Leo and Harry went to the dilapidated entrance of the smaller house. A cluster of nail holes was all that remained of a long-gone door knocker. Leo struck the door with his knuckles in a controlled hammer, when he longed to kick it down with the full force of his impatience.
In a moment, the door creaked open, and Leo was faced with the pale and undernourished countenance of William. The young man’s eyes dilated in alarm as he recognized Leo. Had there been any color to his complexion, it would have leached out at once. He tried to close the door again, but Leo shouldered his way forward.
Grabbing William’s wrist, Leo forced it upward and surveyed the bloodstained bandage on his hand. Blood on the bed … the thought of what this man might have done to Cat ignited a rage so violent that it obliterated every other awareness. He stopped thinking altogether. A minute later, he found himself on the floor, straddling William’s body and battering him mercilessly. He was dimly aware of Harry shouting his name and endeavoring to pull him off.
Alerted by the fracas, the Bully stormed through the doorway and launched at him. Leo flipped the heavier, larger man over his head, causing his body to slam to the floor with an impetus that shook the house to its frame. The Bully lurched to his feet, and his fists, the size of Sunday roasts, whipped through the air with bone-crushing force. Leo leaped back, raising his guard, then jabbed forward with his right. The Bully blocked him easily. Leo, however, did not fight according to the London Prize Ring rules. He followed with a side kick to the kneecap. As the Bully bent over with a grunt of pain, Leo delivered a fouetté, or whip kick, to the head. The Bully toppled to the floor, right at Harry’s feet.
Reflecting that his brother-in-law was one of the dirtier fighters he’d ever seen, Harry gave him a short nod and headed into the empty receiving room.
The house was eerily vacant, quiet except for Leo’s and Harry’s shouts as they searched for Catherine. The place reeked of opium smoke, the windows filmed with such thick grime that curtains were entirely unnecessary. Every room was shrouded in filth. Dust upon dust. Corners clotted with webs, carpets blossomed with stains, wood floors scarred and buckled.
Harry saw a room upstairs where lamplight oozed into the hallway shadows, filtering through a miasma of smoke. He took the steps two and three at a time, his heart hammering.
The form of an old woman was curled on the settee. The loose folds of her black dress couldn’t conceal the stick-thin lines of her body, gnarled like the trunk of a crab apple tree. She appeared only half conscious, her bony fingers caressing the length of a leather hookah hose as if it were a pet serpent.
Harry approached her, put his hand on her head, and pushed it back to view her face.
“Who are you?” she croaked. The whites of her eyes were stained, as if they had been soaked in tea. Harry struggled not to recoil at the smell of her breath.
“I’ve come for Catherine,” he said. “Tell me where she is.”
She stared at him fixedly. “The brother…”
“Yes, where is she? Where are you keeping her? The brothel?”
Althea let go of the leather hose and hugged herself.
“My brother never came for me,” she said plaintively, perspiration and tears seeping through the powder on her face, turning it into a creamy paste. “You can’t have her.” But her gaze chased off to the side, in the direction of the stairs leading to the third floor.
Galvanized, Harry rushed from the room and up the stairs. A blessed waft of cool air and a ray of natural light came from one of the two rooms at the top. He went inside, his gaze sweeping across the stagnant room. The bed was in disarray and the window had been thrown open.
Harry froze, sharp pain lancing through his chest. His heart had stopped with fear. “Cat!” he heard himself shout, running to the window. Gulping for air, he looked down at the street three stories below.
But there was no broken body, no blood, nothing on the street below except rubbish and manure.
At the periphery of his vision, a white flutter caught his attention, like the flapping of a bird’s wings. Turning his head to the left, Harry drew in a quick breath as he saw his sister.
Catherine was in a white nightgown, perched on the edge of a winged gable. She was only about three yards away, having crept along an incredibly narrow sill that was cantilevered over the second story below. Her arms were locked around her slender knees, and she was shivering violently. The breeze played with the loose locks of her hair, glittering banners dancing against the gray sky. One puff of wind, one momentary loss of balance, would knock her off the gable.
Even more alarming than Catherine’s precarious perch was the vacancy of her expression.
“Cat,” Harry said carefully, and her face turned in his direction.
She didn’t seem to recognize him.
“Don’t move,” Harry said hoarsely. “Stay still, Cat.” He ducked his head inside the house long enough to shout, “Ramsay!” and then his head emerged from the window again. “Cat, don’t move a muscle. Don’t even blink.”
She didn’t say a word, only sat and continued to shiver, her gaze unfocused.
Leo came up behind Harry and stuck his own head out the window. Harry heard Leo’s breath catch. “Sweet mother of God.” Taking stock of the situation, Leo became very, very calm. “She’s as high as a piper,” he said. “This is going to be a pretty trick.”
“I’ll walk along the sill,” Harry said. “I’m not afraid of heights.”