Updated: May 14
The turn of the dawn hailed the lamplighters to snuff out the dimming lantern flames, revealing a slow crack of pale light peeping over the dense rooftops. The quiet whistling of an exhausted policeman echoed down the street, minutes away from the end of his night-long plod. Silent tension as the citizens of London strained for every last minute of sleep before daylight awoke them for the full day of toil that faced them when morning came.
Yawning widely, the noble bobby turns a corner and scuffs his boot carelessly. Groaning and bending to observe his boots for damage, it took him longer than it should have to register the grim scene just ahead of him. For, in this wealthy street of high end town houses it was rare for gory happenings. Yet, in front of him, in the small garden of a wealthy townhouse, bloodied and misshapen, twisted and contorted out of natural form and already set in the cruel statue-like grasp of rigor mortis, were the helpless bodies of three children. There they lay, barefoot and dressed in their high-quality nightgowns, a picture of tainted innocence.
The fatigued policeman, still not fully comprehending the incident in front of him for the hopes it weren’t true, stared upwards at the open bedroom window 3 floors higher than he. Eyes opening wide, he raises his whistle shakily to his now-dry lips to call an alert.
“Murder in Arlington Street! Read all abou’ it!” crowed newsboys, vying for customers and battling to be the boy to sell the most of the latest news event. “Come get your paper ‘ere!”
A sullen, suited man tossed a coin at the scruffy hawker and crammed the rolled paper into his large overcoat pocket. Then, stuffing his hat firmer onto his head he stalked off towards the police station, throwing open the front door and marching up the old, well-trodden, wooden stairs to his tiny office.
“Mornin’ chief!” a gangly officer cried up at him from the bottom of the stairs, a cheerful newcomer to the local station who was always eager to present himself for each part of the job. The detective grunted back, and slammed his newly purchased paper on to his chaotic desk, slumping into his seat and grudgingly running his eyes over the print to find out what nonsense the vultures in the print room had leaked.
“Suspect? Indeed!” He tutted, “We know nothing! Keep yer scroungin’ claws to yourself!”
Frustrated, he slammed the paper back on to his desk, which was closely followed by his own forehead. It had been a mere two days since the death of the three Beechworth children and, as ever, the press were giving neither time nor mercy before offering their own exaggerated and biased opinion on the matter- causing more grief for the detective and his team. He ran his hand over the rough stubble forming on his chin. He’d not been home since their death, barely rested, barely washed save for splashing water from the sink over his weary face. What would his wife think if she knew the unkempt state he was in now? The nagging he would face- no longer like the days of gleeful courting when they first met and when she had only words of loving praise for him …
“Ahh! Detective! Wonderful to see you. Any news on this terrible case?”
The detective shifted his gaze to glare upwards at the unwelcome guest invading his small office and shattering his nostalgic daydreams.
“What’d yer want, Chattoway? The scraps of carrion you consider newsworthy print material to stir up the population of London against me?” The man stood in front of him was the very man renowned for leaking morsels of information to the press for beer and favours. He was a weasel of a man who always butted in where he wasn’t welcome, and he certainly wasn’t welcome in the detective’s office. Not now nor any other time.
“Come now, Devitt, you can’t be bitter at a man for sharing with the world what they have the right to know! No, in fact, the mayor himself, upon reflection of this morning’s news, would like to meet with you immediately. Brush yourself up, man!” With the final announcement, Chattoway smartly nodded his head and spun out of the small doorway. Devitt scowled, wondering which officer was naïve enough to let that man into his office. Brush up, indeed!
“You try keeping smart when the three children of a famous politician have all mysteriously died by falling out of their third story room!” He growled to no one, kicking his chair out of the way as he stomped to the clouded-over mirror over the basin in the corner of his office. Devitt shuddered, remembering his own visit to the scene: seeing the distorted bodies of the children and hearing their mother and nanny still wailing with disbelieving misery. The memory that chilled the detective the most, however, had been the odd look of gleeful wonder on the children’s faces. Surely, if it had been murder, this would not be their final expression- but instead, one of utter horror? Shaking the scarring memory from his immediate thoughts, Devitt splashed water to his dust-smudged face and tried to flatten back his thick, dark hair. He sighed to himself as he saw streaks of grey appearing above his ears. This job aged a man young, he thought to himself before snarling at his attempted vanity and stalking out of the small room. Maybe some time ago he could have thought of his appearance, but not so any more. The mayor would have to cope with this current state.
“Chief, how good of you to join us at such short notice. Please, sit.” London city’s mayor briefly acknowledged Devitt as he was ushered into the room by a secretary, then returned his gaze to the guest sat with his back to the door. Devitt approached the indicated chair before noticing that he recognised the smartly dressed man sat conversing with the mayor. The man’s steely eyes slid gracefully to glance over the rugged detective and smirked.
