentleman, the turnkey told him, then a little extra money might have secured him a place in the governor’s own quarters, but as it was, the infirmary was the best that a man of his breeding could hope for. Once ensconced in his room, Pyke ordered a new set of clothes, a bedstead with a sound flock mattress, additional blankets, a choice of newspapers, a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince, writing paper, envelopes, a blotter and a pen, a chair for reading, a pint of gin, a pint of beer, a platter of cold joints and hams, two loaves of bread, a pipe and an ounce of tobacco.
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It was a spartan room, warmed only by a small fire. Attached to the wall there was a crucifix, which he removed and threw under the bed.As well as being private, the room was heavily fortified. It was locked from the outside by three solid bolts and guarded by two men; the only natural light came from a light-well built into the upper wall and fortified with iron bars.Pyke persuaded the turnkey, with the governor’s permission, to remove his handcuffs but the leg-irons remained. It was a condition of the agreement that saw him move from the ward to the infirmary. The arbitrariness of the legal system did not surprise Pyke. He had witnessed sufficient abuses of power and privilege in his time as a Bow Street Runner to immunise him against any romantic notion that the English system of justice, unlike, say, its French counterpart, was fair-minded and all men were somehow equal under the law. The French had their Bastille; the English had Newgate. And while he had long since heard of plans to close and demolish the ancient prison, symbol of a regime that was as much feared as it was hated, Pyke was under no illusion that a necessarily fairer system of incarceration and punishment would take its place.Pyke was personally distrustful of all legal and political institutions, and believed individuals prospered not by pursuing some ‘worthy’ vision of moral betterment through civic and legal reforms, but by showing superior cunning and ferocity in the face of opponents. Success, or in his case freedom, wouldn’t come about through an appeal to the fairness of the law, but rather as a result of his own guile or through the discretionary authority exercised by Peel.What bothered him most was his own impotence in the face of a system whose sole purpose seemed to be to destroy him. As a result of past successes, Pyke had naively come to believe in his own invincibility. Though he had never laid claim to radical sentiments, he had always felt able to tilt circumstances to his advantage. Now someone had decreed that he was to be sacrificed, and against this type of power his resourcefulness finally seemed a poor match.But Pyke’s righteous sense of injustice did not colour his every thought. Nor did he permit himself to indulge in fantasies of revenge. Nor even was he angered by the fact that he had been abandoned by his old acquaintances; he had heard nothing from Sir Richard Fox or indeed from Peel. Rather, his enforced solitude gave him the chance to sift through what had happened.He knew he had not murdered Lizzie, which, in turn, meant someone else had killed her. The evidence also suggested that she had not been the victim of a random attack. Rather, her death had been planned in such a way as to implicate him; this much was clear from the arrival of the police constables, who, doubtless, had expected to find Lizzie’s corpse and had been told to arrest him. The complicity of others was also indicated by the likelihood that Pyke had been drugged. Although he had taken a few drops of laudanum in his gin, the dose was nothing like what would have been needed to knock him out.This suggested to Pyke that Brownlow Vines had been mixed up in the business of administering the laudanum or, at least, in distracting Pyke so he did not notice its aftertaste. But Vines had not acted alone. That night he had acknowledged someone behind the bar. At the time, Pyke had thought only of his pathetic attempts to flirt with Lizzie, but what if he had also signalled to one of the other servers? To Maggie perhaps, who had been called as a witness for the prosecution and who had perhaps administered the dose because she had been paid to do so?But neither Vines nor Maggie had been acting on their own impulses. Neither had ever much cared for Pyke, but the idea they might seek to damage him and kill Lizzie for their own advancement seemed preposterous. Vines’s involvement, in particular, implicated other parties. Sir Richard’s long-time assistant was no killer. He did not have the stomach for it, and Pyke doubted it had been Vines who had delivered the fatal blows to Lizzie. Nonetheless, Vines was not the kind of man to offer his assistance unless there was some gain to be made. This meant Vines had cut some kind of deal with a figure who, in turn, had the power to mobilise a significant number of constables and watchmen. Only Peel himself seemed capable of such a task. And Peel could certainly offer Vines what he seemed to want.This line of thought was bolstered by his instinctive belief that the decision to murder Lizzie and frame him had been taken as a result of his meeting with Tilling and his casual reference to the name Davy Magennis and his stated theory that Magennis, who until recently had served in the very Royal Irish Constabulary Peel had established, was the St Giles murderer. It was of course possible that he had misinterpreted Tilling’s discomfort and that someone entirely different had been responsible for Lizzie’s death but, instinctively, he felt this not to be the case. All of which posed a larger and much more serious question: if Fitzroy Tilling was somehow implicated in Lizzie’s death, did it mean he had been acting on the orders of the Home Secretary?Pyke had no answer to such a question, but still believed that Peel was his only chance of winning freedom.Above all, Lizzie’s brutal murder filled him with a sense of sadness, outrage and guilt. Pyke had known her for eight years, and she had lived with him in the gin palace for three. His ardour might have cooled in recent years but he had not stopped admiring her: her toughness, her honesty, her blunt manner. In his own time, he would try to come to terms with her murder, and when the shock had abated, and he had avenged her death, he would face up to his grief, but in the immediate moment he knew such sentiments were beyond him. ‘Well, this isn’t too bad. Not too bad at all. In fact, it’s rather comfortable.’ Godfrey’s cheeks were the colour of ripe beetroots, perhaps because the prison infirmary was on the first floor and he had been forced to tackle the stairs. He walked with a limp, the product of a pain in his toe he always denied was gout. Dressed in a fustian jacket and moleskin breeches, he clutched a bottle of claret. Without being invited, he collapsed into the chair and picked up the copy of The Prince. ‘It’s a bit gloomy, isn’t it?’ Looking around the room, he said, ‘You’ve done all right here, m’boy. I brought you some claret but I see that you’re well stocked up.’ He reached across, picked up the gin bottle and sniffed. ‘Not the best, but I’m sure it helps. So how are you?’Pyke said he was bearing up, under the circumstances. He could see that his uncle was keen to tell him something, so kept his response brief.‘You’re the talk of the town, especially among the ladies.Seems opinion is divided as to whether you killed her, but even your perceived guilt isn’t dampening people’s enthusiasm. The papers, they made the most of your attempts to evade capture. Embellished things a little, as they’re wont to do. Cruikshank did an illustration of you, appeared in the Morning Post. I should’ve brought it with me. It was rather flattering, actually. You’re one of these brooding, intense types and, you’ll like this, there’s a queue outside your cell, society ladies, waiting for their personal consultation.’ Godfrey chuckled. ‘Of course, there are poor folk who just want to string you up, but that’s just because they’re afraid of you.’ He picked up the claret and peered at the label. ‘What does one do in here if one needs a corkscrew? I take it that there’s no one to call.’‘You mean, like a butler?’ Pyke raised his eyebrows.‘Quite,’ Godfrey said, a little chastened, before carefully placing the bottle down on the table next to Pyke’s bed. ‘I have promising news. The other day I was taken to luncheon at the Athenaeum, no less. Delicious it was, too. Sweetbread au jus and the most tender lamb cutlets, with peas and asparagus, for the main course and an exquisite maraschino jelly with chocolate cream for dessert. All washed down with Madeira and champagne. Quite the banquet.’ Godfrey wiped a spool of dribble from his mouth. ‘My dining companion was a pleasant chap, too. Sharp as razors. Everybody says he’s one of the top barristers in the city. Geoffrey Quince, QC. I didn’t realise it, but he attended your committal hearing, out of interest, and he fancied he could drive a chariot through the Crown’s case. He’s even done a little preliminary digging and unearthed some promising material. Quince explained that the burden of proof always lies with the Crown and on the basis that all the evidence here is circumstantial, he didn’t think any jury in the land would convict, especially in a capital case.’‘What’s in it for him?’ Pyke asked, trying to conceal his scepticism.‘Your trial is a big draw, Pyke. Barristers like a challenge, you know that, putting one over on the Crown, but more than that, they like the spotlight. If he wins, the publicity could be advantageous.’‘I would imagine he’s not cheap.’‘Quince would not be acting for you out of the goodness of his heart, if that’s what you mean.’ Godfrey sounded a little hurt.‘And I’m supposed to put my life in the hands of a man I don’t know and who I’ve never met?’‘Here,’ Godfrey said, pulling a crumpled piece of paper from his breeches. ‘It’s what they call a retainer. Quince drew it up on the spot. Sign it and I’m sure he will come and visit. You’d like him, my boy. He doesn’t smile.’ He put the document next to the claret bottle and smoothed it down with his hands.‘If I sign, I still want to pursue other options. And if I’m going to do this, I’ll need your help.’Godfrey held up his hands. ‘My expertise is entirely at your disposal.’ He paused for a moment and winced slightly. ‘Of course, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t perhaps benefit from some small remuneration, a few scraps thrown my way, but you know I’d do anything for you.’ This time he grinned. ‘Within reason.’Pyke nodded. ‘I want you to contact Townsend. He’s a Runner; ask for him at the Bow Street office. Offer him twenty guineas to look into the backgrounds of the turnkeys who work on the condemned ward. I also want to know who the judge at my trial is going to be. Ask Quince. He should be able to find out. I want a meeting with Foote, the Ordinary. You can arrange this. Foote won’t bother to come if I say I need spiritual guidance, so tell him I’m ready to make my confession. He’ll see the profit in it, for him. But the most important thing I want you to do is pass a note directly to Robert Peel. I don’t know how you’ll manage it, but it has to be given to Peel directly, not to one of his secretaries or servants. Like I said, it’s important. My fate could rest on Peel getting the note.’Godfrey stared at him, frowning. ‘What note?’Pyke produced a letter he had written earlier from under his pillow and handed it to his uncle. It read:The prince will be hated if he is rapacious and aggressive with regard to property and the women of his subjects . . . He will be despised if he has a reputation for being fickle, frivolous, effeminate, cowardly, irresolute; a prince should avoid this like the plague and strive to demonstrate in his actions grandeur, courage, sobriety, strength.Pyke had chosen not to sign it.Scanning the note over Godfrey’s shoulder, he noticed that his handwriting was more ragged than usual. ‘You’ll see it gets to Peel himself? It has to be delivered to Peel in person.’Godfrey took the envelope and said he would do his best. ‘I’m happy to do what I can to help, of course.’Pyke eyed him carefully. ‘But?’‘Oh, it’s nothing, dear boy. I suppose I’m just worried about the usual. Money, the state of my business . . .’‘Your business has been suffering for the last twenty years.’This seemed to pain Godfrey. ‘Quite so. But you see, dear boy, I have just been reading Vidocq’s memoirs. Now Vidocq is a quite reprehensible figure and, to my mind, all the better for it. I don’t imagine, for a second, he actually wrote the book himself and, in my opinion, that’s the problem. There’s something missing. Don’t get me wrong; the formula is the right one. Send a thief to catch a thief. But there’s still too much moralising. If those elements could only be harnessed to writing that had the courage of its own base convictions it really would be something . . .’‘You know what I think about this, Godfrey.’‘At least think about it. Like you just said, I haven’t published anything that’s worth a damn in over twenty years. The penny stories about ravaged virgins and demented monks are good fun - don’t get me wrong - but they won’t be read in a year’s time, let alone a hundred years’ time. I just think your story’s one that needs to be told. A simple man who’s doing what has to be done in order to . . .’Pyke smiled. ‘Prosper?’‘I was going to say survive or get by, but prosper works just as well.’‘You think that I’m simple?’‘Did I say simple?’ Godfrey feigned indignation.‘What about ingenious?’ Pyke said, lightly.Godfrey looked at him. ‘You do understand I’m talking about a creation.’‘You don’t think I am?’Godfrey studied him for a while. ‘You forget I know you as well as anyone, Pyke. I know for a fact that you can be a cold-hearted bastard . . .’‘Is there a but?’‘Would I be here if there wasn’t?’ He reached out and patted Pyke on the arm. ‘This creation. He would just be a larger-than-life version of you.’‘A man without morals,’ Pyke said, still trying to make sense of his uncle’s comments.‘He would have morals. The story wouldn’t. There’s a difference.’ Godfrey hesitated. ‘Will you at least think about it, dear boy?’‘I’ll think about it.’‘Really?’ Godfrey stared at him through bushy eyebrows. ‘Actually, I met this chap the other day, a young shorthand reporter, rents an office close to mine, at number five Bell Yard. I happened to mention I was your uncle and he was keen to meet you; expressed a real interest in your case. I said I’d see what I could do. He’s a novelist with big ideas.’
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‘Let’s just deal with the matters at hand for the time being, shall we?’ Pyke said, gently.‘Of course.’ His uncle nodded vigorously. ‘But you will give it some thought?’‘Yes, I’ll give it some thought.’‘Splendid.’ Godfrey slapped him on the back. ‘Now perhaps we might pull the cork on this claret.’ Then his mood seemed to darken and he looked up at Pyke and said, his eyes clear, ‘I didn’t say anything before but I just want you to know I’m sorry. Lizzie was a fine woman. As loyal and loving as they come.’Pyke could not hold his stare and said nothing, as he felt guilt and sadness building within him in equal measures. Two days before his trial was due to commence, Pyke was visited by Godfrey and the Reverend Arthur Foote. Both men reeked of gin, though Foote’s stench was particularly noxious, an acrid mixture of fungi, rank breath, stale alcohol and soiled clothing. He stumbled into the room, took a moment to get his bearings, pushed his wire-rimmed spectacles right up against his bloodshot eyes, and farted loudly before falling into the room’s only chair. Though Foote was maybe thirty years older than him and had a fuller girth, the two of them were of a similar height. Godfrey perched on the end of the bed, his chubby legs dangling over the edge. Pyke, meanwhile, stood by the door and listened while Foote waffled about his role in the case of prisoners awaiting execution.‘Well, boy, I suppose now’s the time to unbosom yourself, ’ he said, finally.Pyke did not respond.‘You see, as the Ordinary of this venerable establishment, it is incumbent on me - yes, it is my responsibility, nay prerogative - to elicit, at the behest of the condemned person, of course - elicit from him, at an appropriate time - yes, that would be right - elicit a confession in which the aforementioned unburdens himself to me of his sinful ways and waywardness.’ His leer revealed a set of teeth that resembled decrepit gravestones in their unevenness. ‘You’re not a sodomite, by any chance?’ He saw Pyke’s expression and mumbled, ‘Of course, I didn’t imagine that you were.’As Foote continued to ramble, Pyke studied him closely, making a mental note of the man’s mottled, vein-ridden face, the stubble, the large wart on the end of his nose, the calluses on his hands, the hunched-up way he carried himself.After Foote had departed, Godfrey stayed behind and Pyke asked whether he had heard from Townsend.