Inspector Stone’s Case-book
9 March – late afternoon—continued.
Cotford lay just inside the threshold. A small entry wound in the forehead. A massive exit wound which had expelled considerable tissue, brain matter, and bone. He lay on his back. Head to the door, thus positioning his feet into the sitting room. His left hand splayed open, palm up. The right lay across his chest. His hat—his hat. I looked up and through the open door and saw his hat, which had fallen off from the impact of the bullet – where it lay now just beyond the short porch. It was being kicked about by the wind. I hurried to retrieve it. In the distance, I could hear the sound of police whistles. Constables on the run. Hat in hand I glanced across the road to observe several ladies beginning to step outside their barely opened doors. Apt not to have seen anything – they usually don’t. I turned to return to poor Isaac – and as I approached the open threshold I took note of the significant blood splatter upon the door and moulding, the bits of tissue oddly clinging to the wooden surface. I exhaled a long sigh and forced myself to not allow this to bring up old memories of my father. He too had been taken down in the line of duty. But that was what keeps us progressing forward, duty, to the living as well as to the dead and so, stepping across the body, I bent down to begin a quick examination of his pockets.
What I was most particularly interested in was finding his case-book. I wanted to see what notes he thus far complied in his investigation. I discovered it in an inner pocket of his heavy overcoat. I was just scanning a few pages when a breathless constable came trotting up the walk to the short porch.
“What’s the matter here—oh, Christ on a pony . . . t-that’s Inspector Cotford.” He exclaimed upon seeing the body.
“Yes,” Still kneeling beside the body, I confirmed his identification, even as I fished out my identification from my coat pocket and held it up for his inspection, “Metropolitan Police. I am Inspector Stone.” And, as chance would have it, PC Alderton, returning by way of the back door, quite visibly shaken, stepped into the sitting room, “And this . . . this is PC Alderton.”
I arose, Cotford’s case-book in hand, holding it as if it where my own. “There was an intruder. We had arrived to search the flat of the dead woman, Pamela Dean, and we came upon him in surprise. He pulled a firearm. And, at a most inopportune time, Inspector Cotford arrived at the front door. As he attempted to enter the premises, the intruder fired; and then made way his escape through the back, there,” I pointed toward the open doorway leading from the sitting room to the bedroom, “With PC Alderton giving chase.”
The constable looked at her a bit incredulously.
“He made his way along the access road along the railway.” Alderton a bit breathlessly explained, “He took a shot at me as well, and then escaped by way of a motorcar. A black Napier.”
I glanced up to the constable at the door with some agitation, “Quick man. Get word to Thames Station. We have need of a surgeon. A supervisory officer to take charge of the scene . . . as well as several constables to secure these lodgings. An Inspector has been murdered here.”
“Right, Sir,” and he stepped off smartly.
As he stepped off upon the snowy walkway he spoke to an approaching constable and I would assume gave him the particulars of the scene. The arriving constable hurried up to the door and looked at the Inspector’s body. The splatter of blood and brain tissue.
“Keep watch of this door.” I told him, as I began to flip through the pages of Cotford’s case-book.
I turned a page of the case-book and stopped. The whole of the evidence of the broom-man, Jeremiah Hurley, was troubling. More so in that Constable Baxter had not returned to the station to make his report. I turned toward the door leading into the bedroom. Entering I found PC Alderton busy transcribing the titles of books upon Dean’s desk.
“Anything of interest?” I asked.
“He had a book – in his hand – which he took.” She explained, and having completed the inventory of the desk proceeded now to the end table, “An accounting of what remains may be significance.”
“A book? Did you take note of the title?”
“Didn’t see it, “ she kept scribbling the titles upon the page of her note-book, “It was yellow, with a red title on front and spine. Looked rather ornate.”
“She does seem to have been quite the reader.”
“That she was.” She agreed, “Didn’t she have a receipt from a bookseller in her purse?
“Yes, I think she did” I nodded, continuing to read of Cotford’s notes, I flipped back a page, “Yes—a sales receipt from Hathaway Fine Books.”
