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Who Cries for the Lost
Author: C. S. Harris



Chapter 1


   Tuesday, 13 June 1815

   The 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 25th 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.

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