Devil in Winter Page 83

Since the entire residence consisted of three rooms and a closet, it was not difficult to locate Egan. The former club manager was settled in a large chair by the hearth of a parlor that smelled strongly of liquor and urine. A collection of bottles lined the sills of both windows, and a few more were set by the heart. Wearing the glassy-eyed expression of a perpetual drunkard, Egan beheld his two visitors without surprise. He looked exactly as he had when Sebastian had dismissed him two months earlier, bloated and unkempt, with carious teeth, a great red bulb of a nose, and a ruddy complexion webbed with spidery veins. Lifting a glass of spirits to his mouth, he drank deeply and grinned as he regarded them with watery gray eyes.

“I heard your guts had been blasted out,” he said to Sebastian. “But since you don’t look to be a ghost, I suppose the story was false.”

“Actually, it’s true,” Sebastian replied, his gaze chilling. “But the devil wouldn’t have me.” The thought that Egan might be responsible for the attempted murder of his wife made it difficult for him to keep from attacking the bastard. Only the fact that he had information they needed was sufficient to keep Sebastian in check.

Egan let out a low chuckle and waved toward the row of bottles. “Pour yourselves a drink, if you like. Not often that I’m visited by such high-kick gentlemen.”

Westcliff spoke calmly. “No thank you. We’ve come to ask about a previous visitor of yours. Mr. Joss Bullard. Where is he?”

Taking another deep guzzle of the spirits in his glass, Egan regarded him stonily. “How the devil should I know?”

Withdrawing the custom-made pistol from his pocket, Westcliff displayed it in an open palm.

The drunkard’s eyes bulged, and his face was suddenly covered in a wash of purple. “Where did you get that?” he wheezed.

“Bullard used it the night of the shooting,” Sebastian said, struggling for discipline, when every nerve was singing with rage. “And although I doubt the misshapen lump that is currently sitting on your shoulders contains anything close to a functioning brain, even you should be able to figure out the implications of your involvement in attempted murder. Care for a nice long stay in a Fleet Ditch jail? That can be arranged in a matter of—”

“St. Vincent,” Westcliff murmured in quiet warning, while Egan spluttered and choked.

“He must have stolen it from me!” Egan cried, the liquor splashing from his glass to the floor. “Thieving little bastard—I didn’t know he’d gotten it. It’s not my fault, I tell you! I want nothing except to be left in peace. Damn his eyes!”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“Maybe three weeks ago.” Polishing off his drink, Egan snatched up the bottle from the floor and nursed from it like a starving infant. “He came to stay every now and again, after he left Jenner’s. He had nowhere to go. They wouldn’t even let him sleep in a padding ken, once the pox started showing.”

Sebastian and Westcliff exchanged a swift glance. “Pox?” Sebastian asked suspiciously, for there were many different diseases that were referred to as pox. “What kind?”

Egan stared at him scornfully. “Distemper. Pox that led to madness. Even before he left Jenner’s, there were signs…the slow speech, the tremors of his face…the cracks and dents on his nose. You’d have to have been blind not to notice.”

“I’m not usually given to examining my employees’ appearances that closely,” Sebastian said sardonically, while thoughts rushed through his mind. Distemper pox was a nasty disease transmitted by sexual contact, leading to what doctors referred to as “paresis of the insane.” It resulted in madness, sometime partial paralysis, and a gruesome wasting of the fleshy parts of the body, including the soft tissue of the nose. If Bullard was indeed the victim of distemper pox, and it had progressed this far, there was no hope for him. But why, in the grip of dementia, had he focused on Evie?

“His mind has probably gone by now,” Egan said bitterly, raising the bottle for another numbing swig. He closed his eyes briefly against the burn of the spirits, and let his chin rest on his chest. “The boy came here the night of the shooting, ranting about having killed you. Shaking in every limb, he was, and complaining of noise and pain in his head. He was full of whims and notions. Beyond reason. So I paid a man to take him to a ward for incurables—the one at the turnpike that leads to Knightsbridge. Bullard is there now, either dead or in a state that would make death a damned mercy.”

Sebastian spoke with taut impatience rather than compassion. “Why did he try to kill my wife? God knows she never did him any harm.”

Egan replied morosely. “He always despised her, poor little bastard. Even in childhood. After one of Evangeline’s visits to the club, when Bullard saw the delight Jenner took in her, he would be sullen and bilious for days. He would make jest of her…” Egan paused, a reminiscent smile whisking across his lips. “Funny little creature, she was. Speckled, shy, and round as a porpoise. I heard that she’s a beauty now—though I can’t quite picture it—”

“Was Jenner his father?” Westcliff interrupted, his face expressionless.

The abrupt question startled Sebastian. He listened intently as Egan replied.

“Could have been. His mother, Mary, swore up and down that he was.” Carefully Egan tucked the bottle at his side and rested his interlaced fingers on the bulging platform of his stomach. “She was a bawdyhouse whore. The luckiest night of her life was when she worked the brass for Ivo Jenner. He took a liking to Mary, and paid the madam to keep her for his exclusive use. One day Mary came to him and said she was bellyfull, and the child was his. And Jenner, who was a soft touch, gave her the benefit of the doubt. He supported her for the rest of her life, and let the boy work at the club when he was old enough. Mary passed on many years back. Just before she kicked off, she told Bullard that Jenner was his father. When the boy confronted him with it, Jenner told him that whether it was true or not, it would stay a secret. He didn’t want to acknowledge Bullard as his. For one thing, the boy was never what you’d say was a likely sort, and for another…Jenner never gave a damn about anyone but his daughter. He wanted Evie to have everything when he finally kicked off. Bullard blamed Evie, of course. He thought that if it wasn’t for her, Jenner would have claimed him as a son, and would have done more for him, given him more. He was likely right about that.” Egan frowned sadly. “By the time she brought you to the club, my lord, Bullard was already ill with the pox…and it was then that the madness began. A sad ending to a melancholy life.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies