"He's lying," Victoria cried, throwing herself at the gentleman beside her; grabbing at whatever meager protection she could find. "I've done nothing wrong!" "What crime is she accused of?" the man asked, one arm closing around Victoria.
"I haven't time to enumerate the offenses," Keyes replied. "Now, release the woman and go about your business."
"Do as 'e says," the bookmaker commanded tersely. "Let 'im 'ave the goods and take 'is leave. 'Tis bad for business to 'ave a Runner about the place."
The man sighed and gently began to urge Victoria forward. "Well, you have a wish to go to Bow Street, dove. It seems you have your escort."
"He won't take me there," she cried, clutching at him. "He's going to kill me. Don't let me go!"
"Kill you?" the man repeated, chortling at what he clearly perceived as a wild exaggeration. "Come, dove, whatever you've done, it can't be all that bad. When you go to the bench, just give the magistrate your prettiest smile, and I've no doubt he'll let you off easy."
"Please," she said desperately, "help me to reach Sir Ross Cannon. Or Mr. Morgan. I...I'm begging for my life."
Uncertainty skittered across the man's face as he stared down at her. It seemed that whatever he read in her eyes convinced him. The arm around her strengthened. "All right," he said. "No doubt I could do worse than rescue a damsel in distress this soggy evening." He looked up at Keyes with an affable, condescending smile. "Surely it would do no harm if I accompany the girl to Bow Street," he said. "That's where you want her taken, yes? What difference does it make if I bring her there on your behalf?"
Victoria tensed as Keyes approached them, his eyes dark and lethal in his calm face. He appeared to be considering a response, in the manner of a man carrying on a reasonable conversation. "I'll show you what difference it makes," he said quietly. At the same time he spoke, he withdrew an object from inside his coat and raised it in a swift, high arc. In a flashing instant, Victoria saw that it was a neddy, a small weighted cudgel the Runners used to subdue unruly criminals. She let out a sharp cry and turned away just as Keyes struck the man about the head and shoulders, three times in rapid succession. She felt the shock of the blows resound through the man's heavy frame, and he collapsed in a moaning heap on the ground, his arm dropping away from her.
Keyes snatched her, seizing one arm and twisting it behind her until a shaft of pain seared through her back and shoulder. Victoria grunted through her clenched teeth and bent forward to ease the piercing ache. A burst of angry cries echoed throughout the room, and Keyes's voice cut through the cacophany. "If anyone else wishes to tangle with me, I'll have you charged with interfering with an officer's execution of his duty. Care for an evening's stay at Newgate?" He laughed contemptuously at the suddenly subdued crowd. "I thought not," he sneered. "Carry on, gentlemen, and put this little piece of mutton out of your minds."
"Get yer arse out o' my lister!" the bookmaker snapped, and joined the small gathering around the injured man on the floor.
"Gladly," Keyes said, tugging and pushing Victoria up the steps, back into the downpour.
"You can't kill me now," she cried, blinking against the sheet of rain that struck her in the face. "There are witnesses...they'll all say you were the one who took me away. You'll be tried...hanged..."
"I'll be long gone before an investigation has even begun," Keyes sneered, continuing to twist her arm as he ushered her along the street, around a flooding cess-trench dug in the middle.
Victoria glanced frantically about the street in the hope of finding someone to help her. Hopeless gazes stared out from the depths of crammed cellar homes. The stench of an underground slaughterhouse surrounded them as they passed the doorway, where the pelting rain was doing little to wash away layers of dried blood and fat. She felt her eyes aching and stinging, her leaking tears mingling with the rivulets of rain that coursed down her cheeks.
"Why are you doing this to me?" she cried.
Surprisingly, Keyes heard her through the tumult of the storm. "I'm too bloody old to be a Runner, and I've only a few pounds to retire on. I'll be damned if I live like a dog for the rest of my days."
"Wh-who paid you to kill me--" She broke off with a pained cry as he pushed her arm another inch upward.
"Enough yapping," he said. They turned a corner and ventured deep into a rookery. Rapidly they strode toward a deserted factory. The walls of the building appeared so decayed and unstable that no one dared occupy it, not even the poor who were tightly packed in nearby slums like rabbits in a warren. Victoria screamed and dug in her heels as Keyes tried to force her past the doorway.
