Metropolitan Police-Holborn Station
Graciela had just opened the door to the station when she was slammed against the doorframe. A struggling mass of constable and resisting arrestee crushed the breath out of her. Another constable rushed to the aid of the first. The officers bumped and jostled her more as they stumbled into the lobby finally bringing the reluctant arrestee under control.
Graciela caught her breath, straightened her clothes, and not for the first time wondered whether she really wanted to go through with her plan. Uncertain if she’d find the courage to proceed down the road if she hesitated now, she took a deep breath and pushed her way into the station.
She tugged the wide brim of her hat down as much as possible and stepped up to the lobby’s desk. “Sergeant, I’m here to bail out a prisoner. His name is Newt Addy.” She handed over the five pounds bail money, almost all her savings for the past six months. “Will he be released immediately?”
The sergeant nodded, put the money in an envelope made a notation on it, and then placed it in a drawer. “He will.” The sergeant looked her up and down with a curious expression. “Is he your husband? You don’t seem the type to associate with his sort, if you don’t mind my saying.”
“My relationship with Mr. Addy is none of your affair, sergeant. Can we dispense with the chit-chat? I’d like to get on with the business at hand.” The longer she stood in the station lobby, the better the chances of some Peeler remembering her face. The odds of the police connecting her to what she planned were few, but Graciela wasn’t taking any unnecessary risks.
The sergeant huffed and glared at her before he signed the bail form. He handed it to a chinless officer who looked barely past school age. “Bring Addy out.”
Graciela watched an endless flow of police officers hauling men in various stages of resistance toward the lockup. She pulled a perfumed handkerchief from her reticule and held it to her nose as the combination of sour alcohol, sweat, and unwashed bodies hung in the air like London’s famous fog.
In an adjacent room, the detective bureau according to the sign, a tall, attractive, and compared to the other plainclothes detectives there, better-dressed man waggled a warning finger at a shoeshine boy. Whatever he said sent the lad scampering off and had the men at the nearby desks laughing.
“I don’t know if you’ll ever make an honest creature of that little bugger, Bloodstone,” said one.
Bloodstone. Graciela recognized the name. Rudyard Bloodstone was the detective who solved the British Museum murders last year. She remembered because it was all everyone talked about for weeks. She wondered if he was the detective handling the Addy case. Not that it mattered; her contact with Addy would be limited.
“Who bailed me?”
She turned toward the clipped east end accent.
“She did.” The sergeant nodded her direction.
“What? Why?” Addy looked from the sergeant to Graciela and back to the policeman. “I’ve never seen that bit of muslin in my life.”
The sergeant shrugged.
Graciela came over. “You don’t know me, but I’ve business I’d like to discuss with you. I prefer to talk to you outside.”
Addy didn’t move.
“Either come outside or I will take my bail money back and you can sit in jail. Your choice, Mr. Addy. I haven’t all day.”
“Let’s go. It’s your finny.”
Graciela led the way and didn’t stop until they were a block from the stationhouse. “What do you mean, ‘it’s my finny?’” She feared it was a vulgar sexual reference that would make her regret going anywhere with him.
“A finny is five pounds, what it cost to bail me.”
“Oh. I can’t talk on the street. I can’t take the likes of you into a decent tearoom where I’d normally go. Is there a pub you know of that is not too foul?”
She’d have paid for a trolley ride if he’d told her his choice of pub was off an Oxford Circus mews. It was a strange pub with no sign outside, dimly lit, the darkness hid what Graciela suspected was filth. But no one paid them any attention when they entered and Addy led them to a small table in the back, ordering two pints on the way.
“What’s this about then?” he asked, pulling a chair out, not bothering to pull out hers.
A man who’d had his nose buried in his tankard lifted his head and looked her up and down. Graciela sat but kept one hand tight on her reticule nestled in her lap. “How long have you been a burglar?”
“Hey, I’m not admitting to nothin’.”
“Please, let’s not mince words. I’m not the prosecutor. I need to know how experienced you are as a burglar.”
