Who Cries for the Lost352
Who Cries for the Lost352
June 1815. The people of London wait, breathlessly, for news as Napoleon and the forces united against him hurtle toward their final reckoning at Waterloo. Among them is Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, frustrated to find himself sidelined while recovering from a dangerous wound he recently received in Paris. When the mutilated corpse of Major Miles Sedgewick surfaces from the murky waters of the Thames, Sebastian is drawn into the investigation of a murder that threatens one of his oldest and dearest friends, Irish surgeon Paul Gibson.
Gibson’s lover, Alexi Sauvage, was tricked into a bigamous marriage with the victim. But there are other women who may have wanted the cruel, faithless Major dead. His mistress, his neglected wife, and their young governess who he seduced all make for compelling suspects. Even more interesting to Sebastian is one of Sedgewick’s fellow officers, a man who shared Sedgewick’s macabre interest in both old English folklore and the occult. And then there’s a valuable list of Londoners who once spied for Napoleon that Sedgewick was said to be transporting to Charles, Lord Jarvis, the Regent’s powerful cousin who also happens to be Sebastian’s own father-in-law.
The deeper Sebastian delves into Sedgewick’s life, the more he learns about the Major’s many secrets and the list of people who could have wanted him dead grows even longer. Soon others connected to Sedgewick begin to die strange, brutal deaths and more evidence emerges that links Alexi to the crimes. Certain that Gibson will be implicated alongside his lover, Sebastian finds himself in a desperate race against time to stop the killings and save his friends from the terror of the gallows.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Series:||Sebastian St. Cyr Series , #18|
|Product dimensions:||6.32(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.19(d)|
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Tuesday, 13 June 1815
he dead man smelled like fish. Rotting fish.
Pale, bloodless, and faceless, he lay on the stained granite slab in the center of Paul Gibson's ancient stone outbuilding, filling the small room with a foul stench. But then, bodies pulled from the Thames did have a nasty tendency to reek of fish. Fish, brine, tar, and-if it was warm and they'd been in the water long enough-decay.
The outbuilding stood at the base of a newly planted garden that stretched out behind the medieval Tower Hill house where Gibson kept his surgery, and he paused now in the doorway to suck in one last breath of fresh, rose-scented air before entering the room. The morning was damp and chilly, the sky a low, menacing gray, the ache from Gibson's truncated left leg sharp enough that he winced as he limped forward.
Irish by birth, he was thinner than he should have been and younger than he looked, his dark hair already heavily laced with gray, the long grooves that bracketed his mouth dug deep. Pain had a way of doing that to a man-pain and the opium he used to control it.
There'd been a time not so long ago when he'd served as a surgeon with His Majesty's 25 Light Dragoons, honing his understanding of the human body on the bloody battlefields of Europe. Then a French cannonball tore away the lower part of his leg, and though he'd tried to keep going, in the end the phantom pains from that vanished limb became too much. And so he'd come here, to London, to open this humble surgery in the shadow of the Tower, share his knowledge of anatomy at the city's teaching hospitals, and conduct postmortems like this one for the local officials.
But lately there were times, such as this morning, when the demands of even that simple routine could come close to overwhelming him. The lingering effects of yesterday's generous dose of opium had left him shaky and clumsy, and he found it took him three tries with a flint before he managed to light a lantern against the gloom and hang it from the chain suspended over the stone slab. The swaying golden light played over the ghostly flesh and shattered face of the unidentified corpse before him and cast macabre shadows across the room's bare stone walls in a way he did not like.
Tall, well-formed, and probably somewhere in his thirties, the dead man had been delivered just after dawn by a couple of constables from the Thames River Police. "An East Indiaman in the Pool pulled him up with their anchor," one of the constables had said when they heaved the half-naked body up onto Gibson's slab. "Otherwise he probably wouldn't have surfaced for another two or three days-if ever."
"Who took his clothes?" asked Gibson.
"Whoever tossed him in the river, I s'pose," said the older of the two men with a wink as they turned to leave. "That's the way he come up-wearing his shirt and that one sock and nothin' else."
It was a fine shirt, Gibson thought now as he put up a hand to still the swaying of the lamp. Expertly tailored of the best linen, with its long tails reaching halfway down the man's bare, well-muscled thighs. A shirt like that would fetch a good price from one of the innumerable secondhand clothing stores that filled the city. So why had someone taken the dead man's coat, boots, and breeches, yet left his shirt?
And what the devil had they done to his face?
