A Christmas Hope

A Christmas Hope by Anne Perry Read Free Book Online

Book: A Christmas Hope by Anne Perry Read Free Book Online
Authors: Anne Perry
at Wapping. He would therefore be obliged to arrest Tregarron if he could find him, and possibly even to charge Claudine with aiding his escape! All of which would also place Hester in an impossible situation.
    Claudine could not do that.
    The only solution was the one she had considered first and decided she could not bring herself to adopt. She must ask Squeaky Robinson for his help. Squeaky was the highly disreputable bookkeeper at the clinic. His past was unspeakable, filled with details even he would no longer discuss. At the time of Monk’s first encounter with him, he had been keeping a large andthriving brothel in the buildings that were now the Portpool Lane Clinic. How he had been duped out of their ownership was a long and complicated story.
    Afterward he had become the bookkeeper to the new enterprise as a means of survival. Monk had given him no alternative, other than losing everything and finding himself on the street, without a roof over his head or a livelihood, painfully vulnerable to his many enemies.
    Squeaky had had responsibility forced upon him, but in spite of his many complaints about it, he had over time become rather fond of it.
    He had originally regarded Claudine as an ugly and useless woman, only accepted as a volunteer in the clinic because Hester hadn’t the steel in her backbone to say no to anyone. Squeaky had learned his mistake in that regard fairly quickly. Hester had nursed soldiers on the battlefields of the Crimea, and he soon found that she had enough steel in her soul to equip an army.
    Claudine he had learned to respect rather more slowly, and with considerable reluctance.
    In turn, she had accepted him as almost human only when a sudden burst of compassion had driven him to rescue her from a rather spectacular piece of foolishness,which he had never given away to the others at the clinic. She had no choice but to be grateful to him for that.

    So it was early in the afternoon of the second day after the unfortunate party, Claudine went to the clinic. This was more or less in keeping with her schedule, and at half past three she found the opportunity to speak to Squeaky Robinson in his office.
    He was older than she, though not by much, but life had used him hard. His long gray hair was a trifle stringy and sat on his collar. His face was cadaverous, snaggletoothed. His clothes were those of a dandy with dubious taste: a very well-worn frock coat, a white shirt cleaner than it used to be before the advent of his new respectability, and a cravat that was definitely more expensive and more elegantly tied than those of many gentlemen of means.
    She closed the door behind her. “I’d like to speak to you, Mr. Robinson,” she said formally. She was feeling awkward already, and she had not even begun.
    “If you’re wanting to ask about the money, it’s all right,” he said defensively. “We aren’t overspent.”
    “Good. But I’m not here about the money,” she answered. How like Squeaky to be off on the wrong foot from the beginning. “I need advice … perhaps help.”
    He looked at her suspiciously. “There’s no money to spare. I can tell you that before you even ask,” he warned.
    Since he was apparently not going to invite her to sit down, she did so anyway, in the chair on the opposite side of the desk from his rather large high-backed seat.
    “I don’t want money,” she replied. “I told you, I need advice.”
    He was still cautious, and rather unhappy. “What’ve you done?”
    She would like to have snapped back at him that she had not done anything, but if she did that, she would only have to retract the words later. As it was, this gave her the opportunity to tell him the truth.
    “I have accidentally become involved in a murder,” she replied, ignoring his horrified expression. His quill pen slid out of his hand and spurted ink over his papers.
    “It appeared to be merely misfortune at the time,” she continued. Now that she had begun, she was

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