‘Indeed I have, my boy. There are two turnkeys on the condemned ward who might be amenable to an approach.’Pyke told Godfrey to instruct Townsend to make them an offer.Godfrey nodded. ‘Of course, if Quince were to win the trial, all these plans would be rendered null and void.’Pyke said he had finally met Quince, and had been impressed with the man’s capabilities. The lawyer had called at the prison that morning and Pyke’s favourable reaction to the man had surprised him. His uncle nodded warmly. Pyke explained that the judge was to be the Recorder of London himself, Lord Chief Justice Marshall. Godfrey asked whether this was good news or not. Pyke just repeated what he had been told by Quince: Marshall was ‘well liked’ by the Duke of Wellington’s administration. ‘Let Quince earn his money, Pyke.’ Godfrey didn’t bother to hide his concern. ‘He told me that we have a strong case.’‘Would he say anything different?’Godfrey looked concerned. ‘Promise me you won’t try anything . . . reckless until after the trial?’Pyke ignored the question. ‘Did you manage to pass on the note to Peel in person?’‘Peel was in the Commons yesterday. There was a debate on the Catholic Emancipation Bill. Peel was presenting the case for the government. Knatchbull gave him a torrid time. They say the police bill will sail through next month but, as for Catholic emancipation, there’s still a lot of opposition.’‘Did you give him the note?’‘A friend invited me to watch the proceedings. During lunch, I made a point of bumping into Peel. I handed him the note, yes, and he took it and glanced at it in front of me. Certainly it registered, but then again I couldn’t exactly say what his reaction indicated. Peel’s a hard one to read. I’d say he’d be a devil to play cards with.’The tension drained from Pyke’s body. All he could do was wait for a response. The next morning Pyke awoke to find that an envelope had been slipped under his door. It was an unwelcoming day and a squally wind rattled the window frame. Pyke convinced himself he did not want to get out of his bed because of the icy temperature, but once he had retrieved the envelope from the floor he was still hesitant about opening it. Inspecting the envelope, he found that it did not appear to be a missive from Peel, at least not an official one. There was no name or seal attached to it. Upon smelling it he noticed a faint perfume. Eventually his curiosity overcame his anxiety and he tore the envelope open; the note was a short one. It simply said: Keep your spirits up. And it was signed with the letter ‘E’.It took Pyke a moment to work out who ‘E’ was and another moment to realise that he was not disappointed it was not from Peel. The prison governor, Hunt, had a glistening, hairless head formed in the shape of a large egg. He was by no means an old man but was sufficiently aware of his own lack of follicles to want to wear a brimless hat, even indoors. In other ways, Hunt was a more old-fashioned dresser, preferring a short double-breasted jacket when the fashion was for longer and slimmer garments and trousers rather than breeches. Though they were alone and the door to Pyke’s cell had been bolted from the outside, he seemed wary about moving any farther into the room than was necessary.‘I wanted to say I hope they find you guilty tomorrow and decide to string you up. I don’t care for your type and I have to say it would be a pleasure to entertain you in our ward for the condemned, preferably just for a very short period of time.’ His look was contemptuous but concealed something else.‘It didn’t stop you taking my money, did it?’ Without looking up, Pyke continued to read from The Prince.‘I agreed to your request because I felt it would be in the best interests of the prisoners if you billeted on your own.’ Hunt smiled easily. ‘Less chance of contaminating others.’‘How philanthropic of you.’ Pyke yawned.The governor waited for a few moments. ‘A rather unusual letter arrived for you this evening.’ He saw he had Pyke’s attention and smiled. ‘The book no longer interests you?’Pyke said nothing and waited for the governor to continue.‘The letter was hand-delivered and sealed. It carried the personal seal of the Home Secretary, no less. It was delivered to me, with an attached note, from Robert Peel himself, instructing me to hand it to you without inspecting the contents. Which, I have to say, piqued my curiosity even more. I was concerned it might be a pardon, even though such matters are usually dealt with through official channels. Now I’m a respecter of authority and usually I would abide by the wishes of any Home Secretary without question. But this seemed to be such an unusual situation, and then I started to think about Peel and how the man has unfortunately disgraced himself in the eyes of his Protestant brethren, and I came to the conclusion that it was my duty, as a true believer, to open the letter and inspect its contents.’‘Very honourable of you,’ Pyke said, half-raising his eyebrows. ‘I’m sure that St Peter is busy preparing a place for you around God’s dining table, even as we speak.’‘Are you mocking me, boy?’‘No, sir, but I am waiting to hear about the content of Peel’s letter.’ Pyke yawned again, in an effort to conceal his nerves. The letter would tell him much.This seemed to placate the governor. ‘Playing it calm, eh? Well, I have to say it’s not good news for you.’ He chortled, then his face turned serious. ‘But it was a strange note, nonetheless; a quotation, though I couldn’t tell from where or even what it indicates.’‘The Prince.’ Pyke held up his book.‘Oh?’ Hunt stared at Pyke keenly. ‘How did you know?’‘Why don’t you read me the quotation, and I’ll tell you whether I was right or not.’Hunt seemed confused and a little put out. ‘You correspond with the Home Secretary, then?’‘So it would seem.’Hunt stared down at the letter in his hand. ‘It just says, “We can say cruelty is used well when it is employed once and for all, and one’s safety depends on it, and then it is not persisted in but as far as possible turned to the good of one’s subjects.” That’s all. Not even a signature.’ He looked up at Pyke. ‘It’s some kind of private message, isn’t it?’Pyke thumbed through his copy of The Prince. Eventually he found the right passage. ‘ “Cruelty badly used is that which, although infrequent to start with, as time goes on, rather than disappearing, grows in intensity.” ’ Pyke looked up from the book. ‘He’s saying virtue is defined by its consequences, and politicians can be justified in sanctioning morally dubious acts as long as they result in the greater good.’The governor looked at him, unable to comprehend how he might use this information for his own ends. ‘It doesn’t make much sense to me. But let’s just say for the time being you were privy to truths about the Home Secretary that others might benefit from . . .’‘Such as yourself?’Hunt scowled. ‘I am thinking about the greater good of the Protestant brethren.’‘And you imagine I am concerned about such a sect?’‘You call the Protestant Church a sect ?’ He seemed appalled at Pyke’s irreligiosity. ‘Truly you are beyond redemption.’‘And we have nothing further to discuss.’But Hunt was not quite ready to depart. ‘I’m still intrigued by your business with Peel. By this I mean, what business would the Prime Minister’s right-hand man have with a common murderer?’‘We share an interest in Florentine philosophers.’‘Have it your way.’ Hunt shrugged and held up Peel’s note. ‘This merely confirms that the trial goes ahead tomorrow as planned.’‘So it would seem.’‘Well, that’s settled, then.’ Hunt clapped his hands together and tapped lightly on the door, indicating that he was ready to leave. ‘I almost forgot. I’ve heard troubling rumours about possible escape plans. I take such intimations seriously, even as I find them highly improbable. Newgate has changed since Wild’s days and you, Pyke, are no Jack Sheppard. But just to make certain, I have taken the precaution of posting additional turnkeys outside your cell and you will be required to wear handcuffs and leg-irons at all times, even within your cell.’ His chest swelled with self-importance. ‘Your only escape will be when the hangman fits the noose around your neck. Still, I do not imagine Hades constitutes an especially pleasurable prospect.’ Reading The Times by candlelight, Pyke discovered a story on the second page in the ‘Police’ section which he scanned with mounting horror. The murders were attributed to a fresh wave of anti-Catholic violence that was sweeping the city. The bodies of a young man and woman had been found on Hounslow Heath. Both had been strangled. The report said the victims were Irish. The man, Gerald McKeown, was twenty-one and the woman, Mary Johnson, was seventeen.Pyke distrusted anyone who openly expressed their emotions, but as he stared down at the words of the report he didn’t in the first instance attempt to decode their meaning. He just opened his lips, thought of not only Gerald and Mary but also Lizzie, and silently mouthed an impotent scream.TWELVEWhen Pyke emerged into the hushed courtroom from the subterranean passage that ran between the prison and the Sessions House on Old Bailey and took his place in the dock, he sensed the consternation of those gathered there to watch the trial. It had something to do with his choice of attire: a soiled smock-frock by no means conformed to the dashing image that had been circulating in fashionable society. It would be the first of many disappointments the spectators would have to bear, Pyke thought, as he scanned the packed courthouse for familiar faces. This was assuming, perhaps arrogantly, that some of the gathered audience wanted to see him walk free. Pyke understood that decadent ladies might find his unrefined charms alluring but was more concerned about reports of a mob assembling outside the building, demanding his head on a platter.With this thought in mind, his gaze fell upon the portly figure of Lord Edmonton, who had taken up a seat on the bench opposite the dock and was talking amiably to his companion. Ernest Augustus - duke of Cumberland, earl of Armagh and the King’s brother - was a tall man with a hideously scarred face, offset by a carefully manicured moustache and a pumpkin-shaped head. Though his wound had been honourably received during the Napoleonic wars, it transformed what would otherwise have been a merely overbearing face into something monstrous. He was slightly balding and prematurely grey, giving the impression that he was older than he perhaps was. The duke was dressed ostentatiously (and ridiculously in Pyke’s view) in the uniform of a Hanoverian general. Edmonton saw that Pyke was looking at them and ran his index finger across his neck, to simulate the cutting of his throat.A few places along from him, Sir Richard Fox was engrossed in a conversation with Viscount Lowther, an acquaintance of Peel. Fox looked old and worn, and though he had come to witness the trial he could not bring himself to look across the room and meet Pyke’s stare. Pyke wondered what outcome Fox was hoping for, whether he wanted to see him walk free or not.Pyke’s gaze shifted to the public gallery and he saw Emily Blackwood. She was wearing an ivory dress and shawl, her hair pinned up and held in place by her bonnet. She seemed frailer than he remembered. For a moment their eyes met, and she smiled and mouthed a silent ‘hello’. She seemed not to want to draw attention to herself. He wondered whether Edmonton knew that his daughter was present in the courtroom.
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Pyke’s attention was wrested away from Emily by the wheezing figure of his uncle, who had managed to persuade one of the court officials that he had urgent business with Pyke.‘Change of plan, I’m afraid,’ he said, catching his breath. ‘The Crown’s case will now be presented by William Gregson. I’ve heard he’s good.’ Godfrey noticed what Pyke was wearing and frowned. ‘What, in God’s name, are you wearing that dreadful outfit for?’Pyke ignored the question. ‘Peel’s lawyer. He helped to draft the Metropolitan Police Bill. I met him about a month ago.’ It was depressing news but it confirmed what he already knew.‘Well, in that respect at least, we have got our own ace.’ Godfrey looked around. ‘I wonder where Quince has got to. He’s cutting things a bit fine. Proceedings are due to start at any minute.’‘I told him I no longer required his services,’ Pyke said, as though the matter was of no consequence. ‘I said I wouldn’t pay him for his time unless he agreed to relinquish his representation. That worked well enough.’Godfrey stared at him, aghast. ‘You did what ?’‘It’s a common enough occurrence. Defence attorneys withdrawing at the last minute to take up more lucrative work elsewhere.’‘Why? ’ Godfrey sounded angry as much as concerned. ‘Who on earth is going to represent you now?’‘I don’t need representation.’Godfrey looked flummoxed. ‘For God sake, boy, do you want them to hang you?’Pyke didn’t answer him. Once the recorder, Lord Chief Justice Marshall, had read out the indictment, he turned his attention to Pyke, who was standing across the courtroom from him in the dock, and asked how he wished to plead.‘Not guilty,’ Pyke said, loud enough for the whole courtroom to hear him.Under his horsehair wig, Marshall frowned. ‘I am led to believe that you are without legal representation. Is that correct?’‘It is, Your Honour.’Marshall nodded gravely. ‘I want to make it clear that this sorry state of affairs provides you with no legal grounds for arguing for a new trial at some later date.’‘I understand, Your Honour.’‘Very well. Let the trial begin.’Once the jury was sworn in and two further judges had taken their place on the bench next to Marshall, beneath the sword of justice, the Crown’s barrister, William Gregson, started to outline the case against Pyke. Emphasising certain elements of the Crown’s case over others, he drew attention to the testimony they would hear from Maggie Smallman, the barmaid who worked at the accused’s ‘sordid’ gin palace: she would tell the court that Pyke had threatened to kill Lizzie Morgan, his mistress, on numerous occasions. He drew attention to a neighbour’s claim that he had heard the deceased call out to Pyke on the night she was murdered, begging for her life. He also told the court that Pyke’s flight from the murder scene was undoubtedly a sign of his guilt. He acknowledged that the Crown’s case relied on circumstantial evidence but pointed out that solid circumstantial evidence was often superior to eyewitness testimony. Pyke listened to his speech with interest but said nothing. When Pyke offered no cross-examination of the first four prosecution witnesses, the recorder felt compelled to intervene. He asked Pyke whether he thought it aided his defence to allow the testimony of witnesses, even ones with questionable reputations and social standing, to go uncontested. He seemed puzzled. Pyke said he would try to play a more active role in the proceedings. Marshall replied it wasn’t a question of what he wanted; rather, Pyke’s liberty and indeed his life were being threatened by his indifference. Again, Pyke promised he would try to do better. Marshall shook his head, as though he were dealing with a simpleton.So when the next witness, James Hardwick, was introduced and outlined his own area of expertise - phrenology, or the relationship between the shape and size of a skull and the mind it contained - Pyke decided to involve himself in the proceedings.He agreed to allow his own cranium to be measured and scribbled a few notes while Hardwick explained that Pyke’s ‘enlarged organ’ revealed a propensity for ‘recklessness, combativeness, destructiveness, self-esteem and secretiveness’.When Hardwick had finished, Marshall asked whether Pyke cared to cross-examine the witness, and was about to move on when Pyke said, ‘I do have one question, Your Honour.’‘Oh?’ Marshall looked up at him, a little surprised. ‘Go on, then.’Pyke turned to the witness box and said he was very interested in Hardwick’s claim about the relationship between ‘anomalies’ in the skull and ‘enlarged cranial lobes’ and an individual’s propensity for recklessness and aggression.‘Am I correct in concluding that, according to your theory, such cranial features suggest a less developed mind?’Hardwick nodded. ‘Suggest is perhaps too modest a word.’‘Such features demonstrate a less developed mind, then.’‘Indeed,’ Hardwick said, looking at Pyke warily. ‘This was the thesis of Gall and Spurzheim and I see no reason to question it.’‘And this propensity for violence, even murder, demonstrated in one’s skull shape and size, takes no account, you say, of social standing or class?’‘That is correct.’Pyke smiled. ‘Then since good science, as you well know, is based on the principles of scrutiny and observation, perhaps we might test this hypothesis, taking as our example the most esteemed of all men gathered here in this courtroom.’Hardwick looked around him nervously. ‘And who might that be, sir?’‘Why, of course, the King’s much venerated brother, Ernest Augustus, duke of Cumberland and earl of Armagh.’Hardwick stammered that such a request was both impertinent and counter-productive. Beads of sweat appeared on his brow. Attention in the courtroom shifted from the dock to the bench. The duke himself, who had been watching proceedings through a pocket telescope, did not seem to welcome the interest. He whispered something angrily in Edmonton’s ear.The recorder stepped in and scolded Pyke for his impudence. ‘Either proceed with an alternative line of questioning or permit the witness to stand down.’‘But, Your Honour, this particular issue goes right to the heart of this man’s credibility, and since the prosecution has chosen, perhaps unwisely, to build its case using what I can only describe as pseudo-scientific evidence, then I am surely within my rights, particularly given the gravity of the charges, to test this evidence using any appropriate means at my disposal.’This time, the recorder looked baffled. Next to him on the bench, the duke and Edmonton conferred with one another in a manner that indicated their unease.