by Martyn Taylor
Weasel's bladder loosened and panic rose up his throat, but he clamped his teeth together before more than a squeak escaped.
“Whassamarrer?” Donkey's voice was as loud as Bow Bells.
“Shhh!” Weasel hissed, almost having to bite the forefinger he had put to his lips to keep his ring from rattling off his teeth so loud it would attract every copper and thief in Whitechapel.
“'Ow much?” Donkey demanded, looming over him the way he loomed over everyone except maybe Goliath. He was oblivious to the stress escaping his partner in crime in a series of farts loud enough to make lightermen on the foggy Thames check their compasses. “'Ow much coin 'as 'e got?'
“Don' matter 'ow much he's got!” groaned Weasel, sitting backwards into a freezing puddle so Donkey could see whose head he had broken open with his cosh. The tiny figure lay on its back, grey face clear to see, huge black eyes staring sightlessly into the dark, scudding clouds. “Its one o' them,” he whispered. A pool of dark, greasy, glistening blood spread around the creature's broken head. Come daylight it would clearly be green, but in the darkness of Bell Lane it looked just like ordinary blood, reaching out from under the ruined top hat, lapping around Weasel's foot to mark him with an accusation that would have him dance at a rope's end.
“E don' look right,” Donkey wondered.
“Course 'e don' look right,” snarled Weasel. “Nobody'd look right after you brained 'im, would 'e?” He slumped down, his rage drained. Donkey was just an idiot. Why else was he with the Weasel? “Ye were jus' mean' ter slow 'im down,” he sighed.
Donkey stood up and looked down at the little, twisted figure who was the nearest thing he had to a friend. Weasel scurried away as unobtrusively as any man could with one and a half legs, until a wall blocked his escape.
“Ah only 'it 'im cos ye telt me too,” he moaned, his expression one of forlorn bewilderment.
'An lets see the cheery welcome ye get when ye tells them that at the Bailey!' Weasel thought, but didn't say. He levered himself up against the wall, slipped the crutch under his arm and hopped towards the giant. “Course ye did,” he grinned, and the chill morning air stole into his skull through the gaps between his teeth. The cold dispelled the miasma, the fog that had prevented him seeing his way out of this hole. “Who was to know 'e was one o' them Martians? 'E looked like a reg'lar toff in 'is cloak an' top 'at, din' 'e. We though' 'e was 'ere for the toms, din't we. We thought, a little tap on 'is noggin an' its 'Goodnight Irene' for the Weasel an' Donkey, din't we.”
Fast-talking was one of the few things in life Weasel was good at, but his skill was wasted on Donkey.
“I mean, if we'd known 'e was one o' them, ye wouldn' 'ave 'it 'im. Stands to reason. Everyone knows they're frail. Look at 'im, skinny and frail. If we'd known 'e was an actual Martian, ye'd 'ave just tapped 'im on the shoulder an' said 'Hexcuse me, be so kind has to give me yer wallet'. An' that would have been it.”
He watched Donkey rehearse the speech, pronouncing the words silently. In a far off part of the empire some savage tribe concluded it wouldn't be profitable to rise up against the Great White Queen while Donkey's lips worked.
Suddenly the big man glared at Weasel, as though he'd just thought of something. At such times Weasel had an uneasy sensation in his bowels, that maybe the Donkey wasn't as stupid as he looked, and understood his nickname. What would he do if his tongue could not extricate him from his predicament? He couldn't outrun a statue, and if Donkey knew what Weasel really thought of him he might use both fists on him. Weasel had seen Donkey use both fists once, and didn't want to see it again. The Martian wasn't the only corpse Donkey had on his conscience.
“What we gonna do wiv' 'im?” Donkey wondered.
They couldn't leave the corpse where it was, and the longer it lay the more likely someone was to discover it, and then it was Kemp's Jig for Weasel and Donkey. For all the sympathy and understanding they would get for accidentally killing a Martian, they might just as well have topped Prince Eddie himself, who was known to be one of the toffs frequenting Whitechapel in search of diversions their milk skinned wives wouldn't tolerate. Some even whispered Annie Chapman had had the Duke between her legs before the Ripper got her. Weasel didn't believe it. He knew for a fact that the Duke preferred to make like a hussar, galloping into battle screaming like a dervish on the firm arse of a young Household Cavalryman. But it wasn't Prince Eddie dead at his foot, it was a Martian. He cast about for something they could use. Even Donkey couldn't get away with carrying a corpse through the streets of Whitechapel, not a corpse in evening dress.
