Home > Murder on Charles Street

Murder on Charles Street
Author: Leighann Dobbs

Chapter One

 

 

W

ednesday, February 19, 1817.

St. James’s Square, London.

 

Lady Katherine Irvine wouldn’t entrust the health of her beloved pug to simply any man. Fortunately, in the scant month since she had moved into Number Two Charles Street, Dr. Stuart Gammon had earned her trust. A retired physician, he now spent his days treating the ailments of neighborhood pets and devoutly refusing any suggestion that he return to medicine. The moment Katherine knocked on his garden door, the door by which she habitually entered, he took one look at her haggard face and reached out for the dog in her arms.

Emma was listless. Since moving into their new home, she’d taken to barking at every passerby. But today, despite Katherine’s best efforts, the pug hadn’t even been interested in barking at the passing hacks. She barely wagged her tail when she saw other dogs trotting past on their leashes.

“I’m afraid something is very wrong with her.”

Dr. Gammon somberly looked into each of Emma’s eyes in turn before he stepped back and ushered Katherine into the candlelit room. The old man, with perhaps sixty years in his dish, didn’t keep any permanent servants on staff. The only sign of life in the eerily silent townhouse was the flickering candle perched next to the stove, alongside the washed cup and plate he kept at hand. He saw no sense in keeping more than that on hand, given that he was only one person—or so he’d confided to Katherine the first time she’d noticed the habit.

As an earl’s daughter, Katherine had always lived in a chaotic household that no doubt churned out more dirty dishes than a small army. In her father’s house, the kitchen had been the heart of the home, thriving with life. Since leaving that lofty Mayfair residence, Katherine hadn’t quite grown accustomed to walking into a kitchen as dark, drafty, and cold as the one Dr. Gammon kept. Since he didn’t cook for himself, he rarely occupied the room.

Katherine stamped her boots clear of the snow as she entered the lifeless kitchen. The door shut out the howl of the wind, but the winter chill seemed to seep in from every nook and cranny. It chased shadows in its wake, making Katherine feel as if she’d walked into the pages of a gothic novel. Despite the many murders she had investigated with and without her father’s help, Katherine shoved those macabre thoughts aside and focused her attention on the only important detail in the room—the far-too-meek animal cradled in Dr. Gammon’s arms.

Please, let this be no more than a silly fright.

“How long has she acted like this?” Dr. Gammon asked as he probed the sensitive skin nestled in the fold of Emma’s ear.

“Since this morning. I’m not certain… I didn’t find her doing it, but some of the pages ripped from my notebook are missing. I’m afraid she might have eaten them.” Normally, Katherine would be distraught over losing so much information. But she had a good memory, and her dog was far more important than a few scribbled notes for a colleague. She hadn’t taken the lead on an investigation since the new year. She’d been far too busy moving into her new home and beginning this next step in her journey of independence.

All this would not have been possible had she not solved that first murder to start her career, bringing the Pink Ribbon Murderer to justice. And although she intended to continue her investigations, she had other things to occupy her mind. Decorating the house. Preparing for her stepmother to deliver Katherine a new sibling in a few scant months. Bracing herself for her closest friend’s upcoming nuptials. And now Emma.

Nothing bad will happen to her. She trusted Dr. Gammon, after all. Swallowing against the swell of tears, Katherine met the old man’s shrewd gaze. “Is there anything you can do?”

Her voice trembled. She clasped her gloved hands in front of herself so tightly, they ached.

Dr. Gammon, a few inches shorter than her, shifted the small dog into one arm and beckoned Katherine forth with the other. He reclaimed the candlestick, his hand steady despite his age. “Come with me into the parlor. Let’s see.”

Breathing out a slow breath of relief, Katherine shook her head to rid herself of the insistent worries that plagued her. She knew Emma wouldn’t live forever, but she was a young dog yet. She had lived for the better part of a decade, if not more. Katherine braced herself, holding hope in her heart and the breath in her lungs as she followed her neighbor into the main sitting room.

She’d never seen much of the house aside from these two rooms. They were cozy rooms, well lived-in, and gave off the subtle indications of frequent visitors. The sofa was mottled with faded stains from the paws of the patients he treated. Katherine perched on the edge and waited for him to conduct his examination of her pet.

He set Emma down in the middle of an armchair and bent over a sheaf of papers spilling out over the low table between them. He was usually jovial, meeting Katherine with a smile and asking after Harriet, her maid and the sole other person living at Number Two Charles Street at the moment. Today, Dr. Gammon pressed his lips together and kept mum. The way he gathered the papers, haphazardly pulling them into a pile and then depositing them out of sight in the corner, made her frown.

“Did I interrupt you?”

For several awful minutes, she’d been afraid he wasn’t home and that nothing could be done for Emma. She hadn’t stopped to think that he might have more important matters to which to attend.

“No, of course not. I’m an old man alone with my thoughts, nothing more.”

Katherine frowned, her investigative instincts resurfacing. “Do those thoughts have anything to do with the papers you put in the corner?”

He met her gaze with his usual smile as he lowered himself into the armchair, displacing Emma onto his lap in the process. “You’re too astute for your own good. But I promise you, it is of no matter. I had the vain thought that I made a mistake with one of my past patients. I was trying to look through my notes to confirm it or set my mind at ease.”

Dr. Gammon took meticulous notes, even for his non-human patients. In the month since she had moved to the neighborhood, he must have written ten pages about Emma. The pug was constantly getting into places where she ought not to be. She had an uncanny knack for taking what wasn’t hers, and half the time, the stolen goods went down her gullet. But even so, she rarely seemed so out of sorts as this.

“Would you like another set of eyes to go over the issue?” It might give her something to think about while he finished his examination of her dog.

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