“Morning, Detective. Have you found who crudely murdered my children yet?”
Devitt’s breath caught in his throat and he found himself hovering in the motion between standing and sitting as he stared at the exceedingly well-dressed father of the murder victims. He closed his eyes and finally sat heavily into the second arm chair. That damned Chattoway never mentioned that Beechworth would also be attending the meeting. He was ashamed to have to admit that he had learned nothing extra to tell the man.
“Now, please do excuse me for calling in on your meeting with the mayor unannounced. However, once I had heard he had requested a meeting with you this morning, I couldn’t help but to invite myself. Having read the wild stories the press is printing, rather than hearing it straight from you, I must inquire as to what you are doing to find the madman that murdered my children. I do hope you understand.”
“Indeed…” Devitt growled, twisting to accept a dainty cup of tea handed to him by the mayor’s secretary. He couldn’t help but stare for a moment at the pristine white gloves of the man, and wondered at the different conditions in which people worked. He felt even more conscious of his unkempt state from the last few days- the quick wash had removed very little of the dust and grime from his face, and he was more than certain his smell was no better. He turned back to look at Beechworth, noting how the man held himself incredibly upright, perfect posture with a hint of lean gracefulness. Even the way he rested his chin on his hand and held the tiny china teacup with his long, thin fingers gave an appearance of feline delicacy, yet this delicacy was what made the man look so dangerous. The grace was unnatural for men of his type.
Politicians… Devitt groaned to himself. They play a dangerous game of twisted half-truths and mind games, and they all think they’re better than any regular citizen of this country. This was the last thing I needed today- a game of cat and mouse with the father of the victims.
Yet, he smiled politely to Beechworth and took a sip of his tea, privately wishing it were larger and stronger- perhaps even a stronger type of drink altogether. He knew who was the mouse in this situation.
“My team are working around the clock to investigate your family’s tragedy, Sir. We have already reached the conclusion that the culprit cannot have come in through any of the lower entries to the property. The only answer is that they entered through the children’s window, and left the same way too. However, there are no marks or footprints in the vicinity and no easy way of actually getting to the window from below. There are no ways to reach the third floor from the outside of the building. It is just too high. This is the first thing we need to discover before we can find anything more about the mysterious killer, if we could only think of a motive…”
He trailed off as he noticed Beechworth rise smoothly from the chair and stride languidly over to the window. He seemed to be watching something beyond the glass when he finally spoke, keeping his back to the two men in the room.
“I am surprised to find you have not thought of the most obvious motive. In a mere few weeks the election will take place to determine who will become the next prime minister. I am a key candidate and this must be a rouse to scare me and ruin my campaign. It is true that this disgusting act of murder against my children has unsettled my wife and me. She remains beyond solace and I see their lifeless, glassy faces each time I close my eyes,” He paused for a moment, as if regaining his composure, “Yes, sleep is a fearful affair of late. But, it has made me all the more determined to rebel against their motive and continue in the race. Detective, tomorrow evening an electoral party will be held where all candidates of the upcoming election will be in attendance. I believe the one responsible for murdering my children will be there with the intent to cause harm to myself or my wife in retaliation to my refusal to leave the campaign. I insist you provide us with protection throughout the party. I will not have my wife harmed over this. I cannot lose anyone else I love, and you may even catch your killer there.”
Devitt and the mayor both looked at each other, carefully assessing each other’s thoughts on the matter.
“Well there we have it, man!” The mayor exclaimed, “Keep an eye out for the Beechworths at this party. You and your team should have no problem with that. With any luck the killer will be caught in full sight of both public and press within the next evening or so! Let’s catch this man before any further harm comes to the people of London.”
Beechworth turned and slid his glance over Devitt again, revealing a cold smile. “Don’t fail me, detective. I still expect you to fully discover how the murderer entered the room of my children without being noticed. A chief inspector should have no trouble with that.” He smirked and bid them good day, striding neatly out of the room.
“Well, that’s sorted then. Here’s the information for the party, I will also be in attendance so if you need me, send a runner inside with your message.” The mayor handed Devitt a slip and moved to sit behind his desk, suggesting an immediate end to their meeting. Devitt folded and pocketed the paper and gladly left the room, nodding to the secretary as he rushed to leave the building and reluctantly return to the station to make plans for the next evening.
Seems I won’t be returning home just yet. Dejected, he thought of Martha, his wife, and his own children. His feelings for his own family spurred him on to find the killer before someone else lost theirs.