‘Of course, I understand if the duke feels that participating in such an experiment is beneath him . . .’This time Cumberland himself rose to speak. ‘This is preposterous . . .’ The way in which the light reflected on his facial scars made him seem demonic.The recorder stepped in. ‘I will not permit common prisoners to address esteemed members of this bench.’‘If he feels uneasy about availing himself . . .’Cumberland, who had a reputation for impetuosity, interrupted. ‘I have nothing to hide.’ Then to Hardwick, he said, ‘Go ahead, sir, do your tests on me.’A ripple of approval spread through the courtroom and the duke seemed to warm to his new-found popularity. The recorder looked on, helpless, perhaps feeling unable or unwilling to overrule royalty. Dressed in military regalia, Cumberland stood up while Hardwick wrapped a measuring tape around his skull and peered closely at the point where the ends of the tape met. Hardwick was sweating profusely. Back in the witness box, he did not know where to look: at the recorder, Cumberland or Pyke.Pyke decided to push things along. ‘If I remember, the circumference of my own skull measured twenty-three and a half inches at its widest point. Is that correct?’ Hardwick nodded blankly. ‘Would you tell the court what the duke of Cumberland’s skull measured?’Hardwick stared at him, ashen-faced, then, with a pleading expression, turned to the bench. The recorder looked similarly perturbed but knew that, in the circumstances, Hardwick had to answer the question. Cumberland seemed oblivious to their concerns.‘Go ahead, sir,’ Pyke said, calmly.‘One cannot judge character on the circumference of the skull alone. It is also a question of cranial shape . . .’‘The measurement, if you please, sir.’‘Your Honour?’ Hardwick looked pleadingly at the recorder.Marshall did not seem to know what to say.‘The measurement.’Hardwick’s voice fell to a whisper. ‘Twenty-seven inches.’‘Could you repeat that figure, sir, and this time so that the whole court may benefit from your wisdom?’Hardwick was crestfallen. ‘Twenty-seven inches.’Gasps of astonishment were accompanied by a ripple of nervous laughter emanating from the public gallery. Cumberland, who had finally grasped the implications of Hardwick’s findings, turned crimson. The recorder did not appear to know what to do or say.Pyke waited for a moment of quiet and said, very quickly, before he could be stopped, ‘Given that the duke murdered his manservant in cold blood and raped his own sister, I am on reflection happy to concede the truthfulness of this witness’s testimony.’For a second, there was utter silence in the courtroom as people absorbed the shock of his remarks, and then pandemonium broke out. Gutsy cheers from the public gallery temporarily drowned out the groundswell of indignation from the bench. As the recorder attempted to reimpose order on the courtroom by repeatedly banging his gavel down on the bench, his wig slipped forward off the top of his head and fell six feet on to the table below, where clerks were administering the proceedings.Two hours later, Lord Chief Justice Marshall began his summing up. He reminded the jury that they were to base their decision only on the evidence they had heard in court. He added that, scandalous and offensive as the accused’s remarks had been during the cross-examination of one of the prosecution’s witnesses, they were to disregard these comments in their deliberations. Bound and gagged, Pyke listened without interest from the dock. Looking across the room at the public gallery, he noticed that Emily had vacated her seat and wondered what this meant.Marshall told the jury that, to return a guilty verdict, they had to be satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that on the night of the fourth day of March eighteen hundred and twenty-nine, in a gin palace on Duke Street in the Smithfield area of London, the accused had, with malice aforethought, murdered the deceased, Lizzie Morgan, by stabbing her twice in the stomach with a knife. Marshall then summarised all the evidence the court had heard, pausing to underscore those points that hinted at Pyke’s guilt.Once he had finished, he sent the jury away to reach a verdict. As they left, Pyke was removed from the dock.It took the jury less than ten minutes. Back in the courtroom the foreman, when asked, said that they had unanimously reached a verdict. Enjoying the occasion, he paused, to clear his throat, and informed the court that the jury had found the accused guilty as charged.The reaction inside the courtroom was a little muted. Outside, once news of the verdict spread, the cheers were louder. Those sitting on the bench nodded vigorously to one another in approval. Edmonton shook Cumberland’s hand, as though he had been responsible for bringing about Pyke’s demise. Farther along the bench, Sir Richard Fox stared down at his feet. None of the jury could bring themselves to look at Pyke. The recorder praised them for the verdict and added that it was unquestionably the right one given the damning nature of the evidence.Finally he turned his attention to Pyke. In a suitably grave voice, Marshall said that he hoped Pyke had taken the time since his arrest to reflect on the heinousness of his crime, although this did not appear to be the case. He told Pyke it was his habit to encourage the condemned to make their peace with the Almighty, but since Pyke’s behaviour suggested that he was beyond redemption, there was no reason to prolong his detention in Newgate.Replacing his horsehair wig with a black cap, he banged his gavel down on the bench and said, ‘You will be hanged by the neck on Monday morning.’This left Pyke only two days to plan his escape. It was less time than he had hoped for.THIRTEENSeparated from the rest of Newgate by the press yard, the prison’s condemned block suffered from an austere appearance and a funereal atmosphere. In all, there were fifteen cells arranged over three floors, but it was rare that more than one or two of these was occupied at any time, especially, as a turnkey informed him, since in recent years the Bloody Code had been scaled back. This was a set of legal statutes which insisted upon capital punishment for crimes as trivial as forging coins. Pyke did not comment on the irony: he was being executed by an administration that wanted to introduce more humane forms of punishment. Nor did Pyke ask whether the man was one of the two guards who had been approached by Townsend and offered a hundred pound to assist him in his escape attempt.Pyke had tried to make it clear that this aid would not involve them physically assisting his bid for freedom.Rather, they were simply to turn a blind eye to particular occurrences, if and when they took place. As such, they might be dismissed from their posts for negligence but not prosecuted for aiding and abetting a crime. In which case, a hundred pounds would be more than enough to compensate them for the ‘inconvenience’ of having to find alternative employment.When Godfrey visited him on the Friday evening, the turnkeys were to make sure he was not searched, or rather, if he was searched, that their search did not reveal anything. Nor was Pyke’s cell to be searched, after Godfrey’s departure. He was starting to worry that the turnkeys would not honour their side of the bargain when Godfrey thrust a small key into his hand. He permitted himself a hushed sigh of relief.