There was a cart propped up in a doorway, beside some barrels and sacking. He pointed and Donkey brought the cart rattling over the cobbles, so loud that Weasel thought it would rouse the corpses in the London Hospital mortuary two streets away. Lucky for them that everyone thereabouts had been lullabied to sleep by Mother's Ruin, or were too afraid to look out on whatever fell deeds were being carried out on their streets for fear their blood would mingle with the poor unfortunate's.
“Load 'im on,” he ordered. His wish was the big man's command. Donkey lifted the corpse onto the cart as easily as he would a bundle of clothes. Only then did Weasel notice the stiff leather bag on the ground. Had the Martian carried it? He could not recall seeing it in his hand as they followed him through the dark streets, but how else could it have got there? He pointed and Donkey put it onto the cart. Weasel covered bag and corpse with sacking, and then gave Donkey a simple order.
“To the river!”
They walked the narrow streets of Whitechapel, then up Commercial Road like two legitimate workmen about their business, even at this ungodly hour. London, the heart of the greatest empire the world had ever seen, never slept. Even so, their progress was slow. Weasel couldn't hurry and he couldn't trust Donkey on his own.
They were guided to the dark riverbank by the stench of the ebb tide. Even at that time of the morning craft moved up and down Father Thames, fetching wealth to the heart of the empire, none of which would ever trickle down to Weasel and Donkey. They came to a landing stage, and Donkey pushed the cart a few yards into the fog. Weasel hopped after, the wooden structure swaying alarmingly beneath him. If he went over the side, the Martian's wouldn't be the only corpse swallowed by the river.
“Stop here,” he whispered. Donkey did as he was told. Weasel hopped forward and was about to tell him to send the body into the darkness when instinct caught up with him. The Martian was in white tie, tails and a cloak lined with red silk. He had to have a wallet. It was inside his jacket, soft leather and stuffed full of white bank notes, £20 bank notes, £1000 in £20 notes. For a moment Weasel couldn't even breathe, and when he could he said nothing. He'd never held a £20 note in his life, yet here were fifty and he had no idea how to spend a single one.
He palmed the wallet and felt in the Martian's trouser pockets for loose change. The weight told him it was enough to get them both blind drunk for a week.
Before telling Donkey to tip the body into the river he opened the bag and found it full of surgical instruments. Curiosity made him lift out a saw and knife, their edges thick with dark, congealed liquid. He lifted them towards his nose and immediately threw them back into the bag. He knew the coppery taste of new blood, and it made him pick up the bag and haul it into the invisible river below. He heard a splash, then nothing more,
“Nothin' to hock?” wondered Donkey.
“Nothin', nothin' at all.” Weasel was surprised his voice could get past his heart, which was blocking his throat. “Put him in!” The big man lifted the cart's handle and the Martian slid out from under the sacking and down into the darkness, like a burial at sea. Its disappearance was marked by a bigger splash.
“Shouldn' we say somethin'?” rumbled Donkey.
“'Goodbye'?” Weasel's foot was afire to be a long, long way away.
Weasel's jaw dropped. Of all the ... “He was a Martian. They aren't Christian like us.”
Donkey's eyes opened wide. “They aint?”
Weasel comprehended that, in Donkey's head, Mars was somewhere he'd never been, like Chelsea, not another planet. “They're Mohammedans.”
Donkey nodded. Who would want to say Christian words over a Mohammedan? He turned and pushed the cart off the landing stage, and when Weasel pointed to a gateway he pushed it in there and came out without a care in the world. A while later, with light just coming onto the horizon, he began to whistle. The sound made Weasel's head throb even worse than it already was, and he already wanted it to burst open so he could die and it would stop. He could hardly think straight until they crossed Whitechapel Road and entered streets he could walk and know exactly where he was by the feel of the street under his foot and the odours making his nostrils twitch.
