“It’s a bad one, sir.” The policeman shook his head as he stepped back on the wharf, allowing Commander Monk of the Thames River Police to reach the top of the stone stairs leading up from the water. Monk moved onto the dock itself. Hooper had made fast the two-oar police boat the pair had come in and was close behind him.
To the south, the Pool of London was already busy. Huge cranes lifted loads of bales from ships’ holds and swung them ponderously over to the docks. The water was congested with boats at anchor, waiting their turn; barges loading; ferries going back and forth from one side of the river to the other. Black masts were a tangle of lines against the backdrop of the city and its smoke.
“What’s unusually bad?” Monk asked. “Who is he?”
“He’s one o’ them Hungarians.”
“Hungarians?” Monk’s curiosity was piqued.
“Yes, sir. Got a few of them around ’ere. Not thousands, like, but enough.”
The policeman led them past stacks of timber into a storage bay, then opened the door into one of the warehouses.
Monk followed, and Hooper after him.
Inside was just like any other warehouse--packed with timber, unopened boxes and bales of goods--except that no one was working.
The policeman observed Monk’s glance. “Sent ’em home. Only make it more muddled,” he added. “Best they don’t see any of it.”
“Was it one of them who found him?” Monk asked.
“No, sir. Didn’t know ’e was even there. Thought ’e were at ’ome, where ’e should ’a been at that hour.”
Monk was beside him now, keeping step across the floor and to the stairs that led up to the offices.
“So who did?”
“A Mr. Dob-- something. I can’t say them names right.”
“Lead the way,” Monk directed. “I suppose you’ve called the police surgeon?”
“Oh, yes, sir. And I didn’t touch a thing, believe me!”
Monk felt a chill of premonition, but he made no reply.
At the top of the stairs he followed a short passage, then came to a door. There were low voices murmuring inside. The policeman knocked once, then opened it and stood back for Monk to go in.
The room was fairly large for an office, and the light was good. Monk had seen death before. It was a large part of his job. But this was more violent than usual, and the raw smell of blood filled the air. It seemed to be over everything, as if the poor man had staggered and fallen against the chairs, the table and even the walls. Now he lay on his back on the floor, and an army rifle with its fixed bayonet was sticking up from his chest like a broken mast, crooked and looking as if it would fall awry at any moment.
The middle-aged man kneeling on the floor beside the body turned and looked up at him. “Commander Monk. Thought they’d send for you,” he said drily. “Not a job any man’d keep, if he could push it off on someone else. Place opens onto the water, so I suppose it’s yours.”
“Good morning, Dr. Hyde,” Monk said bleakly. He had known and respected the police surgeon for some time. “What can you tell me, other than that?”
“Dead about two hours, I would say. Not entirely a medical opinion. Could be longer, except that the warehouse itself was closed until six, and he hasn’t been here all night, so he must have come since then. No way in here except up these stairs.”
“But at least an hour and a half?” Monk pressed him. It was a tight time period, and that should help.
“Still warm,” Hyde answered. “And the first workers got here about an hour ago. Your friend here”--he gestured to the policeman--“will tell you that none of the men on the warehouse floor came up here. So if it was them, then they’re all in on it, lying their heads off. You could try them, of course.” He looked back at the corpse. “Looks plain enough. Bayonet through the chest. Bled to death in a few minutes.”
Monk looked around the blood-spattered room.
“I didn’t say immediately!” Hyde snapped. “And there are cuts on his hands and arms. In fact all the fingers on his right hand are broken.”
“A fight?” Monk was hopeful. This man was big, heavy. Whoever fought with him should have a few good bruises as well, possibly more than that.
“Not much of one.” Hyde pulled his face into an expression of disgust. “One man armed with a fixed bayonet, and the other apparently with nothing.”
“But his fist was damaged,” Monk argued. “So at least he got in one pretty good blow.”
“You don’t listen, man! I said his fingers were broken. All of them, and it looks intentional. Not evenly, as they more likely would be if he hit something. Dislocated and broken, like deliberate mutilation.”
Monk said nothing. It was conscious brutality, not the result of hot temper, more like calculated torture.