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This did not, however, mean that the condemned block’s incarceration regime was a lax one. The governor’s promise of additional security had been realised in the form of reinforced leg-irons and handcuffs. These devices, and the thickness of the stone walls, meant that Pyke’s chances of escape would normally have been slim.They still perhaps were, despite the arrangements that had been made, but he chose not to focus on such concerns.Instead, after Godfrey had departed, Pyke rummaged through the items that his uncle had smuggled into the cell: the key, of course, but also charcoal, powder, soap, chalk, candles, rouge and a razor blade.Sitting up against the cell door, in order that the turnkeys might not see him through the grated hole, Pyke worked through the night, using all his candles. By the time he heard the first cock crow, he had found a way of using the small key to unlock both the leg-irons and the handcuffs. It rained for most of the day, the kind of relentless downpour that seemed to penetrate the tarred walls and dampen the inside of the cell and its few contents: a hemp mat and a horse rug. Pyke had wrapped himself up in the rug and settled himself on the mat, but had still been unable to sleep. Trying to ignore the cold and the stench of decaying animal matter, discarded outside the prison walls by market traders, he stared at the window and listened to the patter of raindrops peppering the outside of the building.While the rest of the condemned prisoners spent their free time in the more welcoming environment of the press rooms, a narrow area replete with tables, benches and a fire, Pyke opted to remain in his cell, anxious that no one should look too carefully at his leg-irons and handcuffs.He found himself thinking about Mary Johnson and Gerald McKeown - how grateful they had been when he had offered to put them up in a lodging house - and he imagined what torture they might have suffered as someone dragged them to a wild spot on Hounslow Heath, and strangled them. He also thought about Lizzie and whether she had known what was happening to her.It was already dark by the time the Reverend Arthur Foote arrived, with Godfrey. Godfrey seemed nervous - both of them had been drinking and he stumbled as he entered the cell - but Pyke assumed that Foote was either too inebriated or excited by the prospect of eliciting a dramatic eleventh-hour confession from Pyke, which he could then ‘sell’ to Godfrey, thereby making a significant sum of money, to realise what was about to happen.Pyke greeted them and said he was sorry that he could not offer them anything to drink. Foote produced a flask of what Pyke presumed was gin and said he had brought his own supplies. He took a swig, without offering it to either Godfrey or Pyke. He was wearing a long black cassock under a black robe, a white undershirt, a dog collar and a pair of black shoes, and was carrying a wide-brimmed hat.Godfrey pulled the cell door closed and through the grated hole told the turnkeys that they would knock when they were ready to leave.‘So you’ve decided to confess, boy? Excellent, excellent. God loves repenting sinners as much as the rest of his flock. More, even.’ Even in the candlelight, Pyke could see Foote’s blackened teeth as he smiled. ‘I like ’em too but for different reasons. Isn’t that right, Godfrey? Those little sheets you publish can be quite profitable, I’ve heard, especially when the confession’s been so eagerly awaited.’ He peered down at Pyke through the gloom. ‘You’re looking queer, boy. Your skin is all mottled and blotchy.’This was the effect of the rouge and charcoal. Pyke hadn’t expected Foote to notice. It meant he didn’t have much time.‘Your hair, it’s shorter and greyer, too.’ Foote appeared confused. ‘And didn’t you once have sideburns?’Pyke had hacked them off with the razor, along with some of his hair, and had brushed it with flecks of chalk.‘Very queer indeed.’ Foote’s frown deepened. ‘So how do you want to do this, boy?’Pyke waited until Godfrey had positioned himself in front of the grated hole in the cell door.‘How about you sit next to me on the mat here and I’ll begin my confession.’‘Sit on the floor?’ Foote seemed unsure. ‘I suppose, given the lack of amenities, I might be able to countenance such a plan. You say next to you, eh? I like that.’ Grinning, Foote lifted up his cassock and planted himself awkwardly on the part of the mat Pyke had prepared for him.Freeing himself from the handcuffs, Pyke struck Foote once, as hard as he could, with the full force of his clenched fist, and once Foote had collapsed on to him he jammed both thumbs firmly into the Ordinary’s neck and pushed until he heard a gurgling sound.For the turnkeys’ sake, he proffered a few garbled sentiments about inner demons and breaking the Sabbath. Meanwhile, he went to work on Foote’s body, stripping him of his hat and shoes, his dog collar and finally his cassock and undershirt. He dressed Foote in his own clothes and, in turn, put on the Ordinary’s attire. The shoes were too small for his feet but he just about managed to squeeze into them. He laid Foote out on the hemp mat, his back facing the door, as though he were asleep, and secured the leg-irons and handcuffs in the appropriate places. He had a drink from Foote’s flask and then pulled the black robe around his shoulders.‘Is Arthur going to live?’ Godfrey whispered, looking down at Foote’s unmoving body. His hands were trembling.Pyke shrugged.‘Is he going to live, Pyke?’‘He’ll live. Probably.’ Pyke picked up the Ordinary’s hat.‘Are the turnkeys outside the ones I’ve paid?’Godfrey nodded. ‘Two of them are, anyhow. There are three or four of ’em out there.’This wasn’t something Pyke had planned for, but he would have to take his chances and hope the two turnkeys earned their money and distracted the other two.‘Just take my arm and walk at a nice easy pace. Take my lead. Don’t rush, whatever you do. Anyone tries to talk to us, we keep going. Tell ’em I’m drunk and can barely speak. I’ll just mumble. I’ll make it appear that if you weren’t supporting me, I’d fall down. People here know Foote. It won’t seem strange.’Godfrey stared down at Foote’s unmoving form and whispered, ‘Christ, Pyke, did you have to hurt Arthur as badly as that?’Pyke ignored him and pulled the hat down as far over his face as it would go. The dog collar felt tight and scratchy around his neck. He gathered up the items Godfrey had smuggled into the cell, so as not to implicate the turnkeys when the escape was discovered.‘Ready?’Godfrey still seemed shaken but knocked on the door and said they were ready to leave. One of the turnkeys unbolted the door and pushed it open. The man peered into the gloomy cell and saw what he assumed to be Pyke lying on the floor. He asked whether Pyke had ‘confessed his sins before God’. Godfrey answered in the affirmative and said the prisoner wanted to be left alone. He added that the confession had also exhausted Reverend Foote and winked. ‘He needs his victuals.’ The man laughed.Godfrey led Pyke into the corridor. Two men were sitting around an overturned wooden cask playing cards. Neither of them even bothered to look up. The turnkey who had spoken to them had one final look in the cell before closing the door and sliding the heavy iron bolts into place.‘Be careful on the stairs. The stone gets mighty slippery when it rains.’Godfrey said they would and led Pyke along the corridor towards the staircase. The man followed them, jangling some keys. He told them that unless he unlocked the condemned block’s main door, they would be spending the night there. Pyke allowed his heartbeat to settle and took his uncle’s lead. He tried to relax and put himself in the mind of a drunk. Mumbling something, he made a point of shuffling along rather than walking; he also swayed from side to side, trying not to appear too rigid, and just grunted when the guard asked him whether he was all right. The staircase between the floors was dark and narrow and Pyke walked down the steps at an appropriately modest pace, holding on to the stone walls as he did so. When they reached the bottom, the turnkey pushed in front of them and as he did so said, ‘Well then, sirs, I’ll bid you both goodnight,’ and unlocked the main door and waited for them to step outside into the rain.Pyke held on to his hat to stop it blowing off his head. As they walked through the press yard, a confined area about ten feet wide and seventy feet long, bordered on either side by a high wall, Pyke whispered to Godfrey that he was doing well. ‘Just keep your calm, we’re almost there.’ Pyke knew how much his uncle was risking to assist him; knew that Godfrey disliked physical exertion of any kind; knew how hard it must be for him.Godfrey exhaled loudly. ‘Easy for you to say, Pyke.’Pyke knew, of course that they were not almost there; he knew that the most dangerous part of the escape still lay ahead of them - walking out through the prison’s guarded and well-lit main entrance without arousing suspicion - but chose not to say anything, because he could feel his uncle trembling.It took them a minute or so to shuffle across the press yard and perhaps another minute to pass through the male felons’ quadrangle and the arcade under the chapel and approach the gatekeeper’s house via a series of poorly lit passages. No one had stopped them or even asked them a question. Seeing the bedraggled figure of the Ordinary stumble through the prison must have seemed the most natural sight in the world.By the time they reached the keeper’s house, they had been ushered through three sets of locked doors by a succession of incurious turnkeys.The keeper’s house was little more than a dark passageway that housed a series of small rooms which belonged to him and which linked the prison’s main door with a stone-floored entrance hall.They had to pass through two sets of locked doors, but since there was no one attending the first door, Godfrey had to call out for assistance. A small, feral man with an unkempt beard appeared from one of the adjoining rooms and said, ‘Ah, Reverend Foote, I was hoping it might be you, sir. The governor wanted a word about the condemned’s sermon tomorrow. Told me to tell you to wait ’ere while I fetch ’im.’Pyke mumbled something nonsensical and Godfrey barked, ‘Perhaps it could wait until tomorrow morning. You can see for yourself that Reverend Foote is maybe not in the best state of mind to assist the governor.’ Pyke, whose face was turned down towards his feet so that the keeper could see only the top of his hat, belched. Godfrey added, ‘He just needs a good night’s sleep.’The keeper, who was standing the other side of the iron bars, shrugged and produced a set of keys from his jacket pocket. ‘I don’t suppose it would matter, though the governor was insistent that I fetched ’im when you was ready to leave, sir.’ He inserted one of the keys into the lock, turned it and pulled open the first of two reinforced doors that blocked their path to the outside world.As they shuffled past the keeper, Pyke heard him whisper, ‘Good luck, Mr Pyke.’ To Pyke’s horror, Godfrey acknowledged the remark and said, ‘Thanks,’ as the keeper stepped back through the rectangular gap in the iron bars, swung the door closed and locked it from the other side.Pyke heard the governor before he saw him. ‘Gentlemen. I’m so pleased I managed to catch up with you before you disappeared.’ Ahead of them, the main prison entrance was still locked. There was nowhere left to go. ‘Please step away from the prisoner, Mr Bond.’ Turning around for the first time, Pyke saw that the governor was surrounded by a group of turnkeys. The keeper was grinning. This had been Pyke’s last opportunity to gain his freedom and his plan lay in tatters. His despair was palpable and the governor seemed to sense it. ‘What a shame.’ He strutted towards them, like a prize cockerel. ‘To think you came so close . . .’That evening, they removed the two other prisoners awaiting execution from the top floor of the condemned block to cells on the first floor and turned it into a fortress. No visitors were permitted to enter the block. Turnkeys guarded the staircase. Shackled by leg-irons and handcuffs and gagged by cloth, Pyke had been thrown into a different cell. A turnkey sat with Pyke inside the cell. Additional turnkeys guarded the cell from the outside. The governor made regular visits throughout the night and the following day, Sunday, to make certain that his keepers remained vigilant; through the grated hole, he informed Pyke that Foote’s throat had been so badly damaged by the assault he might never speak again. He explained that Godfrey had been charged with assisting an escape attempt and would be spending considerable time in prison. He said the two turnkeys whom Pyke had bought off had been dismissed and also charged with aiding and abetting. He told Pyke, with some glee, that one of the turnkeys had been overheard in a nearby tavern boasting about his role in Pyke’s escape bid and the money he was to receive. He reminded Pyke he would die the following morning, adding that such was the interest in Pyke’s execution - an interest that had been further stoked by Pyke’s ‘cowardly’ escape bid - crowds had already started to gather in the street outside Debtors’ Door.
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‘If the hangman doesn’t get you,’ the governor said, almost drooling, ‘then the angry mob will.’Inside the cell Pyke stared at the tarred wall and listened to the lowing of cattle as they were driven into their stalls and pens. The bells tolled. Outside, beyond the walls of the prison, he heard them baying for his blood; working people who had been gathered since early in the morning drinking, laughing, shouting, singing and, above all, waiting for the greatest show on earth to begin. The scaffold outside Debtors’ Door would now be finished, a single noose hanging from the wooden beam. Across the street, the King of Denmark would be crawling with moneyed flesh. Viewing spots on roofs and up lamp-posts would be taken. The procession of clergymen, sheriffs, visitors and, of course, Pyke began to make its way from the press room down a flight of stone steps into an underground passage.He was walking down the aisle of St Paul’s Cathedral with a younger woman dressed in white on his arm. Above him the grand dome was full of chirruping blackbirds.Dead Man’s Walk, they called it. His own father was reading from the scriptures. Emily was next to him. Then it was Foote who was reading, but just his disembodied head. Damnation and forgiveness. Pyke could still taste the sweetness of the wine on his parched lips.They were walking up some steps and Pyke found himself in a small hall. They waited momentarily. Ahead of them lay Debtors’ Door, and beyond that he could hear the crowd. He could smell them: their excitement, their fear, their hatred of him. Closing his eyes, he saw his own father fall, arms raised, under their stamping boots. He heard his father scream; heard the screams of animals being slaughtered.Does anyone deserve to die? Do I deserve to die?When he stepped out of the gloom of the prison into the foggy sunshine, followed by the Ordinary, the clergymen, the under-sheriffs and the visitors, he might have been forgiven for mistaking the squalid din of human noise that greeted him for approval, but almost at once the mood turned ugly: the gallows were pelted with food. The dignitaries held back and waited for the marshals to bring the mob to order. On the gallows, Pyke watched the hangman tug on the noose, to check it was properly attached to the beam. He was ushered towards the beam by Foote, who made a point of neither touching him nor looking at him. Foote waited for the crowd to settle before he turned to address Pyke. His vein-knotted hands shook ever so slightly while he read from the Bible. Standing on the gallows next to him was Sir Richard Fox.‘You have another moment between this and death, and as a condemned man I implore you in God’s name to tell the truth.’ Fox was staring at him. ‘Have you got anything to repent?’Edmonton guffawed. He ran his index finger across his bulbous throat.Pyke said nothing. He felt detached even from himself. He tasted laudanum at the back of his throat. Folk in the crowd gathered below him, a faceless mass of people that stretched as far as he could see up Giltspur Street and along Old Bailey. The hangman was carrying a cloth sack. Pyke looked up and saw himself in the crowd: a scared, orphaned boy. He heard his own youthful sobs. The hangman pushed him towards the beam and put the sack over his head. He arranged the noose around his neck.In his fitful dreams, he heard himself ask: What kind of life have you led when no one mourns? ‘Hush,’ one of the turnkeys said.The ‘new’ Ordinary - Arthur Foote’s replacement, a stern-looking man who seemed genuinely enthused by the prospect of Pyke’s death - clapped his hands. Standing in his pulpit, dressed in ceremonial robes, he surveyed the chapel and its occupants with what appeared to be contempt.‘Let us sing to the praise and glory of God,’ he said.Everyone except Pyke stood.The sheriffs and under-sheriffs in their gold chains and fur collars and their footmen sat on one side of the chapel. In the pews in the middle the general mass of the prison population took their seats. The schoolmaster and juvenile prisoners were arranged around the communion table opposite the pulpit. Pyke himself sat alone in a large dock-like construction in the centre of the chapel. It had been painted black. Pyke had been allowed to take his seat only once everyone else had taken their places. Shackled and gagged, he kept his head up and met no one’s stare.