St. Nicholas Street was up ahead. Branek’s thoughts drifted again to the apothecary. He had a strange desire to stop in and see her, to hear her kind voice. His body heated for a moment. What was it that drew him to her? Their mutual plight, or their discontented marriages? But he didn’t need more accusations from Constable Chenery.
He passed one of the opes, a murky, snaking alley that connected to a back street or the river. Rustling sounded, and then a footstep. Branek turned to see a man in a long, dark coat. A few years back a man, scorned by his beloved, had committed suicide on this street. His ghost was said to still haunt the vicinity—if Branek believed in ghosts.
He hurried his pace, as this man could be a footpad. The stranger’s tread picked up as well. Thunder rumbled closer, the shadows grew murkier, the darkness complete. A few lamps flickered on the outside of residences. It began to drizzle, and their footfalls echoed on the damp cobbles.
Branek tensed and moved to the left so the man might pass him, but the stranger slowed too. With a prickle of unease, he walked on, and the other matched his footsteps to a place where the shadows deepened.
Branek whipped around to confront the person who’d now moved closer behind him. “What is your purpose, sir?” He waited for a confused apology, or a demand for money.
A click, a flash of fire and a shot exploded. He felt the punch in his left side, then the stink of gunpowder filled his nostrils. He collapsed against a building’s stone wall. Grasping his side, his hand came away, sticky with blood.