Read The Dollar Prince's Wife Online
Authors: Paula Marshall
Anger at such foolish speculation overtook him. He must think what he would do if his suspicions about her death were correct.
Bristow was waiting for him at the police station, his old face grey.
âMr Dilley,' he said. âI knew you'd come.'
Cobie said tightly, âIt is Lizzie, isn't it?'
Bristow bowed his head. âYes, I've seen her.' He hesitated. âIt will be rather a shock, Mr Dilleyâ¦she had been most brutallyâ¦treatedâ¦before she died.'
âNo doubt,' said Cobie. He looked about him when he entered the police station. He knew that since early yesterday he had lost his shadows. He wondered sardonically if he were about to acquire them again; if Walker were somewhere near. Scotland Yard would have been informed immediately of the brutal murder of a child. But in the face of Lizzie's death that whole business with the police seemed stupid and far away.
He followed Bristow to where other policemen stood about. He was introduced to a weary-looking Inspector Jordan as Mr Dilley, the benefactor of the home where Lizzie had lived, who had come to make sure that she was the victim, although the home's superintendent had already identified her.
For once Cobie was so far removed from his normal self that he was not aware that he was being watched. Not only by Bates or Alcott, but also by Walker, who stood hidden behind a half-open door in the morgue, staring at him while he looked down at Lizzie's poor, broken body.
She had been kidnapped, there was no doubt of that, and
then she had been taken to a houseâHoskyns's, probablyâto be used by one of his clients, killed in the using, and then disposed of in the river. To be found much sooner than might have been expected.
Cold bastard, thought Walker, watching Mr Dilley's impassive stare, unaware of the red rage that was burning inside him. He saw that Mr Dilley was wearing his fine clothes beneath his shabby coat. He watched him turn away abruptly and heard him say to Hedges, the superintendent of the home, âHow did this happen?' and his voice was ice.
âShe went out for a walk with some of her friends, after school,' Hedges told him numbly. âShe disappeared quite suddenly, it seems. They were playing by the river when they realised she had gone. After looking for her they came home. They thought she might have run ahead of them, but she hadn't. We went out to look for herâwe thought she might have lost her way. Last night we told the police. This morning a lighter picked up her body from the river.'
Last night he had been amusing himself with Dinah while Lizzie died a cruel death.
He said to the Inspector, âHas no one any idea of where she might have been taken after she was kidnapped? It is obvious from her condition what happened to herâwhat was done to her.'
âNone,' said Inspector Jordan, who had stood by while Cobie had identified Lizzie. âBesides, she might not have been taken to a bordello, sir. She might have been delivered to a private house. It's not the first child's body we have fished from the Thames in this condition.'
âSo I believe.' Cobie's voice was still ice, almost as though it hurt him to speak.
âFamiliarity, of course, breeds contempt. But the kidnapping must have been organised by someone who knew what
they were doing, it was done so neatly, and I doubt that she was taken far. In how many houses in London are children for sale, Inspector?'
The policeman said, a little stolid, âWe do what we can, sir.'
Cobie turned away, saying before he did so, âI know. It's not your fault. As you say, you do what you can. More than I do.'
Walker was still watching his quarry. He was strangely unlike the mocking man who had driven himself and his men mad for the last few weeks.
One of the policemen standing by him said, âThat's the chap what rescued her from Madame Louise's, the Salvation Army man said. Put her in a home he helped to finance. Must give him a nasty turn to see her like that. Must have thought she was safe.'
Walker remembered what Mr Dilley had told him about rescuing a child.
Now he had a new worry. If Mr Dilley had been willing to pay out a fortune to have Madame Louise's place closed and put out of business because he had discovered that children were being bought and sold there, what would he do to the man, or men, who had killed Lizzie Steele?
He remembered Bates telling him of his near garrotting, and Mr Dilley's threat that he would kill those who tried to thwart or cheat him. He must ask permission for him to be watched: for twenty-four hours a day, if possible.
Cobie, still in the rage's thrall, talked with the Inspector, with Bristow, and with Hedges. He told them that he would pay for Lizzie's funeral, and tried to reassure the superintendent that it was not his fault that Lizzie had been kidnapped.
