13. A Man of a Thousand Pieces

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I cannot begin to capture aptly enough in words the sheer terror, dread and remorse that overwhelmed me upon finding a woman lying dead in my bed, for it was half-remembered chaos

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I cannot begin to capture aptly enough in words the sheer terror, dread and remorse that overwhelmed me upon finding a woman lying dead in my bed, for it was half-remembered chaos.

Then came the screaming, shouting, heavy footsteps, and, "Calm down, Mr Redding! Speak plain, lad!"

As I explained everything to Mr Rawlings in one continuous deluge of distracted, disorganised monologue, he remained straight-faced throughout, suspicious even, that I was now associated with two deaths in three days. Mrs Rawlings, who at first suffered a period of anger ("This should never have happened under my roof! Good Lord, Joseph! What have you done?") was by then more far more concerned of my own state of undress than the important, immediate matters.

While his wife dealt with the police a second time in the way only a domineering landlady can do, Tom Rawlings took me aside into their kitchen so that I would not see as a detective investigated my room and the body.

There the conversation did not flow easily, as my landlord was a man of quiet disposition and only spoke with meaning. As a gentleman now the wrong side of fifty – or right, as my seniors might argue – his sentences were thrift and his meaning precise, though despite his apparent loss for words there existed something careful in his choice of them. A poet or letter-writer in his youth perhaps, though, unsurprising to me, he never spoke of it. At times we had discussed the menial things, particularly our favoured artist, Irvine Sommer, though we had never had reason to exchange conversation on a personal level. He knew I planned to marry the daughter of Alphonse de Veyra, but beyond that I was as much a mystery to the man who had let me into his home as he was to me.

It is why that morning, one that had already been so outrageous in its nature, became so much more unsettling when Mr Rawlings approached the subject of my private life. I leaned against the counter dressed in pantaloons with my shirt hung about my neck, but I did not then care much for modesty or warmth in that moment. I rocked on my heels while Tom Rawlings stood nearby, studying me as if I were already a criminal.

"There is something going on with you, isn't there?" he said after a while.

My landlord was the last person in Glasten I'd have imagined would ask me such a thing, and yet he did. It gave me reason for pause before I straightened myself and glanced his way. Part of me wished I had not, for his eyes were as sharp as a quick death. "It would seem that way," I replied, and took a shaking sip of the black coffee he had poured me.

"It seems to me no coincidence that you found that nurse's body days before my housemaid's." He said the words with such prosecution it was as though I spoke with the All Knowing himself. "I excused your rent this week on the basis that you promptly recover from your shock, but I will not excuse these sins you bring into my household. Adultery, narcotics ... And as for Charlotte ... God damn it, boy! I can hardly bear to say the dratted word. I like you, Redding. You are a model tenant, quiet and well-to-do, but I am beginning to lose faith in my judgement."

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