“The Duke of Clarence!” he announced. “We shall drink our dear departed friend's health in The Duke of Clarence.”
Named for the child supposedly drowned by Richard II in a butt of Malmsey rather than the Widow of Windsor's spoiled son, the pub was not one of their usual haunts, but Weasel could wait no longer. He led the way into the bar, open even though it was only six in the morning, and Donkey followed. The barman eyed them up and down, and then glanced towards the bully sitting by the door to throw them out. The bully had glanced at Donkey, and was looking anywhere but at the barman.
“Gin,” declared Weasel. “Gin for both of us.” He put coins on the bar and might as well have waved a magic wand. Two bottles appeared and the coins vanished. Donkey took the bottles to a table, where they both sat and proceeded to drink themselves beneath it. Or rather, Weasel did. Donkey just looked quizzically as his companion's eyes rolled up in his head and he slid bonelessly to the floor. Then he gathered up what was left of the money and left the pub whistling that same jaunty tune.
When he woke, Weasel truly wished he were dead. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and he hurt in places he had forgotten. His head felt as though it had been split open with an axe. He was in the alley at the back of the Duke of Clarence being watched by a dog in an advanced state of mange, regarding him with the eye of a predator considering lunch. He found his crutch and waved it in the dog's face. The dog didn't flinch. It just stood there, tongue lolling between its yellow teeth, until it turned away and sauntered off. Some food just wasn't worth the eating. Weasel got to his feet even though he wished he could curl up in the filth and die. Why had he drunk so much? He had no head for drink, and he needed his wits about him to keep that hop ahead if he was to keep body and soul together.
Donkey had topped a bleedin' Martian.
He slumped back against the wall and closed his eyes to keep his eyeballs from falling out. All he could hear were two splashes in the foetid Thames, over and over again until they were drowned by a scream that stopped as soon as he realised he was the screamer. A fascination wrapped icy fingers round his vitals in a grip that promised real pain unless he followed orders. Without knowing why, he pegged towards Bell Lane, the absolute last place on earth he ought to go.
By the time he arrived Bell Lane thronged with people pushing and shoving against each other, determined on their business, whatever it was. Weasel had to take great care not to be trampled into the gutter. East Enders had little generosity towards those on whom God had visited the afflictions he had visited on Weasel. There but for God's grace went any of them, but God didn't seem to mind if they went out of their way to ensure the cripple kept to his station in life.
The tide moved along the street, as though there was a moon at the far end exercising the attraction Weasel felt in his trembling guts. He wanted to turn, but had to go with the flow until it spat him out in the entrance to a tanner's yard where the tanner – a burly, hirsute man with forearms to match Donkey's – stood toe to toe with an equally monolithic constable. Weasel smelled the tanner from twelve feet away.
“... I'll make a report about your cart,” the constable, “but there's more serious games afoot than the theft of a cart.”
The tanner spat at his feet. “Another tom? There's another on the way from Ireland to replace her even now.” He turned and glared at Weasel. “What're you doing?” he snarled.
“The crowd ...” Weasel whined. “I need to catch my breath.”
“Well catch it somewhere else,” the copper growled. “This is police business.”
Weasel turned back to the crowd, burbling his thanks to the two gentlemen for their patience and kindness. He found himself standing exactly where he didn't want to be, beside a patch of congealed liquid in the gutter. Nobody paid it the slightest attention. East Enders could avoid stepping in filth almost autonomically. Weasel joined the flow, thankful to be carried away. Donkey could have stood and stared, but Donkey wasn't there. Donkey had left him in the Duke of Clarence, taken the money and left him.
The cold hand squeezed gently as Weasel remembered the wallet inside his shirt. He reached inside and touched its inconceivable burden, and he sighed. The bully hadn't rolled him before he bounced him into the alley. He'd learn, but not at Weasel's expense. The hand relaxed enough to let him come to a halt with the rest of the crowd before the mouth of a close that was squalid even by Whitechapel standards. It was blocked off by boards laid atop sawhorses and three coppers of a size and grim disposition to give even Donkey pause.
