The Hellfire Conspiracy
away at my child’s body so he can have his bloody two quid.”
    DeVere was well informed. The coroner’s position was indeed elected, and for each postmortem he performed he received a payment of two pounds. The Stepney coroner, Dr. Vandeleur, was no drinker, which we knew from working with him on earlier cases. He was a competent coroner and medical man, which I’d heard was not always the case.
    “When can you come and identify the body, sir?”
    “I’ll be there in an hour. I must see that my wife is sedated.”
    “Afterward,” Barker added, “perhaps we might confer about what you wish us to do.”
    DeVere nodded absently. He rose, nodded again, and left the room. Decorum had been set at naught in deference to the death of a child. We rose and saw ourselves out.
    In the street, the Guv thanked Swanson for allowing him to be there, and we left on foot. That morning, Mac had pressed our umbrellas and macintoshes upon us, and I was glad he had, for it began raining. I could not get the image of Gwendolyn DeVere’s face out of my head, with its calm features and half-closed lids. For some reason, she made me think of my late wife, Jenny. I had failed her, as we, Barker and I, had failed Miss DeVere. Men make these promises too cavalierly, I thought, to shelter and protect someone from any harm whatsoever. It is pure swank on our part. Man is not omniscient; he cannot watch everyone twenty-four hours a day; and no man is invincible, not even Cyrus Barker. One can no more escape Fate than one can the rain that now fell upon our umbrellas.
    We walked in silence. There was little chance of finding a vehicle in this weather. Barker looked as grim as I had ever seen him. We went a half mile to Waltham Green station and boarded a train.
    Eventually we reached Whitehall and the blessed dryness of our antechamber. We shook off our raincoats and hung them, greeted Jenkins in monosyllables, and went into our offices. The Guv sat down in his big leather swivel chair and rested his head in the corner of its wing, ignoring the stack of entreaties from people wishing to hire one of the most illustrious private enquiry agents in London. Instead, he sat forlornly, drawing abstract runes with his finger on the edge of his desk. He did not even take solace with his pipe. Perhaps he thought he did not deserve it.
    I am suggestible, and being locked up with a brooding employer did not help my confidence. Barker was going to lose this case, I thought. DeVere was going to come soon and dismiss us. Word would get out of our defeat, and there would be fewer letters requesting our services. The advertisement he placed in The Times would suddenly take on a pleading tone. Barker would begin to consider returning to his old life aboard ship. Perhaps he would sign on as captain aboard a vessel bound for Asia, and where would that leave me? There were two very silent and self-absorbed men in Craig’s Court that day.
    DeVere came in from the pouring rain sometime later, looking as if his face were clay and some sculptor had just carved fresh lines around his mouth and eyes. He fell into our visitor’s chair and the breath slowly drained out of him.
    “It was she?” Barker asked.
    Trevor DeVere nodded.
    “You have my condolences, sir, on the loss of your daughter. She is in a better place, but I do not suppose that is of much comfort to you right now. You have several options in front of you. You may discharge me and see to the needs of your wife. In time, perhaps, the two of you will find acceptance in this, if not peace.
    “Your second choice is to retain my services and allow me to search for your daughter’s killer. It may take time, but I still believe I can do it. It is possible, however, that finding her murderer will give you cold comfort. It shall not bring her back and will allow the memory of her death to linger in your home for months, even years to come.”
    “I came here to sack you, Barker,” DeVere finally said, “though

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