‘This service is for the dead,’ the Ordinary bellowed from the pulpit, once the hymn had been sung. ‘The condemned man who is about to suffer the gravest penalty of the law will read from the prayer book and sing the lamentation of a wretched sinner.’An elderly clerk shuffled across to the black pew and removed Pyke’s gag. Pyke stared down at the prayer book opened in front of him. He closed his eyes. The Ordinary reiterated his demand; Pyke looked down at the words in front of him. When it was clear that Pyke would not do as he was asked, the Ordinary began his sermon and a hushed silence fell over the dour chapel. He painted a grim picture of Hell, insisting that the time for forgiveness had passed and judgement would soon be upon Pyke. He described the brutality of Pyke’s crimes and reminded the congregation that Pyke had attacked a venerable man of the cloth.Pyke looked around at the unfamiliar faces gathered in the galleries and pews around him.It was six o’clock on Sunday evening. He would hang in a little more than twelve hours. Pyke asked for food and porter but even as he did so it struck him as an odd tradition: eating in order to prepare for one’s death. He was not hungry, nor did he want to dull his senses with alcohol.The victuals arrived about an hour after he had been returned to his cell: stewed mutton with carrots and barley and a jug of porter. Food and drink were also brought for the turnkey in his cell. Pyke picked at the food for a while with his cuffed hands but did not eat anything. Instead he watched, without interest, as the young man scooped the mutton from the bowl in front of him and shovelled it into his mouth, gravy dripping down both sides of his chin. Outside the cell the mood seemed almost festive. Everyone, it appeared, was looking forward to the hanging. Pyke listened as the turnkeys talked excitedly about the vantage points they were going to occupy in relation to the scaffold. One of the turnkeys said there were already thirty thousand people gathered in the streets outside the prison. Another reckoned there would be close to a hundred thousand by the following morning.The young turnkey had an unnaturally thin face, as though his head had somehow been deformed in childbirth. He had tried to compensate for this deformity by growing an excess of facial hair, which meant that scraps of food and drops of porter gathered in his beard.Pyke heard footsteps, hard-soled shoes clicking against the stone floor. They came to a stop outside his cell. He listened to voices and heard a jangling of keys. From outside, one of the turnkeys inserted a key into the lock, twisted it, slid the iron bolts back and pulled open the heavy wooden door. Candlelight illuminated the gloomy cell. Pyke looked up. Another turnkey issued an instruction, telling whoever it was out there that they would be searched on the way in and the way out as well. ‘Governor’s orders.’ The turnkey added, ‘Remember what we agreed, madam. The door remains open at all times and young Jenkins stays in the cell with you. To make sure there ain’t no funny stuff.’Emily Blackwood stepped into the cell, removed her bonnet and looked at him. Her smile was warm but awkward.‘Mr Pyke. I’m sure it is unnecessary for me to ask how you are.’ She stepped farther into the cell. ‘But I did want to see you before . . .’ The words died in her mouth.Pyke stood up and bowed. He smelled her perfume. Her face was composed but alert.‘I have porter. I have food.’ He pointed at the untouched plate. ‘What more could a man ask for?’‘It is barbaric, what they are planning to do to you.’‘Is it?’ Pyke wasn’t absolutely sure but thought he saw her wink at him. ‘The last time we were in Newgate together I said that we live and die according to the whims of chance. This is merely confirming the truthfulness of that sentiment.’‘But with chance perhaps comes hope?’ Emily seemed suddenly unsteady on her feet.Pyke asked whether she cared for a seat.‘No, I’m fine.’ But she did not seem to be well. Again she wobbled a little and when, a few moments later, she fell forward, Pyke instinctively reached out to break her fall. As he did so, he felt her press something cold and hard into his open palm. Jenkins did not seem to know what to do, but from outside the cell Pyke heard one of the older turnkeys say, ‘Step away from the visitor.’ Ignoring his demand, Pyke carefully laid Emily on the bed. The turnkey reiterated his demand and hurried into the cell. Pyke held up his hands, as if to protest his innocence. He had already transferred what Emily had given him into his mouth.On the bed, Emily was sighing and holding her forehead. The older turnkey looked at Pyke, unimpressed. He asked Emily whether she felt better. Emily said yes, she did, but she couldn’t explain what had happened. All of a sudden she had felt faint and hadn’t been able to stop herself from falling. The turnkey nodded in a manner that suggested he did not believe her explanation.‘Well, you’ve seen the prisoner now and said your farewell. Jenkins, perhaps you could escort the lady back to the keeper’s house.’Gingerly Emily rose to her feet and took a deep breath. Turning to leave, she exhaled. ‘Who knows, Mr Pyke. Perhaps the governor may yet opt for clemency.’‘I’m afraid the time has long passed.’ He looked at her for some indication of what she might be referring to but saw little in her blank stare. ‘And it is not in the governor’s powers to grant such clemency. Only the Home Secretary’s intervention will make a difference and I fear this will not be forthcoming.’‘But surely the governor’s office is not entirely closed to you, even at this late stage?’Pyke said that, unfortunately, it was. As he bade her farewell, he felt sickened by the idea that he might never see her again.Once she had departed, the older turnkey folded his arms and said, ‘What was all that about, then?’Pyke said nothing. The small key was hidden under his tongue.‘Hands,’ the turnkey barked. ‘Show me your hands, prisoner.’Pyke held out his palms.‘Turn out your pockets.’Again Pyke did as he was asked.The turnkey edged closer to him. ‘Open your mouth.’Pyke forced the small key as far back under his tongue as it would go.‘Open your fucking mouth.’The turnkey peered gingerly into Pyke’s open mouth but could not see much because of the poor light. He seemed reluctant to do more than this; doubtless the thought that Pyke might bite him had crossed his mind.The cell door was bolted from the outside and the turnkey checked to see that Pyke’s handcuffs and leg-irons were secure and then settled down on a chair inside the cell.An hour or so later, the man was asleep. While he dozed, Pyke spat the key out into his cuffed hand. It took him a while to find a way of manoeuvring it into the lock of his handcuffs, but upon doing so he was astonished to discover that the key not only fitted the lock but also released the cuffs. Freeing his hands, he set to work on the leg-irons. It took him less than five minutes to unshackle himself. For a few moments, Pyke sat on the bed, staring at the sleeping turnkey and then at his unlocked handcuffs and leg-irons, thinking about something Emily had said: But surely the governor’s office is not entirely closed to you, even at this late stage? What had she meant? Of course the governor’s office was closed to him. But what if he could arrange an audience with Hunt in his office? Might there be some route of escape open to him from there?The sheer granite walls that rose up fifty feet from the ground were impossible to scale, a task that was made even harder by a row of inward-facing iron spikes attached to the wall about three-quarters of the way up, and another row of even larger spikes that protected the top of the wall. But if he could drop down from the governor’s quarters on to the top of the wall, there might be a chance.Carefully Pyke secured the cuffs and leg-irons and pressed the key into the palm of his hand.‘Turnkey.’ The shrillness of Pyke’s tone startled the older man from his slumber.‘Eh?’ He looked around the cell, still disoriented.‘I want you to take a message to Governor Hunt. Tell the governor that I am willing to divulge to him the exact nature of my business with the Home Secretary but, and this is my one demand, only if he grants me a private audience in his office.’The turnkey seemed unconvinced. ‘Why should I wake the governor at this time of night?’‘The governor will want to hear what I have to say to him.’ Pyke shrugged. ‘And if, at some later point, he hears that you failed to avail him of the opportunity to hear my revelations, I can promise you he will not be happy.’The turnkey still looked unsure so Pyke said, ‘If you pass on the message, and he refuses to see me, what have you lost?’Later, when the old man had been replaced by another turnkey, all that was left for Pyke to do was wait. ‘This is a most unusual situation,’ the governor said, as he lightly tapped his fingers on his desk. His bald head glistened in the candlelight. ‘But I cannot pretend that I am not a little intrigued by the nature of your business with the Home Secretary.’Pyke was separated from the governor only by his mahogany desk. The turnkeys had brought him into the room and checked his handcuffs and leg-irons. He had also been searched, once in his cell and again before he entered the governor’s office. The two of them were now alone. Pyke asked whether he might take a seat. The governor said that he did not see why not. With the desk to obscure Hunt’s view of his hands, he set to work with the key.
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