The beers came and Addy waited until the barman left before he answered. “Been at it since I was nine, been caught three times, twice before I was twelve and then this last time. I wouldn’t have been caught this time if it wasn’t for bad luck. I know the routes and times all the Peelers pass by on the patch I’m working. Here I was coming out of the window with my goods in a sack when a Peeler comes out the backdoor of the neighbors and sees me. Apparently, their cook was sweet on him and had the copper in for tea.” He took a deep swallow of beer. “Bloody bad luck I tell you.”
He took another deep swallow, stared hard at Graciela over the rim of the tankard, then put it down. “You haven’t answered my question. What’s this about?”
“I assume from your experience you can pick locks.”
“There isn’t a lock made I can’t pick.”
“I want you to teach me how to pick locks.”
Addy sat back, eyeing her like a rabbit eyes a cobra. He shook his head. “No. I know what you’re doing. This is something to do with you and them Peelers. You’re ginning up some kind of case where I take the fall. Oh no.”
He stood and started to leave, but she grabbed his arm. “Please don’t go. I swear this isn’t what you think. I truly want to learn. I can’t tell you why. It’s personal, very personal. It has nothing to do with the police. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
“I don’t need competition.”
“I won’t be competing. I’m not, how you say, working your neck of the woods, so to speak, your domain. My goal has strict limitations.”
He nodded. “I don’t even know your name.”
“What’s your favorite name for a lady?”
Addy grinned, revealing a short row of bottom teeth. “Molly. My mum’s name was Molly.”
“Call me Molly.”
For the first time since entering the police station, Graciela relaxed a bit. Addy would come around to helping her, she could tell. She took her first swallow of beer. Beer wasn’t her favorite choice of alcoholic drink. She liked cognac better and kept a small bottle secreted in her room. The maids never came into her room to clean. Since she was a paid companion, not family, she was expected to tidy up after herself, which Graciela preferred. She didn’t need the maids snooping into what few personal items she had, including her wee bottle of cognac. If Mrs. Zachary found out about the alcohol, she’d get sacked. The old bat was a strict teetotaler who blamed all society’s ills on demon rum. Even if she wasn’t death on drink, she kept a tight fist on her money. Zachary would cut her meager salary. Cognac was expensive. Graciela bought the least expensive and restricted herself to a snifter a week and only on Saturdays.
“If I agree, would you be willing to pay me for teaching you, Molly?”
“No. I haven’t that kind of money. I just spent five pounds on your bail. As for teaching, you’ll have to make yourself available on Mondays. I only have that time free.”
“I can, but it will take a long time for you to be an expert at a number of different locks if that’s your intention. Can’t you find more time?”
If she was really careful, she could get past the staff and out for an hour after Mrs. Zachary went to bed. The maids and cook would be playing cards and talking in the kitchen. It’d be good practice in case she had to slip past the staff of Bartholomew Cross.
“How can I get in touch with you?” she asked.
“Ask at the bar for Kip. He’s the landlord here and knows where to find me. Leave a message with him.” Addy took another swallow of beer, eyeing her over the edge of his tankard. “I don’t know what your game is, Molly, and I don’t want to know,” he said, setting the tankard down. “Crime is not your bailiwick that’s for certain. Your kind tend to get caught or killed. For your own sake, do some exploration before we meet again. Check out the property. You need to know how many doors and lower floor windows the building has. Are you looking to enter a business or residence? Are windows left open? See if you can tell how many people come and go during the day and what times. Whatever your game my dear, you can’t steal nothin’ if you can’t escape the building.”
“I’ll try to find out as much as I can.” Graciela left enough to pay for their beers and said goodbye.
She walked down Oxford Street thinking about what she needed to do for her reconnaissance.
My game, Mr. Addy, is murder.
“Detective Bloodstone, Detective Holbrook.” Constable Northam approached with an arm around a young woman supporting her as he walked toward the detectives’ desks.
An attractive woman, she looked to be in her twenties. Her bonnet was askew and she held a handkerchief with lavender flowers embroidered on it over her mouth like she was trying to stop herself from bursting into tears.
Ruddy and Archie both jumped to their feet. Archie, more fatherly than Northam and Ruddy, slid his arm around the lady’s waist, relieving Northam of that duty. Ruddy brought a chair over and Archie eased her into it. Ruddy had turned the chair so she faced Ruddy’s desk and not the lobby. They didn’t need to speculate. Both had been in law enforcement long enough to recognize how victims responded to certain types of crimes. From the looks of the woman, they figured a sex crime was involved.
