There would be plenty of time to regret my decision on the way to the mortuary. I wasn't entirely sure why I had agreed to do what would certainly be an unpleasant task. I couldn't be the only locksmith in London capable of removing a bracelet from the dead woman's wrist.
Deep down, however, I knew the reason. Two reasons, really.
The first was that, like most Londoners, I was willing to do whatever I could to help the British cause. My two cousins, who had been raised practically as my brothers, were away doing their bit, Colm in the RAF and Toby in the army. We hadn't heard from Toby since the Battle of Dunkirk, nor had there been any official word of what had happened to him. At this point, the best we could hope for was that he was in a German stalag somewhere, waiting to come home to us.
If my cousins were risking their lives in this war, the least I could do was remove this bracelet, or whatever it was, if the major thought it might provide some sort of important information.
There was also the second, less noble motivation. I had to admit that a part of me had reveled in the excitement and danger of our previous mission. I had missed that feeling during the past few weeks of dull locksmithing jobs. Thieving had had its own kind of thrill, but there was something even more exhilarating in doing a dangerous job for a noble cause.
I would die before I admitted it to him, but the truth was some part of me had been hoping the major would turn up with a need for our services. This wasn't exactly what I'd had in mind, but I would take what I could get.
"Will you give me five minutes to clean up?" I asked the major.
He ran his eyes over me—probably thinking it would take more than five minutes for me to make myself presentable—and gave a short nod. "I'll be in the car."
I hurried to my flat, where I scrubbed my face and hands and changed into a fresh blouse and a tweed skirt. Then I pulled the kerchief and pins from my hair, running a comb through it until it was halfway under control.
In less than five minutes, I joined Major Ramsey in the big government car parked in front of the house.
I was greeted warmly by Jakub, the major's driver. We'd become acquainted during my last adventure with the major. Jakub and his wife had fled Poland before the Nazi invasion, and their son, a soldier in the Polish army, had been missing in action.
"Any word of your son?" I asked him.
He shook his head. "Not yet, miss. But soon. I think we shall hear very soon."
"Yes, of course. There's no word of my cousin either. But we are still hoping for the best."
There wasn't much more to be said of the matter. This war was quickly teaching me that sometimes the best one could do was carry on and hope for the best.
We rode along in silence after that. The major was a taciturn sort of man in the best of conditions, and today he was positively grim.
I was certain there was more to all of this than he was telling me. A dead woman, wearing a mysterious bracelet or not, would not ordinarily be enough to call in military intelligence. So what was it that had caught his attention about this woman's death? I wondered if I would discover it upon seeing the body.
We arrived at the hospital, entering through a side door, and I followed the major along a long hall, down a flight of stairs, and through a set of double doors into the mortuary. It was a large room with rows of steel tables, an oversize sink, and cupboards and shelves filled with bottles and medical instruments. It was brightly lit and cool. There was the unpleasant scent of death and chemicals in the still air, and I fought the urge to shudder.
I followed the major farther into the room, toward where a figure was standing, his back to us, in an even brighter circle of light that was shining down from an overhead light onto the table before him.
"Dr. Barker," the major said.
A man turned. I realized with a start that there was a body lying on the table near him. The sheet covering the body was pulled back to the waist, a large, white arm poking out, nautical tattoos visible against the stark skin. This was a man, not a woman, so it was not the body we had come to see. It was, nevertheless, a bleak reminder of what this place was.
"Ah. Ramsey," the doctor said. He didn't sound particularly pleased to see the major. This didn't entirely surprise me, because Major Ramsey was the sort of chap who went around bending people to his will without caring a jot if they liked him or not as long as they did what he said.
"I've brought along the locksmith," the major replied in an equally cool tone. It seemed he wasn't any fonder of the doctor than the doctor was of him.
This excerpt ends on page 13 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Metropolis by B. A. Shapiro.