"One of Bellotti's boys. He had been murdered. By candlelight. In an upstairs room. I need to know why. For what possible purpose? I need to know who has done this terrible thing." He took my hand in his. "Robert, I must go. It is midnight. I will tell you everything tomorrow. Let us meet at the Langham Hotel. At eight o'clock. The good doctor will be having his porridge. We will catch him. He will advise us what course to take. I have promised Constance I will be home tonight. Tite Street calls. You are no longer married, Robert, but I have my obligations. My wife, my children. I want to see them sleeping safely. I love them dearly. And I love you, too. Good-night, Robert. We have heard the chimes at midnight. We can at least say that."
And he was gone. He swept from the room with a flourish. He had arrived exhausted, but he appeared to depart refreshed. As I emptied the rest of the bottle into my glass, I pondered what he had told me, but could make no sense of it. Who was Billy Wood? Who was Bellotti? What upstairs room? Was this murder a fact -- or merely one of Oscar's fantastical allegories?
I finished the champagne and left the club. To my surprise, Hubbard was almost civil as he bade me good-night. There were cabs in the rank on Piccadilly and, as I had sold two articles that month, I was in funds, but the night was fine -- there was a brilliant August moon -- and the streets were quiet, so I decided to walk back to my room in Gower Street.
Twenty minutes later, on my way north towards Oxford Street, as I turned from a narrow side-alley into Soho Square, I stopped and drew myself back into the shadows. Across the deserted square, by the new church of St. Patrick, still encased in scaffolding, stood a hansom cab and, climbing into it, illuminated by a shaft of moonlight, were a man and a young woman. The man was Oscar: there was no doubt about that. But the young woman I did not recognise: her face was hideously disfigured and, from the way she held her shawl about her, I sensed she was gripped by a dreadful fear.
Copyright © 2007 by Gyles Brandreth
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