Weasel heard the whispers in the crowd. 'Murder' said the whispers, but murder was tuppence common in London and would hardly draw attention from passers by to a bleeding corpse in the street, never mind draw a crowd like this. 'Slaughter' the whispers continued, but even that would not have drawn such numbers from pressing business like earning a drink. 'Disembowelment' the whispers shrieked, which was admittedly out of the ordinary, but still not enough ... 'The Ripper' the whispers said, and nothing more needed to be said. Weasel heard the name and knew the toffs would already be in their carriages, on their way from St James' and Kensington to the scene of Jack's fifth killing. Or was it his sixth? Weasel had known two of the bitches, Annie Chapman and Lizzie Stride. What had they done to bring down such horror on themselves, except sell themselves for gin, as poor women had always done?
Suddenly Weasel couldn't breathe. Donkey had brained a man from Mars yards from where the corpse of the latest tom torn open by Jack the Ripper was not yet cool, and what was there in the Martian's bag? A bloodstained saw and knife.
They'd done for Jack the Ripper!
Weasel went left with the crowd towards Bishopsgate, but not before he glimpsed another face in the entry to Miller's court – Fred Abberline, the copper charged with bringing Jack to a rope's end. Weasel ducked his head. He and Inspector Frederick Abberline had history, and he wanted it to remain history. Nobody of light-fingered persuasion needed Fred Abberline in his present or future. Not that it would be much of a future. Abberline stood next to a man and knew the price of his soul to the last pennyworth. In nightmares Weasel found himself before St Peter to account for himself and found himself staring into Fred Abberline's eyes.
Behind him the crowd recognised the Inspector and voiced their disapprobation for the policeman who couldn't keep their streets safe from the monster in the fog. Whispers came again, 'Jews' and 'Armenians', 'Tanners' and 'Butchers'. Weasel closed his ears. What did the mob know? He had only to close his eyes to see those blood soaked instruments of death. Spring heeled Jack had ripped his last whore, Weasel was sure. He had seen to that, he and Donkey. He had only to announce it and he would be a hero. The mob's bellow would be heard by the Widow of Windsor. 'Sir Weasel' the mob would call so loud that Lord Salisbury would not be able to ignore them, no matter how hard he tried, which was very hard, what with him being both Prime Minister and a Tory.
Only that was whimsy. Nobody would believe him if he cried out that Jack was a Martian. However true it might be, such an inconvenient truth would be buried, along with him, somewhere nobody would ever search. Weasel paid no attention to affairs of state – what were they to do with him? – but even he could not ignore the huge silver needle in Hyde Park and the negotiations for the Martians to join the empire, the British Empire, not the French or the Austrian or the Russian, the Great White Queen's empire! They might have put out more bunting and held more parades if God himself had come visiting, but it would have been a close run thing. Not only would half the globe be coloured red, the red planet would be too! Anyone who imagined half a dozen street whores would get in the way of such arrangements didn't live in England but in Cloud Cuckoo land, and that would be part of the empire soon enough!
The crowd allowed him out into Bishopsgate, and he slowly made his way back to Corn Street, where he had his gaff. He paused only to give a week's rent to Mrs Luscombe. She glared down at him over a bosom big enough to play billiards on, but said nothing, only pocketed the coins. Weasel always paid his rent, didn't disturb her other tenants and had never brought the coppers to her door. She didn't see it as her business where he found his money, as long as enough of it came her way.
He hopped upstairs and closed his door, standing still long enough to convince himself nobody was following. Then he removed the wallet and tipped it out onto the mattress. Quickly he unscrewed the brass ball on the bedstead, rolled up the notes as tight as he could and then stuffed the roll into the bedstead, before replacing the ball. He'd drop the wallet somewhere safe when he went out to work tonight. In the meantime it went back inside his shirt and he lay down to sleep. With any luck, he was so tired he would not dream.
The Weasel steered clear of Bell Lane for weeks, even when the Ripper wasn't headlines and coppers returned to spending their nights as they had before the unknown butcher started spilling whore's blood. Being outside his home ground made Weasel's life more difficult, but not overly so. A mark was a mark. Life was more or less back on an even keel, and his nose was just above the stinking tide without Donkey to divert him.