Finally, everything having been arranged, he left with
his clerk. âYou will show me where this house which Hoskyns runs is situated,' he ordered him. âDoes Hoskyns live there?'
The clerk nodded. âOver the shop, you might say. Our man made a plan of the place. Got inside once by sampling the regular trade. Knows where the children are kept, and some of the older girls. They and Hoskyns live in the attics.'
âGood.' Before he left his clerk at his dingy office, he collected the plan of Hoskyns's house to study at his leisure. It was not yet lunch time, and he was already deciding that if he were going to strike at those whom he thought were behind Lizzie's death, he would do so quickly while they were still congratulating themselves that she was out of the way.
He had already decided not to inform the police that he had found Hoskyns's new bolt-hole, and allow them to do his work for them. He suspected that since Sir Ratcliffeâand othersâhad obviously been warned of the raid on Madame Louise's, despite his wish that they should not be, it was likely that Hoskyns also might be tipped off in time to turn his house into something respectable.
It was not that he thought that Walker would cheat him: no, it was those mysterious superiors above him who would perform that trick. It would be safer to act on his ownâand take the consequences, if there were any.
Thanking God that his shadows had disappeared, he drove to Half Moon Street, praying that Mr Hendrick Van Deusen would be at homeâwhich he was. His luck was in, if Lizzie's had been out. Luck! He must remember that it was not automatic, but must be ensured by careful planning. He had reached the stage where the whole world appeared clear and plain to him, and planning was easy.
Mr Van Deusen led him into his drawing room, and Cobie could see at once that the Professor knew that he had come to ask a favour. Something in his stance, perhaps, some memory of dangerous days long ago.
âProfessor,' he said abruptly, âI have come to ask you for back-up. May I count on it?'
The Professor made no effort to ask why or what for. He simply said, âSay the word, Jake, you know that you have only to say the word.'
âRight. Now listen,' and he began to speak rapidly, ticking points off on his fingers, the Professor nodding, occasionally putting in a word.
Later, all arrangements made, having been seen with Mr Van Deusen in various clubs and haunts of pleasure from early afternoon onwards, Cobie was in one of his secret temporary homes situated in an alley not far from where Hoskyns lived.
There was a change of clothing thereâand something more. In the space between the ceiling and the roof he had hidden one of his six shooters, its holster and belt, and a small box of ammunition. It was a Colt .44, not a .45. Many Western gunmen, and Cobie had been one of them, preferred the .44.
He changed rapidly. He fetched out the gun, strapped the holster on to his left hip, tying it down with a piece of rawhide. It would be hidden beneath his shabby frock-coat. Out of habit he began to practise his quick drawânot that it would be needed in Limehouse! Indeed, he hoped that the gun would not be needed at all.
In his sleeve he carried a shiv, a small knife as sharp as the razor it resembled: its sheath was strapped on to his right arm under his coat. Last of all he picked up a dirty
black silk muffler, to be worn round his neck, since the day was too warm for another of his trusty tartan woollen ones.
Finally he took out his agent's plan of Hoskyns's bordello, and began to study it again, carefully reading the notes in the agent's meticulous copper plate hand, so much at odds with what he was writing about.
It was a bright early evening when, grimy, anonymous, one of the crowd of lost souls who roved London's dockside area, he turned into a pub not far from Hoskyns's house, where he could watch for a suitable moment to make his playâ¦ A carriage was slowly tracking him. It was waiting not far from the pub to pick him up when he left, but it wasn't the police on his trail this time. Inside, Mr Hendrick Van Deusen, late the Professor, scourge of the law and outlaws alike, sat in it, reflectively smoking a large cigarâas was his usual habit.
Hoskyns was counting his money. Last night had brought him what the Yankees called a bonanza. The pickings in this place were not so good as those at Madame Louise'sâbut it was all his own, and the police hadn't found it yet. The house didn't open for business until eleven o'clock, the cover of darkness being all important so far as the major part of his business was concerned.
