Daisy looked at the forbidding door of the police station, and summoned up her courage. It wouldn't be the first time she'd gone in there — and the previous times hadn't been voluntary. If it hadn't been for what happened to Alice... but that was just it. Daisy owed it to Alice to tell what she knew, whatever the police would think.
The door, when Daisy tried it, was ajar. She opened it as little as necessary to slip through the gap, and arrived in a front office of grim appearance, lit by a single gas mantle. A bench ran along one wall, occupied by a couple of men who might have been labourers. The only other furniture in the room was a desk, behind which a uniformed sergeant was sitting. He looked up at the sound of her footstep; from his expression, it was clear that he remembered her previous visits to the station as well.
"Daisy Roker," he said. "Now there's a familiar face. Come to give yourself up for something, have you?"
Daisy shook her head. "It's about Alice. Alice Sands."
"Ah." There was a slight change in the sergeant's tone. "You've got something to say about how she ended up in Davis Avenue with her throat cut?"
"I saw him," Daisy said firmly. "The one who done it."
"Did you, indeed?" With what seemed like deliberate slowness, the sergeant opened his notebook and flattened out a new page. "This is a formal statement you're making?"
Daisy swallowed. "Yes."
"Statement by Margaret Roker, Thursday the eighteenth of September," the sergeant wrote, with the same careful deliberation. "Now then, what did you see?"
"I saw him walking with her in Hunton Street," Daisy began. "Tall fellow. Dressed like a gentleman. He had a top hat on, and a stick in his right hand — you know, one of them fancy canes."
"Did you get a look at his face?"
Daisy shook her head. "He didn't look round. She didn't, neither. Both of 'em went into Davis Avenue. When I got to the corner, I looked round but I couldn't see them. I thought they must've gone into one of the houses."
"When was all this?"
"Just after ten."
"And Alice Sands' body was found in Davis Avenue about five minutes after ten." The sergeant nodded. "You didn't see anyone else there?"
"Not a soul."
"And Davis Avenue's a dead end." The sergeant wrote a few more words. "Now, this gentleman you saw. D'you remember anything else about him? What colour his coat was, or his hair?"
Daisy closed her eyes. "I dunno. The coat — it was dark, that's all I can say. And long."
"If that's all you saw of him, how come you could tell the girl he was with was Alice Sands?"
"She was walking like Alice. There's a slight twist in her right foot — makes — made — her walk just a bit crooked."
"And the man she was with. Would you know him if you saw him again?"
"I... I dunno." Daisy could hear the despair in her own voice. "Sorry."
"Right, then." The sergeant turned the notebook toward her and held out the pencil. "Sign your name there if you can, make your mark if you can't."
"You've told me all you know, haven't you?"
"Well, that's that, then. Can't go around arresting everyone in a top hat and a coat."
"But someone else must've seen him," Daisy began, but tailed off. She could see she wasn't going to get past the man's impenetrable indifference.
No sooner had Daisy walked out of the police station, than she felt a tap on her shoulder. She jumped, spun round, and found herself face to face with one of the rough-looking men who'd been sitting in the police station when she'd made her statement.
"What d'you want?" she asked sharply.
"Never you mind that," the man said. His voice sounded more educated than his appearance would have suggested. "Care to answer a few questions, miss?"
Daisy looked at him more closely. "Who are you? Police?"
"Not exactly." He glanced around. "But we're concerned about this fellow going around killing young women. This Alice Sands, who was she?"
"She was just a working girl. I didn't know her that well." The anger and frustration suddenly burst out of Daisy. "But she didn't deserve to have some toff slit her throat for her!"
The man appeared unmoved. "No, she didn't. So why'd you go to the police? Revenge, was it? Wanted to see him hanged?"
Daisy found it curiously hard to come up with an answer. "No," she said eventually. "Justice. That's what she deserves." She waited, but the man made no reply. "Well? Got what you came for?"
"Not yet. But if you don't mind, Miss Roker, I'd like to introduce you to... let's say, some acquaintances of mine."
"What, you think I'd go off with you just like that?"
He delved in a pocket and produced a shilling. "If I'd come up to you and offered you this, you'd have gone with me, wouldn't you?"
"Maybe," Daisy said, her eyes fixed on the coin.
"Then come with me now." As if sensing her hesitation, he added "You're looking for justice for Alice Sands. So are we. Her and the other girls this man's butchered."
"We?" Daisy repeated.
The man didn't answer, but turned and began to walk briskly away. Daisy hurried after him.
"I said, what d'you mean, we?" she repeated.