A sharp pain exploded on the side of her head, and she realized dimly that he had just hit her, hard enough to subdue her resistance. Sagging against him, her mind buzzing, she fought to collect her wits. He gagged her efficiently, using his own cravat, and she recoiled at the taste of starch and sweat. Drawing her hands behind her back, Keyes snapped the cold metal rings of handcuffs around her wrists.
Helplessly Victoria stumbled forward as the Runner shoved her toward a set of broken stairs. The remnants of the steps groaned and splintered as they ascended. It would have been pitch-black in the building, except that a good part of the roof had rotted away, and there were holes and gaping fissures in the walls. The air was foul and still, every visible surface covered with oily dust that barely stirred when gusts of rain-filled wind blew inside.
No one would find her now, Victoria thought dully, gasping for breath as Keyes pushed her into a second-story factory. The floor was pebbled with rodent droppings, and the fractured walls were coated with grime and webs and bird nests. There were squeaking, flapping noises as the current occupants of the factory fled their perches. Rain leaked from the broken roof and puddled in the center of the floor. Dragging her to a corner, Keyes thrust her down until she fell back in a heap, the hem of her skirts sliding to her knees.
Then he was still, staring at her wet stockings. His face tautened in a way that made her ill. "I was planning to finish you off quickly," he said. "Now I want something extra for my pains, you troublesome bitch. I wouldn't mind a cut of what Morgan had."
Suddenly nothing seemed real. Victoria thought dazedly that she must be having a nightmare, that very soon she would awaken and Grant would be there, telling her that everything was all right. Her mind turned inward, and she concentrated desperately on the idea that it was all a horrible dream. She didn't even cringe as Keyes crouched over her and began to jerk at the fastenings of his breeches. "You'll be no loss to the world," he muttered. "I've seen thousands of your kind. I'll give you one thing--you're a hardy little bitch. No woman should have lived through what you did." His tone was suddenly scored with jealousy. "Only the best for Morgan...Aye, you're a choice piece of mutton." Continuing to mutter angrily, he pulled up handfuls of her skirts, while Victoria began to wish she were already dead.
As Grant had demanded, Covent Garden and its environs were soon swarming with foot patrols, captains, Runners, and watchmen. Horse patrols comprised of retired calvary soldiers divided the area into sections and covered them with military precision. Cannon, of course, remained at Bow Street with the command that all developments be reported to him immediately.
Grant knew that Cannon's desire for Victoria and Keyes to be found went beyond personal concern. A suspicious public was ever on the lookout for signs of corruption among the Bow Street force. If there had been wrongdoing on Keyes's part, it would be used against Cannon--against all of them--to hinder Cannon's planned reorganization and expansion of the policing system. It was likely that this concern weighed on all the Runners' minds, spurring them to search even harder.
"Morgan," Flagstad said worriedly, angling the brim of his hat against a cascade of raindrops, "for the life of me, I can't come up with a sound reason for Miss Duvall to run from Keyes like that. She must have simply lost her head, panicked...but why? We all know for certain that Keyes is a good man."
Grant shook his head, walking toward the opera house. He found it difficult to force a reply through his clenched teeth. "I don't know anything for certain," he said roughly.
"But of course you do," Flagstad persisted, hurrying to match his ground-covering strides. "Keyes has done nothing out of order--he's merely looking for Miss Duvall as we are, to bring her back to safety!"
Flagstad's testimony on behalf of his longtime friend should have touched Grant. The man's weathered face was fraught with distress over the inexplicable events of the evening. Flagstad had known Keyes for years, and would be sorely troubled over any implications that Keyes had done something wrong.
Grant knew he should have reacted with understanding, perhaps said a word or two to ease Flagstad's obvious worry. Instead, he found himself stopping to seize the other man by his coat front. "Then where the hell is he?" His temper, tightly repressed until this moment, exploded in a bonfire of frustration. "Don't tell me what kind of man Keyes is--just help me find the bastard!"
"Yes...yes..." Flagstad's hands came over his, prying them loose from his coat. He stared at Grant with bewildered dismay. "Calm yourself, Morgan. My God, I've never seen you so...Well, you've always kept a cool head, even during a riot!"