A blunderbuss or even a pistol would do that, Gibson decided, hunkering down to study the ravaged features. A pistol fired at close range and at an odd angle, almost as if its purpose was to destroy the features rather than kill the man.
So what had actually killed him? Gibson let his gaze wander. The watery red stains on the lower part of the shirt looked ominous.
"The River Police pull dead bodies out of the Thames all the time," said a woman's voice from the open doorway behind him, her lilting French accent more pronounced than usual. "Everything from clumsy sailors and drunken wherrymen to desperate housemaids impregnated by their masters. They usually just haul them out of the water and dump them at the nearest deadhouse to be buried in the local poor hole. So why was this one sent to you for a postmortem?"
Straightening, Gibson turned to find Alexi Sauvage leaning against the doorjamb, watching him. She was a small woman, finely boned, with a halo of untamable fiery red hair and pale skin lightly dusted with cinnamon across the bridge of her delicate nose. Parisian-born and brilliant, she had been educated as a physician in Italy, where such a thing was possible for a woman, although she was allowed to practice only as a midwife here in England. She had lived with him now for over two years, and he loved her desperately. Yet there was still so much about her he didn't know. About her life before that night he'd found her wounded and near death on the mean streets of St. Katharine's. About why she refused to marry him.
About why she stayed anyway.
"Why?" she said again, and such was the wandering train of his thoughts that it was a moment before he remembered she spoke of the dead man.
"Because from all appearances, this one's a gentleman." He lifted one of the corpse's limp hands from the slab. "Not only are his fingernails carefully manicured"-he turned the bloodless hand over-"but his only calluses are such as a gentleman might acquire from riding or fencing."
She studied the man's ravaged face and the water-matted but obviously fashionably cut golden hair that framed it. "So what fair-haired young man of London's Upper Ten Thousand has been reported missing?"
"None so far, according to the constables who brought him."
He laid the pallid hand back on the stone beside him. "Since you're here, how'd you like to help me take off his shirt?"
She stayed where she was, her gaze hard on his face. "Your leg's still hurting, isn't it?"
"Just a wee bit."
"I might be able to help you with that, if you'll let me."
"So you keep saying."
"And yet you keep refusing to let me try."
"We Irish are a stubborn lot," he said with a crooked grin, exaggerating his brogue.
"That's one word for it."
Their gazes met, and something flared between them, something filled with the echoes of much that had been said in the past and more that remained unsaid. Then she pushed away from the doorframe and stepped forward. "If you'll lift him, I'll strip off the shirt."
Levering his hands beneath the corpse's cold shoulders, Gibson raised the dead man's limp torso as she reached for the shirt's long tail and yanked it up.
"Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and all the saints," he yelped as the man's groin came into view. Whoever had shattered the unidentified corpse's face had also emasculated him.
Alexi paused with the shirt bunched at the man's taut stomach. "You didn't know?"
Gibson shook his head. "No. I was too busy looking at the ruin of that face."
Wordlessly, they finished peeling the brine-stiffened shirt over the dead man's head. She said, "Who would do something like that?"
"Someone who was either very angry or very sick. Or both."
Gibson was easing the dead man's torso back down on the slab when he heard Alexi's breath catch in a strange muffled hitch. Looking up, he found her standing with her elbows cupped in her palms, hugging her arms close to the shawl-covered bodice of her plain muslin gown as she stared down at a pattern of saber scars on the man's chest, left arm, and neck.
"What is it?" he asked, and somehow a part of him understood that what she was about to say was going to shatter his world.
Her head jerked up, her lips parting, her loamy brown eyes liquid with what looked very much like fear. "I know who he is."
"Who? Who is it?"
She had to suck in a quick, jerky breath before she could answer. "It's Miles." She hesitated, and Gibson felt the earth spin oddly around him as he waited for her to add, as he somehow knew she would, "Miles Sauvage. My husband."
he last lingering wisps of the early-morning mist were drifting up from the river to cling to the leafy branches of the ancient elms and chestnuts overhead as two men cantered their highbred horses along the southern boundary of Hyde Park, the thunder of their hooves muffled by the soft surface of the nearly deserted Row. One man was older, in his seventies now, his eyes a deep, piercing blue, his once heavy shock of white hair beginning to thin even as his big barrel-chested body thickened more and more with each passing year.