Archie knelt on one knee. He gently brought her hand from her face down to her lap and keeping his much larger hand wrapped around hers said, “I’m Detective Holbrook. What’s your name?”
“She told me—” Northam started to say. Ruddy put a quick finger to his lips and gave a tiny shake of his head.
“You were about to tell me your name,” Archie said.
“Ivy. Ivy Janes.”
“Well, Miss Janes, you’re safe now. Whatever’s happened, you’re going to be fine. I think a cup of tea would be good. Would you like that?”
“Milk or lemon?”
“Clive, you heard the lady,” Archie said without taking his eyes off Janes. After Northam left, he told her, “We’ll just be quiet a moment while you catch your breath. I can feel your heart fluttering like a bird’s through your gloves.”
Ruddy admired Archie’s manner with traumatized victims. He was the best of all the men in the detective bureau. It was a special talent.
Ruddy joined Archie and squatted so he was eye-level, too. “I’m Detective Bloodstone, Miss Janes. Once we have your tea, if you wish, we’ll relocate to the interview room. It’s private. Would you prefer to talk to us there?”
Clive returned and Archie led the victim to the interview room. Ruddy grabbed a notepad, his pen, a soft lead pencil, and his drawing pad, and followed.
Janes sipped her tea, then looked at Ruddy and a faint smile briefly touched her lips.
“Are you ready to tell us what happened or do you need a few more minutes?” Ruddy asked unsure of how deep the calm ran.
“I’m better now.”
“Start whenever you’re ready.”
“I was walking to work on Ormond Street.”
“What time was this?” Archie asked. Turning to Clive, he instructed, “That’s your patch. Make note of where and when she saw the suspect.”
“It was half-seven. I’m an embroiderer for Dobson’s Haberdashers. All the ladies who do detail work buttons, embroidery, monograms and the like start early.”
“Go on,” Ruddy said.
“I’d just crossed Powis Place when a hideous man jumped out from a doorway with a knife, waving it in my face. He forced me around the back of the building and into the mews—said he’d cut me ear-to-ear if I didn’t go.” She dropped her head and her hands began to tremble. Archie immediately eased her through the fearful memory with soft reassurances.
While he talked to the victim Ruddy wondered how no one saw anything. At half-seven the sun is up and there’s a good amount of foot traffic. “You walk this beat. How could someone not see him accosting her in this mews?” he asked Clive.
“It’s a dark and narrow alley with piles of rubbish stacked about, sir. Not fit for wagons even, all the deliveries are done by handcarts.”
The victim took a deep breath, let it out slow, and then turned back to Ruddy. “I’m ready to go on. Once he got me in the mews, he had me step behind a smelly stack of broken wood pieces. ‘Lean against the wall,’ he said, and I did. ‘Don’t move or I’ll cut you.’ Then, he got on his knees, raised my skirt and laid his cheek on my thigh and began to rub, up and down, back and forth—this thigh.” She tapped her left thigh with her finger and shuddered. “Can you imagine how disgusted I was detective?”
“I can. Then what did he do?”
“He switched and did the same to my other thigh. After he finished rubbing his filthy face over me, he…he…unfastened my stockings, took them off me, sniffed them, and pocketed them. Then, without a word more, he stowed the knife behind his back and dashed off to I don’t know where. I ran to the mouth of the alley, but he was out of sight already. I screamed and the young officer here came right away. Together we searched but the bugger was nowhere to be found.” She gave a short gasp and clamped a hand onto Ruddy’s wrist. “Now that he’s seen me, do you think he’ll come after me again?”
Ruddy gently unwound her fingers. “No. He’s a twisted sort that’s for certain, but I believe he was only after your stockings. However, it wouldn’t hurt to take a different route to and from your work.”
Ruddy set aside his report forms, picked up his soft pencil and opened his drawing pad. Archie had a way with making victims comfortable. Ruddy had a way with art. “Describe him for me.”
She locked on him with fearful doe-like brown eyes. “I can’t. I don’t want to think on his face so close to mine, that knife so near to me.”