Then the world turned upside down. That needle left in a cataclysm of fire and thunder that saw Marble Arch reduced to rubble, the Serpentine turned to steam and the park itself transformed into a scorched wasteland. As usual, the widow was in Scotland, mourning Albert, so she was unaffected, but that did not keep Lord Salisbury promising revenge on the perfidious aliens who spoke fine words but brought only destruction in their wake. He neglected to say how the empire would reach out and smite the red planet when it was the Martians who had ships to pass through the aether and not Britain.
The Weasel's reaction was to unscrew his bedstead and remove the role of £20 notes. Who would mind if he used the Martians' bank notes to a proper use?
Leo Wittgenstein's lair was behind the Great Eastern railway station, as rancid and dangerous a sink as there was in any city. Coppers went round in Whitehall in twos and threes. They didn't go around the back of Liverpool Street at all. Eyes bored into Weasel as he hopped the streets, trying to look as though he wasn't there at all. Eventually he ducked into Leo's butcher shop, not that Leo had sold so much as a sausage in as long as anyone could remember. Weasel went through the shop and into the courtyard at the rear. He found Wittgenstein seated behind a table, bald and unshaven, wearing a claw hammer coat long since unfashionable and fingerless gloves. The table was covered with items having nothing to do with the butchery trade. In a twinkling they were covered by a grubby sheet and Wittgenstein peered at him over the top of his half rimmed spectacles, his face cracked open in a gap-toothed smile Weasel would rather not have seen.
“Weasel, my dear man, its been ... its been ...” Wittgenstein tapped his front tooth with a knife. “Too long, too long however long it's been. Take the weight off your foot. How can I accommodate you?”
Weasel sat down and began his carefully rehearsed speech. “I have something I believe you will find interesting.”
“Rare enough,” Weasel said, “but definitely valuable.”
The £20 note appeared on the table. Wittgenstein reached out for it as though afraid it might bite him. Rather than pick it up, he pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and peered at Weasel. It seemed as though his preternaturally large eyes could see through his uninvited guest's armour of deceit and see the hidden truth.
“It would be indelicate of me enquire how you came about this rare but valuable item,” Wittgenstein temporised.
“Nobody could ever accuse you of indelicacy, Mr Wittgenstein,” said Weasel, his skinny buttocks squirming on his hard, wooden seat. The two men stared at the note, and then at each other, afraid to make a wrong decision.
“Two,” whispered Wittgenstein.
“Guineas,” blurted Weasel, his heart bounding with delight. He had hoped for thirty shillings. Such a note challenged even Wittgenstein's reputation. Rumour held that he could fence even the Crown Jewels, but Weasel didn't have the Crown Jewels, just a fortune in blasted bank notes. “Guineas,” he repeated.
“But of course!” beamed Wittgenstein. “We are gentlemen, after all.” He extended his right hand across the table, neglecting to remove his glove. Weasel was happy to shake hands, happier still to get to his foot with two guineas in change clinking in his pocket. He was in the doorway before Wittgenstein's voice caught up with him.
“Oh, Mr Weasel , . .”
Weasel turned to see him holding the note between his finger and thumb.
“You wouldn't happen to have any more of these, would you?”
Weasel shook his head. “But you'll be the first to know if I find another.”
Wittgenstein smiled and nodded. The note vanished. “Don't let me detain you. I'm sure you have pressing affairs demanding your immediate attention.”
Weasel pegged out of the shop so fast he didn't see Wittgenstein appear in the doorway and beckon to an urchin squatting just inside the shop, waiting for any errand. Wittgenstein pressed a sheet of paper into his hand, confident the illiterate boy would not dare unfold it, even if he could read. He bent down and whispered in his ear. What colour there was in the youth's face vanished and he looked up with fear in his gaze. Wittgenstein smiled benignly, reassuring him. The boy did not look convinced, but got to his feet and vanished from the shop, heading west. Wittgenstein returned to his court and gazed at the note. Exactly where would a street dip like the Weasel come upon such magnificence?
