You must understand that I am not a murderer by nature, only by temporary design. There was no need to repeat this experimental act of killing. I had proved what I had set out to prove: the capacity of my will to carry out such a deed. The blameless red-haired stranger had fulfilled his purpose, and I was ready for what now lay ahead.
I walked to the Surrey side of the bridge, turned round, and walked back again. Then, on a sudden impulse, as I passed once more through the turnstile, I decided to retrace my steps along the Strand instead of returning to my rooms. At the foot of the steps leading down from Cain-court, which I had descended not two hours earlier, a crowd of people had gathered. I enquired of a flower-seller concerning the cause of the commotion.
Murder, sir, she replied. A poor gentleman has been most viciously done to death. They say the head was almost severed from the body.
Good heavens! said I, with every expression of sudden shock. What a world we live in! Is anyone apprehended?
My informant was uncertain on this point. A Chinese sailor had been seen running from the court a little time before the body had been discovered; but others had said that a woman carrying a bloody axe had been found standing in a daze a few streets away, and had been taken away by the officers.
I shook my head sadly, and continued on my way.
Of course it was most convenient that ignorant rumour was already weaving nets of obscurity and falsehood around the truth. For all I cared, either the Chinese sailor or the woman with the bloody axe, if, indeed, they existed, could swing for my deed and be damned. I was armoured against all suspicion. Certainly no one had observed me entering or leaving the dark and deserted court; I had been most particular on that point. The knife had been of a common type, purloined for the purpose from a hotel across the river in the Borough, where I had never been before, and to which I would never return again. My nameless victim had been entirely unknown to me; nothing but cold Fate connected us. My clothes appeared to be unmarked by his blood; and night, villainys true friend, had thrown its accomplices cloak over all.
By the time I reached Chancery-lane the clocks were striking eleven. Still feeling unwilling to return to my own solitary bed, I swung northwards, to Blithe Lodge, St Johns Wood, with the intention of paying my compliments to Miss Isabella Gallini, of blessed memory.
Ah, Bella! Bellissima Bella! She welcomed me in her customary way at the door of the respectable tree-fronted villa, cupping my face in her long-fingered, many-ringed hands and whispering, Eddie, darling Eddie, how wonderful, as she kissed me gently on both cheeks.
Is all quiet? I asked.
Perfectly. The last one went an hour ago, Charlie is asleep, and Mrs D. has not yet returned. We have the house to ourselves.
Upstairs I lay back on her bed watching her disrobe, as I had done so many times before. I knew every inch of her body, every warm and secret place. Yet watching the last piece of clothing fall to the floor, and seeing her standing proudly before me, was like experiencing her for the first time in all her untasted glory.
Say it, she said.
I frowned in pretended ignorance.
You know very well, you tease. Say it.
She walked towards me, her hair now released and flowing over her shoulders and down her back. Then, reaching the bed, she once again clasped my face in her hands and let that dark torrent of tresses tumble around me.
Excerpted from The Meaning of the Night, copyright (c) 2006 by Michael Cox. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, W.W.Norton and Company. All rights reserved
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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