Hyde grunted and looked back again at the corpse. “I’ll give you the rifle and bayonet when I’ve taken it out of him, at the morgue. There is more to the wound than just this. There’s blood on all those candles over there”--he gestured to several tables and ledges--“and those torn‑up bits of paper. But none on his hands. I suppose you noticed that?”
Monk had not. But he had noticed that the man’s mouth was badly disfigured, and covered with blood.
“Is that more than just bruising?” he asked. “A punch in the mouth, against his own teeth?”
Hyde bent closer, and was silent for several moments. “No,” he said at last. He swallowed. “It looks like he’s knocked--or pulled--most of his teeth out. Poor fellow.”
“Who is he?” Monk asked.
The other man in the room came forward. He was of average height and ordinary build. In fact, there was nothing unusual about him until he spoke. His voice was penetrating, even when quietly used, and his eyes were an extraordinarily clear and piercing blue. He looked at Monk in a way that might have been deferential. “His name was Imrus Fodor, sir. I knew him only slightly, but we Hungarians are not so many here in this part of London that we are strangers to each other.” He spoke English with barely any accent.
“Thank you.” Monk looked at the man steadily. “How do you come to be here, Mr. . . . ?”
“Dobokai, sir, Antal Dobokai. I am a pharmacist. I have a small shop on Mercer Street. I came to deliver a potion to poor . . . Fodor. For his feet.” He held up a brown paper bag.
“Do you normally make your own deliveries?” Monk asked curiously. “And at this hour of the morning?”
“If I am not busy, yes. It is a small service. It pays in loyalty, and I do not dislike the walk, especially at this time of the year.” Dobokai’s eyes did not waver for an instant. There was such an intensity of emotion in him that Monk found it hard to look away. But if he had set out to perform a small kindness, and come in to find this bloody carnage, it was hardly surprising that he was emotionally raw. Any sane man would be.
“I’m sorry you had to discover this.” Monk meant it. If he found it shocking himself, what must this ordinary domestic chemist feel, when it had happened to a man he knew? But better to ask the questions now, while the memory was part of his immediate experience, than have to revisit it later. “Can you tell me what happened from the time you left your own premises?”
Dobokai blinked; his concentration was obvious, and intense. He managed to continue while Hyde’s assistants came in and put the body on a stretcher. They maneuvered around so as not to bump into anything, and carried the body out. Hyde followed immediately after them, leaving Monk alone with Dobokai and the policeman. Monk knew the young man would be making a plan of the building, and finding every possible way anyone could have come in or gone out.
“I woke early,” Dobokai said quietly. “At about six I decided to collect some of the medicines that needed delivering today. I put Fodor’s potion in a bag.” He opened another bag and showed Monk several screws of white powder.
“And then . . . ?” Monk prompted.
“I know that Mrs. Stanley rises early too. Can’t sleep, poor woman. I delivered her opium at about half-past six--”
“Where does she live?” Monk interrupted.
“On Tarling Street, right near the crossroads.”
“I took Mr. Dawkins his laudanum. He lives a little farther down, on Martha Street,” Dobokai replied. “Then I stopped at the Hungarian café on the corner of the High Street and had a cup of coffee and a pastry. I knew they wouldn’t be open for business here until eight o’clock, which is when I arrived.”
Monk turned to the policeman. “Did any of the men get here early?”
“No, sir, I asked them. According to what they say, they all came at the same time: eight o’clock exactly. The dead man was very strict. Bit of a martinet about time. Dock any man who was late.”
Dobokai interrupted. “But he very rarely kept them late, and if he did, he paid well for it.”
“And all the men came here together?” Monk pressed.
“Yes, sir, that’s what they said--all of them,” the policeman agreed. “Looks like he was killed before anyone got here. Agrees with what the doc said. Sorry, sir, the police surgeon,” he amended.
“But you came up here, Mr. Dobokai?” Monk reaffirmed. “Just after eight. Were the workers all here?”
“Yes. I . . . I went up to give him the potion, and I found . . . this.” His eyes flickered around the room, then back at Monk. He had a naturally sallow complexion, but now he looked ill.