Grant released him with a grunt of muted fury. Yes, he had always been cool during riots, mobs, battles, and skirmishes of every kind. This was different. Time was running out for Victoria. She was in mortal danger, and not being able to reach her was causing something inhuman to disperse inside him and rise to the surface. He realized suddenly that he had to keep control of himself or he could quite possibly kill someone. Machinelike, he forced himself to continue to the opera house, where a captain of the foot patrol had gathered two men.
"You don't think they've run away together, do you?" Flagstad mused aloud. "I mean, the ladies do seem to like Keyes, and Miss Duvall has a definite reputation in that regard--"
"Get away from me." Grant's voice was low and deadly. "Before I slaughter you." Flagstad seemed to understand it was not an idle threat. Paling, he stopped and edged away hastily. "I think I'll get a report from Captain Brogdon on the progress of his foot patrol."
"Morgan! Morgan!" A breathless shout caused Grant to look about alertly. A constable was running neck-or-nothing alongside the opera house, coming from the streets north of the marketplace. "Mr. Morgan...they sent me to tell you..."
Grant reached him in three strides, nearly knocking the young man over. "What is it?"
"The betting shop on the alleyway off Russell...something you'll want to hear about..." Gasping frantically, the constable paused and hung his head in the struggle for more air.
"Tell me, dammit!" Grant snapped. "You can breathe later."
"Yes, sir." The constable nodded jerkily and forced himself to continue. "The list-maker and some of his customers claim"--he paused for another gulp of air--"a girl came into the shop tonight, asking for someone to help her to Bow Street. They say a Runner came in and forced her to come away with him."
"Praise God," Flagstad exclaimed, having lingered to hear the report. His face was transformed with relief. "It's Keyes and Miss Duvall, obviously. He found her! Everything is all right now."
Grant ignored the Runner's excitement and questioned the constable grimly. "How long ago did it happen?"
"It appears to be less than ten minutes, sir."
Flagstad interrupted eagerly. "I'll go directly to Bow Street and await them. No doubt Keyes will have her there momentarily."
"You do that," Grant said, and took off at a dead run toward Russell.
The betting shop was easy to locate. A cluster of constables had gathered outside the basement steps, while a squatty, imperious figure stood beneath the questionable shelter of a tattered umbrella and uttered loud complaints to all and sundry. The bookmaker wore heavy leather pouches that made him instantly identifiable.
The constables straightened and backed away a step en masse as Grant reached them. They looked at him strangely--no doubt he presented an odd appearance with his hair plastered over his skull, his face stiff and bloodless beneath the falling rain, and his lips drawn back from his teeth in a sort of frozen snarl he couldn't erase.
The bookmaker squinted at him speculatively. "Bloody big bastard, you are," he commented. "You must be Morgan. She was asking for ye, the wench that came in my place an' started the 'ole bloody rucktion."
"Tell Mr. Morgan what happened," one of the constables urged.
"The Runner came in my shop for 'er, an' she wouldn't go wiv 'im. The addlepate said 'e was going to kill 'er." "And then there was a fight," the constable prompted.
"Aye," the bookmaker said sourly. "One ow my customers tried to claim the wench, an' the Runner knocked the piss out ow my customer, 'e did." He spat in contempt at the thought of the departed runner. "Bloody Robin Redbreast, trying to ruin a man's honest business!"
Grant experienced an excruciating mingling of panic and pain that rose higher and higher until he felt hot pressure in the center of his head.
"What direction did they go in?" he heard himself ask hoarsely.
The question produced a sudden sly smile that stretched from one curling sideburn to the other. "I may know," the bookmaker said diffidently, "or I may not."
One of the constables seized him impatiently, giving him a brief shake that elicited an angry squawk. "Rough me again," the bookmaker threatened, "an' I won't tell ye where they went! 'Ow'd ye like to put the wench to bed wiv a shovel?"
"What the hell do you want?" Grant asked softly, staring at the bookmaker with a savage intensity that seemed to rattle him.
The bookmaker blinked uneasily. "I want ye stinkin' Redbreasts to keep yer arses out o' my lister from now on!"
"But, Mr. Morgan..." the constable said, protesting the hastily struck bargain. His voice trailed away meekly as Grant's murderous gaze swerved to him for one chilling instant.
The bookmaker regarded Grant suspiciously. "'Ow do I know ye'll keep yer word?"
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