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” Ruddy explained. “But it would help immensely to know what he looks like.”
“He’ll likely hurt another, won’t he?” she asked.
Her gaze fell to Ruddy’s hands on the sketch pad. She kept her head down for several minutes. Long enough for Ruddy to think they weren’t going to get much more out of her. Then she reached over and ran a finger across the monogram on his shirt. “Fine work. RCB, what’s the RC for?”
“Cerdic. A Welshman.”
“My people are from Ireland. They came over during the famine.” She pulled her hand away and said, “He wore a tweed woolen cap with a tattered bill. He never took it off, but from what I could see, his hair was ginger.”
She continued and Ruddy quickly started drawing. She did a fine job considering how traumatized she’d been. The problem was the suspect looked like ten-thousand other scruffy men of middle age and middle height and weight in London. Just once, Ruddy wished he’d get a suspect with all gold teeth in the front or a skull and crossbones tattooed over his face or warts in the shape of a boot on his cheek. Something that made you say, “You’re him,” with one look.
Ruddy showed her the sketch. “Is there anything else I should add?”
She shook her head.
“If there’s nothing else, Officer Northam here will escort you to your work.” Ruddy tore the sketch from the pad and gave it to Northam. “When you’re done escorting Miss Janes, show this picture to the shopkeepers around your patch. See if anyone recognizes him.”
“Sir…a word.” Northam stood and stepped outside the room.
Ruddy joined him.
“I wondered why you let her go off, and well, natter on about your monogram instead of the crime. Why let her be distracted from the matter at hand?”
Northam hoped to be a detective one day and was enthusiastic to learn from Ruddy and Archie.
“If a victim is hysterical, then you must do whatever it takes to calm them down,” Ruddy explained. “A victim making no sense is no help. She wasn’t hysterical but terribly distressed. You have to let her find a sense of normalcy again. Stitchery is part of her normal, daily life. It’s a touchstone for her. That’s what she needed to help her move forward.”
“I see. What of her sudden anger?”
“Anger is often the other side of fear.”
“Thank you, sir.” Northam offered Miss Janes his hand and escorted her from the station.
Ruddy and Archie returned to their desks to find Geoffrey Marsden, a reporter for the London Gazette, sitting where Miss Janes had. Marsden puffed on a pipe engulfing the area around the desks in a giant smoke cloud.
“Why are you here?” Archie asked, waving the smoke cloud from his desk.
Marsden removed his pipe and blew out a stream of smoke. “You know me. I like to check in and see what’s up with you fellows.”
“As we’ve no obligation to share any story with you,” Ruddy told him, “Take your arse and equally stinky pipe out of here, Marsden.”
“Come on, Bloodstone. Don’t be like that. I’ll bet there’s a press-worthy story about that woman who just left. I saw you take her into a private room to talk. What’s going on? Is there a rapist in the neighborhood?”
The glee in the reporter’s voice at the possibility of a serial rapist on the loose set Ruddy’s teeth on edge. “What happened to the lady is none of your business. And if you think to bribe Seamus, the shine boy again into tattling what he overhears from the detectives, I’ll ban him and you from the station until one of us dies of old age. Now get out.”
“You’re not being fair, Bloodstone. When the whole city was trashing the police for their failure to capture the Ripper last fall, I made you and Holbrook look good for your work on the museum murders, which I wasn’t obligated to do.”
Marsden’s eyes widened and he pulled back as Ruddy pressed close, spitting his words. “Speaking of obligations, you only got those stories because you used shady means to extort the department into giving you an exclusive. As far as I’m concerned we’re done.”
Marsden slid his chair back a few inches. “Just think about what I said. A joint effort all around benefits everyone.”
“Leave.” Archie made a shooing motion.
“You shouldn’t let him stir you up like that. He’ll find a way to be a barnacle on us again, you know that don’t you? What do you think of our stocking thief? I’m hoping since she’s never seen him before that this might be a one-time thrill seeking caper.”
“It would be nice if you’re right but I think he’s just getting started. He enjoyed the exchange too much for it to be a one-time event.” Ruddy then started to recreate another copy of the suspect’s face on his sketch pad.