“Did you happen to notice the men working downstairs when you passed them? Was there anyone you knew?” It was perhaps a foolish question, but sometimes people recalled more than they expected to, even trivia that seemed of no importance.
“Yes, sir,” Dobokai replied, a little color returning to his face. “There were seven men. I know them by sight, but that’s all.”
Monk was surprised at the exact number. “Whereabouts? Can you draw a sketch for the constable?”
“Two were on the big bench just inside the door,” Dobokai answered without hesitation. “One standing in the middle of the floor. And four along the bench at the back. They had tools out. Three wood saws, and the last one had a pair of pliers in his . . . left hand.”
“You are unusually observant. Thank you.”
“Not a day I’ll forget,” Dobokai said quietly. “Poor Fodor. Before you ask me, I have no idea who would have done this to him. He seemed a very ordinary sort of man to me. Lived alone. His wife’s dead. Worked hard to build his business up, and he was doing well. I think . . . I think you’ve got a lunatic here. The place is . . .” He turned around slowly, looking at the blood, the broken candles, their wicks scarlet as if they had been dipped in the dead man’s wounds. There must have been sixteen or seventeen of them, all different shapes and sizes. “What sane man could do this?” he asked helplessly. “I will help you to solve this. I know them. I will translate for you, for those whose English is not good. Anything--”
“Thank you,” Monk said, cutting him off. “If I need your help, I shall ask you, and be grateful for it.” He understood Dobokai’s fear, his need to feel that he was doing something, not just standing by. “First we shall speak to the men. I’ll have someone go through Fodor’s business accounts--monies due, owed, and so on. That may tell us something.”
Dobokai looked at him skeptically. “This is how you settle overdue debts in England? I have been here in your country for many years, Commander. Before I was in London, I was in Yorkshire. Good steel-making country. Good people. This is not business, not English business.”
Monk looked into Dobokai’s remarkable, clear blue eyes, and realized his error. He had underestimated this man. “No, of course it isn’t,” he agreed. “We have to go through the motions, just to exclude the possibility. But you are right. This is hatred, a terrible, uncontrolled passion to destroy. Yet I don’t want to frighten people if I can avoid it. And we must find out all we can. Looking into his business is as good a way to start as any other. It will allow us to ask questions.”
“I see. I see,” Dobokai said quickly. “A way in. Of course. I should have understood. Yes. You cannot tell people there is a monster loose; they will panic. I shall tell no one how . . . what a horror this is. You will ask people what they have seen, and bit by bit you will work it out.” He looked around the room again. “Such hatred,” he whispered, not to Monk but to himself.
Monk had the powerful feeling that Dobokai was realizing something that he had never seen before, not fully, not like this. In due course, perhaps he, Monk, would find out what it was.
“Thank you, Mr. Dobokai,” he said more gently. “We’ll stay here a little longer, speak to the workers, the neighbors, and see if anybody has noticed anything different. In case we need you, leave your exact address with Mr. Hooper, outside, and let us know if you think of anything further.”
“Yes,” Dobokai agreed. “Yes, of course.” Now he was unsurprisingly quite relieved to excuse himself and leave the awful room, escorted by the constable.
Monk looked around again, alone now. Everything he saw--the splashes of blood, the blood-daubed candles, two of them a dark purple, close to blue, the torn‑up paper, which looked like it might be a letter of some kind--all of it spoke of rage, absolutely out of control, almost beyond sanity. What sane man did this to another?
But where had such extreme feeling come from, that no one had seen it? Or perhaps they had? If he looked in the right place, surely he would find something to tell him that Fodor himself had been aware of it. And there would be others who could help, colleagues of Fodor, friends. Such hatred did not spring into being without a deep foundation.
Hooper came back from questioning the employees and searching the building for traces of entry or exit. He and Monk had worked together for some time now, two or three years at least. Hooper was a big man, soft-spoken, but there was a depth of both intelligence and emotion beneath his controlled manner; Monk had seen it in his extraordinary loyalty. When everyone else had considered Monk guilty of error, and worse, Hooper had risked his own life to save him, not to mention his career to defend him.