After exchanging some of his fenced cash for a warming amount of brandy, Weasel returned to Cook Street, planning weeks of leisure and the satiation of all his appetites. When he opened his door he found Fred Abberline sitting on his bed, and a uniformed constable to size of an elephant suddenly appeared on the landing. The brandy tried to leave through his mouth and anus at the same time.
“Come in, come in, Weasel,” laughed Abberline. “I have been so looking forward to our discussion.”
“Ain' done nuffin, Mr Abberline. Honest to God.”
Abberline shook his head. “We both know that isn't true, don't we.” He smiled as though he was treating Weasel as an equal, and they were speaking man to man. Weasel wasn't fooled. Fred Abberline was a thickset, dark haired man from Dorset, a policeman who believed giving criminals their just desserts required both intelligence and diligence, a view that did not find much favour with his superiors, aristocrats and retired army officers. Weasel sided with the aristocrats, in this if nothing else. “Now, why don't you just stand there and unburden yourself?”
The Ripper was the only reason Abberline could be interested in him, so Weasel told him everything and the Inspector listened, nodding as though Weasel was singing his favourite song.
“A word to the wise, Weasel, a word to the wise. You should be very careful who you tell that story.”
“Story,” whined Weasel, almost in tears of relief. “It's the truth!”
Abberline nodded. “Of course it is. Every impossible word of it.”
Weasel stared, open mouthed. “Ye know?”
Abberline surged to his feet, standing with his nose inches from Weasel, his eyes bulging and the veins in his nose and cheeks throbbing.
“Of course I know, you idiot!” he roared. “I've known from the moment Mitchell put that cudgel of his across the back of his head!”
Trapped between Abberline and the constable, Weasel wondered who this 'Mitchell' was. It was Donkey killed the Martian. If Abberline had known about it, why hadn't they been picked up?
Abberline stepped away and paced the tiny room, speaking as though he had read Weasel's mind.
“Those ... those things couldn't take a piss and we didn't know exactly how much water they passed and what colour it was, the same colour as you and me, if you are interested. We knew they were taking turns conducting ... 'anatomical research' on Whitechapel tarts, and I could have felt their collars any time my lords and masters permitted. Which they never did. I told them agitators were using Jack to stir up the mob, and if they weren't very careful they would turn Cable Street into Peterloo. I might as well have saved my breath. Lord Salisbury told me the negotiations were much more important than the lives of eight women.”
“Eight?” interrupted Weasel. “There were only five.”
Abberline shook his head. “Eight. If the yellow press knew about the other three there would be hussars on London Bridge.”
“If the Martians were so important, 'ow come ye never picked up me an' Donkey when 'e killed one?”
“Oh, it was all up by then, bar the shouting.” Abberline took a pipe out of his jacket pocket and began the ritual of filling and lighting it. “They never wanted to join the empire. They wanted to take it over. We watched them, sneaking round Portsmouth and Woolwich, Sandhurst and Woking, scratching on those tablets of theirs, counting the dragoons and the dreadnoughts. They thought they were really clever, but we had their number from day one, believe you me. So, when they complained one of their number was missing his lordship read them chapter and verse of what we knew they'd been up to. Proper put their tales between their legs, he did. At least, that's what I've been told.”
Smiling to himself, Abberline lit his pipe and hungrily inhaled the foul smoke.
“Said they would be back, they did. I'd like to see 'em try. Old England will be ready for 'em!”
Weasel nodded, wondering what any of this was to do with him. “What about the corpse?” he murmured.
“Packed in ice and off to America before the pair of you stepped inside the Duke of Clarence. Seems Mr Edison was eager to get his scientific hands on it and someone in government decided it would be a good way of paying off a debt.” Abberline's tone of voice suggested he was no more in agreement with this than he was with allowing the Martians to slaughter prostitutes. He might have no time for women who plied their trade on his streets, but he had no time at all for anyone who murdered them there. “I'll tell you what is a real mystery, though.”
“Yes?” Weasel most sincerely did not want to hear what Fred Abberline thought was a mystery. He was not going to emerge well from the revelation.
