The Left Hand of Justice (March 2013)
“Your timing is impeccable, Monsieur le Prefet,” Corbeau said as she watched Sophie scurry for cover. She turned back to him. “How did you know I’d be here?”
“I looked first at Oubliette, but they told me you wouldn’t be back until you’d settled a little matter of a broken chair and a bottle of red Bordeaux. Hmm. An agent in your position should know better than to be caught in establishments like that. And brawling like a common….” He shook his head. “Not at all the image the Sûreté wishes to project.”
“What I do on my own time is my own affair, Monsieur.”
“Au contraire, Inspector. The king considers public morality to be a top priority. And as a representative of His Majesty, your public comportment is most definitely his affair.”
It was true, and there wasn’t anything Corbeau could say about it. Every week it seemed, Vautrin passed down another list of places, people and activities forbidden to agents of the Sûreté. It was almost as much fun for him as his surprise inspections of agents’ billets de confession–the proof they were required to produce on demand that they had recently confessed their sins to a priest. She was surprised the man hadn’t resorted to bed checks.
Javert frowned, peering closer. “That’s a nasty bruise you’ve got. You ought to get some raw meat on that.”
“Sure. The minute my salary allows me to afford meat.”
“I’ll look into it. We can’t very well have you running to Jacques every month.”
Corbeau was grateful that the darkness inside the carriage hid her embarrassment–embarrassment that made her want to shrink into the fine leather upholstery when the prefect tossed a small fabric pouch in her direction. The pouch landed on the seat beside her with the unmistakable clatter of coins. Ignoring it, Corbeau said, “You still didn’t answer my question.”
“You’re not in a position to ask questions, Inspector. But if you insist, I knew that if you were half the officer your records suggest, you’d be on top of these disturbances. And I wasn’t disappointed.”
From Turnbull House (In Progress)
“If you don’t mind, sir,” he interrupted.
I turned. “You mustn’t call me sir.”
“Would it be too much trouble if I had a quick scrub?” He nodded toward the basin and pitcher on their stand next to the commode-screen.
“Of course,” I said, relieved that he’d found his own momentary entertainment. “If you’d like, I’ll boil some water, and you can have a proper tub-wash.”
He seemed delighted by the prospect, and as he gave his face and hands a preliminary rinse, I set out a copper tub in front of the fireplace and hung a bucket of water above the coal-fire to boil. When the water began to bubble, I poured it into the tub, added an equal part of cold from the jug beside the fireplace, and arranged the commode-screen to provide him a modicum of privacy—an act that moved the poor man almost to tears.
“Thank…thank you…sir…I mean…Mr. Adler.”
He had completely disrobed by that point, his oversized trousers and shirt in a pool on the floor. Although he’d thought nothing of standing naked before who knew how many other men, he was peeking out at me from behind the age-yellowed screen like a virgin. It was charming.
“All things considered, I think it’s best if you call me Ira.”
A shy smile broke over his face at that, and I found myself mirroring it. I do enjoy standing on ceremony, as anyone who has scrabbled his way up from the gutter inevitably does. But with Marcus, it didn’t seem quite fair. Perhaps because he was in the same gutter I’d been in at his age–my early twenties. No, I’d never been one for the needle, but I had peddled my arse all over the East End, and it was only luck and the patronage of a certain Cain Goddard that had kept that arse out of Pentonville.
“All right, then, Mr…Ira.”
I swear I heard a tinkle of bells when he smiled that time. He ducked back behind the screen, and, shaking my head, I set about gathering a towel, an extra blanket, and a pillow, so that my guest could make a bed before the fire. The great clock struck one-thirty, and soon my lonely flat was alive with happy splashing sounds. I set the bedding on the floor, and hung his clothes over one side of the screen to dry.
Only when I crossed to my chest of drawers to find him a spare set of nightclothes, did I notice the shapely silhouette the fire was casting against the fabric of the screen. A better man would have averted his eyes. He certainly wouldn’t have let his gaze linger on the shadow of young Marcus’s supple limbs, or imagined his own hand guiding the cloth over his smooth skin.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am, Mr. Ira.” My pulse raced guiltily. Grateful. He was grateful, and I was raking my eyes over the delicious curve of his silhouetted arse. I turned my back to the screen. “I’m sure we can find some way for me to repay you.”
“N-not necessary,” I stammered. When I say it had been a long time, I’m not speaking in terms of days. A better man would have immediately dismissed the images parading past my mind’s eye. A better man would have manufactured some crisis to excuse himself from the flat until young Marcus was safely clothed and asleep, alone and unmolested beside the fire. I’ve said before that I’m no saint, but I like to think I’m no cad, either. The irony of my current predicament—seeing as Turnbull House was in the business of helping people out of the flesh trade rather than into it—was certainly not lost on me.
“Come on,” Marcus said. The splashing had stopped and—God help me, he was toweling himself off—he had traded his supplicating tones for a knowing purr. “There must be somefin’ I can do to show me gratitude.”