After his accounts were finished he went around, checking everything, before his small staff arrived. He was lighting the oil lamps, when Nemesis struck. One moment he had the taper in his hand, minding his own business, the next he was being strangled, unable to call for help. Consciousness came and went, he was being manhandled along the landing, into his own room.
He was thrust into a chair. He was blindfolded, his hands were tied behind his back, his legs to the chair legs, to hold
him secure. His keys had been taken from his pocket, he had felt them go, and his assailant was saying in a hoarse voice, âWe're locked in, Hoskyns, and we shall stay so, until you tell me what I want to know.'
The blindfold was being removed, which wasn't much helpâthe man opposite to him was unrecognisable in a tight woollen helmet, or balaclava as it was sometimes called, which left only his eyes showing, and none of his hair.
âNo, you don't know me, Hoskyns, but I know you. Now, tell me, and I might spare your life if you do, who ordered the girl child to be kidnapped yesterday, who used her for his pleasure, and who killed herâand why. I take it that you saw that she was thrown into the Thames.'
âAs God's my witnessâ¦' Hoskyns began.
âGod? Who's He? Say the devil rather. As the devil's your witness you were going to lie to me. But you're not, Hoskyns, because if you don't tell me the truth I shall finish you off, here and now, with my little knife.'
He waved the shiv at Hoskyns, and with cruel deft fingers began to unbutton his jacket.
âShall I do it now, Hoskyns? This is a house of pleasure. Tell me why I shouldn't take mine.'
âI don't know nothing of no girl child, I don't,' Hoskyns screamed. âI run a straight business.'
The knife hovered over Hoskyns's throat. He tried to shrink away from it.
âSit still, man. I know you lie. You procured the girl for Sir Ratcliffe Heneage at Madame Louise's, as you had doubtless procured many others. She was stolen away from you, Hoskyns, wasn't she, before he could take his pleasure with her? Don't tell me that you know nothing of girl children. You knew that one, and you saw her dead last night,
didn't you? You don't know what a straight house is, Hoskyns.'
He ran the knife down Hoskyn's torso, which set him screaming again.
âNow, Hoskyns. Spoil my pleasure. Tell me the truth. Who had the girl child last nightâand who killed her afterwards?' This time he drew blood.
Hoskyns screamed thinly on realising that the devil before him meant what he said.
He began to babble. âHim. The man you said. Heneage. Mad furious he was, that she got away from Madame's. It were dangerous he said, to have her on the loose. We tracked her down for him. Oh, Gawd, I never thought he'd kill her for his pleasure, I swear, I didn't. But he saidâ¦'
He fell silent, sobbing, tears and snot running down his face.
The knife was hovering again. The masked man said, his tone mocking, âYou tempt me, Hoskyns, you really do. What did he sayâ¦? Quick, before I gut you and rob you of your life.'
Between sobs it all came out. âHe said that he had killed two birds with one stone. He'd killed the girl for his pleasure and destroyed her evidence at the same time. I swear I never thought he'd do for herâ¦'
âYou lie, Hoskyns, you lie,' said Cobie. âOf course you thoughtâ¦ But since you've told me what I want to know, I'm going to give you half a chance, which was more than you gave Lizzie Steele. I'm going to set fire to this place, but before I do, I'm going to untie you, and give you a chance to escape. A slight one, but a chance.'
He was untying the rope around Hoskyns's legs, leaving his hands tied behind his back, when Hoskyns, moved by rage, and fear, swung round and bit at Cobie's hand when
he pulled the cord free. Almost casually Cobie knocked him down, on to the dirty floor.
âLess of a chance,' he flung roughly at the man on the ground, âbut still a chance.'
Cobie had already decided that Hoskyns's evidence against Sir Ratcliffeâand othersâwould be given no credence by the authorities, nor would that of any of the childrenâeven if they had known the names of the men who had abused them, which was unlikely.
They were all what were sometimes called âmen of straw'âpeople of no account when set against the great and the mighty.
He ran from the room, using Hoskyns's keys to open the door to freedom to a group of small boys and girls cowering in the corner of the dingy attic which was little larger than a closet. They stared at him, at his strange and wild appearance. He had picked up an oil lamp from the landing and was holding it high above his head.