“How the butcher got his hands on Dr Gull's instruments.”
Weasel shook his head. “Who's Dr Gull when he's whitewashed?”
“Personal physician to the Widow of Windsor, that's who,” explained Abberline, examining his extinguished pipe with annoyance. He knocked the bowl against the heel of his shoe, leaving a heap of unsmoked tobacco and damp ash on Weasel's floor. He grinned at Weasel. “Well, this has been a diverting conversation, Weasel old chap, but I'm a busy man and duty calls. You just tell me where you put the rest of the £20 notes and I'll be on my way.”
“Wha' would ah be doin' wi' £20 notes?”
“You know, Leo Wittgenstein wondered exactly the same thing.”
Abberline's fist slammed into Weasel's gut, and he would have spewed the brandy in his stomach all over the policeman's shiny black boots if he hadn't danced backwards.
“You may be a fool,” hissed Abberline into his face while constable held Weasel upright, “but don't you ever take me for one.” He flexed his fingers, making a fist again. “Now, is there anything you want to tell me before you're taken away?”
“Taken away!” Weasel wailed.
“Of course,” smiled Abberline. “You didn't think you could roam the streets knowing what you know now. You're in for a detailed examination, Weasel, and I fear the diagnosis will be severe. I should say goodbye to the sun, were I you.” He blew through his pipe and made an eerie whistling sound. “Now, before I have you delivered to Dr Gull for a very thorough examination of a through going criminal such as yourself, where is the other £980?”
“You can't do this!” shouted Weasel, wriggling so violently that he escaped the constable's grasp and staggered away to the window, where fell so heavily against the frame that it pulled out of the wall and fell into the street below, the Weasel going with it to land on his neck on the cobbles and die instantly.
Abberline and the constable gazed down at the twisted, broken figure two storeys below. “Sad that,” mused Abberline. “I don't suppose there's enough time to toss the room for the rest of the money?” The constable stood, unmoved. Abberline sighed. “I didn't think so. Well, let's go and lose ourselves in paperwork, shall we.” He walked out of the door and down the stairs to where Mrs Luscombe stood in her doorway, arms folded and eyes blazing. She put out her arm to prevent Abberline leaving.
“Who is going to pay for my window, that's what I want to know.”
Abberline took her arm and moved it out of his way. “I should bill the Commissioner, if I were you,” he said, walking past her and out into the street, followed by the constable, who turned and winked at her. She did not wink back. She had come a long way since she lived on the street and had to keep on the good side of the likes of Constable Iron. Well, at least Mr Weasel was up to date with his rent. She would pay for the window out of his deposit.
She walked slowly up the two flights of stairs, knees giving her gip. When she entered the all but empty room she realised there wouldn't be much to be had from his few possessions. Feeling suddenly weary and strangely put out by the wretch's death, she might have fallen had she not reached out to support herself on the bedpost and felt the brass ball move in her hand. “What . . ?” How had that runt managed to loosen it and keep her from knowing? Forgetting his death, her pains, everything, she unscrewed the ball as quickly as she could and found the secret hidden within. When she spread the notes on the bed she could no longer keep from falling down. Her heart pounded and breath was so hard to catch she wondered whether she, too, might fall down dead.
Where had Weasel got all that money?
When she got her breath back she decided that didn't matter. She knew exactly where to go to get good value for these notes, and it was nowhere near any copper's snout like Leo Wittgenstein. The real thieves were in the City, thieves who understood only profit and need not look over their shoulders at the likes of Fred Abberline. She might even get five shillings in the pound.
Sophie Luscombe put on her best coat and bonnet, walking out onto Cook Street with the spring in her step of someone who did not intend to be coming back. She held her head high, as she always did, ready to spit in the eye of anyone who got in her way. The sun warmed her face, bringing a small smile to her usually stern features. After all, the sun shone on the righteous, did it not?
© 2007 Martyn Taylor
Bio: Mr. Taylor has recently returned to writing short stories after a long time away writing long stuff (that always seems to end up in development hell). He says "I try to write straight but always seem to slide off into my own, peculiar world view."
E-mail: Martyn Taylor
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