His companion was younger, in his early thirties, lean and dark haired, his eyes a strange feral yellow, his seat on his elegant black mare that of a cavalry officer accustomed to spending long hours in the saddle. They were known to the world as father and son, although they were not. The events and painful revelations of the last several years had strained their relationship, but they were slowly working their way toward a new understanding. Lately they had taken to meeting frequently for these early-morning rides in the park-although every time they somehow ended up having what was basically the same argument.
"You're pushing that wounded leg too hard, too fast," said the elder man, Alistair St. Cyr, the Fifth Earl of Hendon. "And you know it."
His companion and heir, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, swallowed the angry retort that rose to his lips and forced himself to keep his voice light. "I didn't realize you'd taken up medicine in your spare time."
"I don't need to be a doctor. I can see it in your face. It hasn't been three months since you nearly got that leg shot off, and I doubt there's more than a handful of surgeons in all of England who wouldn't have insisted on taking it off completely."
"Then I suppose I'm fortunate to have been shot in Paris," said Sebastian, and heard the Earl growl in response as they reined their horses in to a walk.
"You're fortunate Napoléon decided to let you go," snapped Hendon, "rather than holding you and Hero hostage."
"He was hoping for peace, remember?"
"So he said. But he's not getting it, is he?"
"That he's not."
They continued along in silence for a time. The air was cool and damp and heavy with the fecund smell of the wet tan mixed with gravel beneath their horses' hooves, but the sounds of the city stirring awake around them were beginning to intrude on the countryside-like calm of the park. Hendon said, "You do realize that it doesn't matter how hard you press yourself. You're never going to get that leg strong enough to rejoin your old regiment and fight Napoléon in July."
The words caught Sebastian by surprise, for it was the first time either of them had acknowledged precisely why he was pushing himself so hard. He found he had to pause to swallow the bitter taste that rose to his mouth. "I doubt it'll be July."
It had been over three months now since Napoléon Bonaparte had sailed away from Elba, the tiny island off the coast of Italy to which he'd been banished after his defeat in the spring of 1814. Landing on the southern coast of France, he'd been welcomed back by his people with joy, while the Bourbon King Louis XVIII-so recently restored by the armies of France's enemies-simply fled Paris before him in the dark of night.
Installed once more in the Tuileries Palace-without a shot being fired-Napoléon had issued a stream of proclamations, reassuring the people of France and the world that all he wanted was peace. But the bitter, frightened crowned heads of Europe-many of them only recently restored to their wobbly thrones-were determined to crush forever the dangerous philosophies of liberty and equality that the French Revolution had unleashed upon the world. Already gathered in Austria for the Congress of Vienna, the representatives of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Great Britain had declared Bonaparte an outlaw and signed a series of new treaties in which they pledged to raise an army of six hundred thousand men and not lay down arms again until Napoléon was destroyed. The lesser states of Europe hastily joined them.
"It's the date Wellington has set for the invasion of France," said Hendon. "So what are you saying? You don't think it will happen until August?"
Sebastian shook his head. "We've already declared war, so Napoléon knows exactly what's coming. I can't see him waiting around for the Seventh Alliance to gather all of its armies and attack him at a time and place of their choosing. If he can't have peace, then he's going to need to strike quickly and decisively, and he knows it. I wouldn't be surprised if he's preparing to leave Paris for the frontier as we speak."
"Good God. You think he'll march against Wellington in Belgium?"
"Why wouldn't he? And if Wellington were smart, he'd spend less time in Brussels attending balls and picnics and seducing his officers' wives and daughters, and pay more attention to getting his troops in order."
"Then for God's sake, Devlin, why not give up this brutal regimen you've set for yourself? If you're right, you'll never be fit in time to join the fight."
Sebastian clenched his jaw and stared off across the misty park to where a small dark-haired figure wearing a tiger's striped waistcoat and mounted on a familiar gray hack was galloping headlong toward them, heedless of the angry shouts that followed him. It was not the "done thing," galloping in Hyde Park.
Hendon's eyes narrowed as he followed Sebastian's gaze. "Isn't that the scruffy little pickpocket you insist on employing as your groom?"
"I'll admit he's still a bit scruffy and small, but Tom hasn't been a pickpocket for years," said Sebastian, and heard Hendon grunt as the boy reined in beside them.
"A message from Paul Gibson," said Tom, his breath coming hard and fast as he held out a grubby, slightly crumpled sealed missive. "The lad what brought it said it was important, so I figured ye'd want to see it right away."
"Gibson?" said Hendon, the displeasure in his voice unmistakable as Sebastian broke the seal. "You mean that Tower Hill surgeon?" Sebastian's involvement in murder investigations had never sat well with the Earl.