"It's not safe to say too much out here," the man replied. "Just... there's a few of us. We deal with things the police can't, or won't. And maybe you and we can do something to help each other."
"Depends on what the chief says. You'll have to see him. Well, not see, exactly."
"You ain't making any sense," Daisy protested. But the man made no further answer, striding through the fog at such pace that Daisy was hard put to keep up with him.
Whatever nameless organisation the man belonged to, its headquarters seemed to be in a derelict-looking brick building that might once have been a stableyard. On her arrival, Daisy had been brought to a clean but almost empty room, its sole furniture a long table flanked by two benches. Sitting on one of the benches, she had retold her story to the man who had brought her in and two of his colleagues. They had made no written notes, but they gave every appearance of taking her far more seriously than the police had.
Once Daisy had told all she knew, her original companion had brought her a bowl of soup, and then led her to a similarly bare room, a dormitory containing a neat row of straw palliasses.
"If you won't mind waiting here, Miss Roker," he said.
"If you say so." Daisy perched herself on the nearest palliasse. "You know you said before about your boss? Why won't I see him?"
"Because he only meets us in complete darkness." The man shrugged. "I've been working for him for two years. Never once seen his face."
"How can you trust him when you can't even see him?"
"Miss Roker, I would trust him with my life."
"Maybe." Daisy lay back on the thin mattress. "But why should I?"
Daisy couldn't remember feeling sleepy, but she found herself suddenly shaken awake. The dormitory seemed quieter, its gaslamps switched off. Another of her questioners — like all of them, dressed in the rough clothes of a workman — was bending over her, a dark lantern in his hand.
"Chief wants to talk to you," he whispered. "Now."
Still half-asleep, Daisy suffered herself to be led down flight after flight of stairs. They must be underground by now, she decided, as they reached the bottom of the final flight; the brickwork was damp, and a smell of mould hung in the air.
Just opposite the stairs was a door. Strong and solid, there was something about it that reminded Daisy of the door of the police station. It wasn't a door designed to make visitors feel welcome.
The man led Daisy to the door, then shuttered his lantern and knocked. There was a pause, in which Daisy could hear only her own breathing and that of her guide. Then a sharp click from the latch, and a movement of air as the door opened.
"Walk forward," the man said. Daisy did as she was told, feeling uneven flagstones below her feet. Before she had gone half-a-dozen paces, the door had closed behind her, with another firm click.
She took another pace and—
The voice was soft, barely above a whisper, but it made the hairs on Daisy's neck stand up.
"Margaret Roker," it added. There was an almost unnoticeable rustle, as if the unseen Chief had shifted slightly.
"That's me," Daisy said. When no further answer was forthcoming, she said "You wanted to see me. Well, here I am."
"Close your eyes," the voice said.
"Why? It's not like I can see anything."
"It is necessary. For safety."
"So I'll be safe — or so you will?"
Daisy folded her arms. "I don't have time for this. I came here for Alice's sake. Not to play stupid games with someone who won't show his face."
"Close your eyes," the voice repeated. There was an almost metallic undertone to it, that made Daisy think of a sword being drawn.
"Men!" Daisy said, but closed her—
—And she was lying on the floor, her eyes filled with brilliant afterimages. For a moment she thought she saw a tall figure cloaked in violet standing over her, its single cyclops eye glowing with red light; then, there was nothing but total darkness once more.
"She is... suitable," the Chief's voice said, somewhere above her.
"I'll take her upstairs, then," another voice said. Daisy dimly recognised it as one of the men who'd questioned her when she arrived.
"Yes." There was another rustle. Daisy formed a vague impression that the Chief was walking away, though she didn't hear any footsteps. Then light returned — the mundane, flickering glow of the dark lantern.
"Do you need a hand?" the man asked.
"Thanks." Daisy allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. The afterimages were still shimmering in her field of vision, their shapes vaguely reminding her of angels in church windows. "So what happens now?"
"Whatever the Chief says. But if you ask me, I reckon he'll send you out on the street again. Only this time, with us to watch your back. Sooner or later our cove'll show his face, and when he does—" He snapped his fingers. "We'll have him."
"I s'pose that makes sense." Daisy tried to get her own thoughts in order. Despite the brevity of her encounter with the unseen Chief, she had formed a definite impression of him. Once he had decided to do something, she thought, there would be precious little anyone could do to stop him. No wonder these men followed him so unswervingly. She wasn't far off doing the same after just one meeting. She was fully confident that, sooner or later, this organisation would tighten its net around Alice's killer.
There remained a nagging doubt in her mind about whether she'd live long enough to see it, though.