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Half Moon Street (Charlotte & Thomas Pitt Novels)by Anne Perry
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Pitt turned back to the body and started to look more carefully at the extraordinary clothes the man was wearing. The green dress was torn in several places. It was impossible to tell if it had happened recently or not. The silk velvet of the bodice was ripped across the shoulders and down the seams of the arms. The flimsy skirt was torn up the front.
There were several garlands of artificial flowers strewn around. One of them sat askew across his chest.
Pitt looked at the manacle on the man's right wrist, and moved it slightly. There was no bruising or grazing on the skin. He examined the other wrist, and then both ankles. They also were unmarked.
"Did they kill him first?" he asked.
"Either that, or he put them on willingly," the surgeon replied. "If you want my opinion, I don't know. If a guess will do, I'd say after death."
"And the clothes?"
"No idea. But if he put them on himself, he was pretty rough about it."
"How long do you think he's been dead?" Pitt had little hope of a definite answer. He was not disappointed.
"No idea beyond what you can probably deduce for yourself. Some time last night, from the rigor. Can't have been floating around the river for long like this. Even a bargee would notice this a little odd."
He was right. Pitt had concluded it would have to have been after dark. There had been no mist on the river yesterday evening, and on a fine day, even up to dusk, there would be people out in pleasure boats, or strolling along the embankment.
"Any signs of struggle?" he asked.
"Nothing I can see so far." The surgeon straightened up and made his way back to the steps. Nothing on his hands, but I dare say you saw that. Sorry, Pitt. I'll look at him more closely, of course, but so far you've got an ugly situation which I am only going to make even uglier, I imagine. Good day to you." And without waiting for a reply, he climbed up the steps to the top of the Embankment where already a small crowd had gathered, peering curiously over the edge.
Tellman looked at the punt, his face puckered with incomprehension and contempt. He pulled his jacket a little tighter around himself. "French, is he?" he said darkly, his tone suggesting that that explained everything.
"Possibly, " Pitt answered. "Poor devil. But whoever did this to him could be as English as you are."
Tellman's head came up sharply and he glared at Pitt.
Pitt smiled back at him innocently.
Tellman's mouth tightened and the turned and looked up the river at the light flashing silver on the wide stretches clear of mist and the dark shadows of barges materializing from beyond. It was going to be a beautiful day. "I'd better find the river police, " Tellman said grimly. "See how far he would have drifted since he was put in."
"Don't know when that was," Pitt replied. "There's very little blood here. Wound like that to the head must have bled quite a lot. Unless there was some kind of blanket or sail here which was removed after, or he was killed somewhere else, and then put here."
"Dressed like that?" Tellman said incredulously. "Some kind of a party, Chelsea sort of way? Some--thing--went too far, and they had to get rid of him? Heaven help us, this is going to be ugly!"
"Yes sir, " Tellman said with alacrity. That was something he was willing to do, and a great deal better than waiting around for anyone from the French Embassy. "I'll find out everything I can." And with an air of busyness he set off, taking the steps two at a time, at considerable risk, given the slipperiness of the wet stone.
Pitt returned his attention to the punt and its cargo. He examined the boat itself more closely. It was lying low in the water and he had not until then wondered why. Now he realized on handling and touching the wood that it was old and many of the outer boards were rotted and waterlogged. It had foundered against the stairs rather than simply caught against them. It was obviously not a pleasure boat which anyone currently used on the river. It must have lain idle somewhere for a considerable time.
Pitt looked again at the body with its manacled wrists and chained ankles, its grotesque position. An overriding passion had driven his murderer, a love, or hate, a terror or need, had made this disposition of the corpse as much part of his crime as the killing itself. It must have been a tremendous risk to wait long enough to take off whatever clothes the dead man was wearing, dress him in this torn silk and velvet gown and chain him onto the punt in this obscene position, then set the boat adrift out in the water, getting himself wet in the process. Why had anyone bothered?
The answer to that might be the answer to everything.
For superintendent Thomas Pitt, the sight of the dead man riding the morning tide of the Thames is unforgettable. He lies in a battered punt drifting through the morning mist, his arms and legs chained to the boat's sides. He is clad in a torn green gown and flowers bestrew his battered body.
Pitt's determined search for answers to the victim's identity leads him deep into London's bohemia to the theatre where beautiful Cecily Antrim is outraging society with her bold portrayal of a modern woman--and into studios where masters of light and shadow are experimenting with the fascinating new art of photography. But only Pitt's most relentless pursuit enables him to identify the wildfire passions raging through this tragedy of good and evil, to hunt down the guilty and protect the
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