“Of course, she may have gotten it elsewhere, but we should see what she purchased there.” She added distractedly as she scribbled titles furiously. I could tell she was aware of the time element as well.
“This is not going to sit well, the City Police who were already unhappy about the Yard stepping in and now, one of there own has been shot. We will not have this note-book long I can assure you.” I stated the obvious.
“Then I propose we copy what we can out of the note-book.” She offered as she flitted from place to place, jotting notes, titles of books, while flinching ever so slightly whenever she came accidentally in contact with the bits of grey matter which had splattered upon her uniform.
“Not to put too find a point on it, in asking, do you know shorthand?”
“Although I may be a woman, Inspector,” She quickly replied and looked sharply at me, “That is not one of my talents.”
I nodded as I put Cotford’s case-book in my coat pocket.
PC Alderton taking note of my disposition of the Inspector’s case-book gave me a inquiring glance.
“In our haste we may have forgotten it was put away for safe keeping. It can be returned upon request.” I explained as I proceeded to look about the bedroom. It served as well as a kind of study – for there was a desk before a pair of windows looking out upon the back yard and across the way, the industrial view of a rail yard. The flat consisted of four rooms: a sitting room, the bedroom/study, a kitchen, and WC. The bedroom was neat and tidy, very well kept. I took note of the books. They were arranged, either on the end table, the desk, or, upon the floor in a symmetrical ordering. The room was growing darker and so I stepped over to the desk, upon which sat, centrally located a reading lamp. The flat had had gas laid on, by the discoloration and marking left upon the wallpaper, but had since been replaced with electricity. I turned the lamp on. The desk was sparse: a pencil, an ink well, pen, and paper. And of course the books.
“This—this is all wrong.” I said with a lifted brow.
PC Alderton looked up, “Wrong, how?"
“Look at this room is there anything amiss?” I asked and once again turned to observe the room, “In the whole of the house, everything is as she left it, all fastidiously neat and tidy – there was no ransacking of the premises. Our intruder, he knew what he was looking for – and it was apparently this book of which you speak? It just seems odd."
She stopped writing titles of the books in the small bookcase in order to look at me, “You’re right. This is careful. Planned.”
I turned once more to the desk, “Did you check the desk?" Before she replied I had opened a drawer or two, but there didn’t seem to be anything amiss or of any interest.
Aware I was already into the desk, she stepped over so as to observe my inspection. “It is possible her dismemberment . . . is meaningless.”
“Yes—or possibly a means of subterfuge to conceal the real facts of her death.”
She looked out the window to the darkening twilight, the small yard and half-wall creating the small separation from the mechanical activities of the railroad across the way.
“These homes are not the best situated,” I remarked with a wave of my hand before the window, “Night trains travel through during the early morning hours. One can not be a light sleeper.”
“Stone—“ She began.
Only my attention was drawn to the small stack of paper well placed upon the desk. It lay pushed back from the centre, as if it were the resting place when her writing had been completed. I tilted my head slightly and yes, there, in the light from the window was a slight indentation upon the top page. I reached over and lifted the sheet and glanced at it askew. Picking up the pencil atop the desk I discovered the lead had been broken. “Do you have a pencil?”
Alderton gave me a look as she handed me the one she had been using to transcribe the book titles into her note-book.
“I know that I am not terribly well liked or trusted in the station,” She continued the thought she had begun, which I had interrupted – being as I was not at all certain where this was heading. But, I was more than sure she had an obvious grasp of the situation – not that she had not been set-up by the toffs just in case of such an disadvantageous occasion. A dead City Police Inspector just inside the door of the murder victim’s flat mere hours after having accepted the assignment of the Dean murder hunt was not going to sit well with anyone, least of all the powers that be at the London City Police. " A woman? " I could hear it being said in Barrington’s office, “You placed a woman in charge of an murder investigation. And not even a detective at that. I mere Police Constable. Just how many cases does she have under advisement. What if there is some outbreak of hysteria when the press turns this all into a night out at the opera? Oh, this is dodgy Barrington very, very dodgy to say the least – and what do we have to show for it, hey? One of our own murdered! A City Police Inspector.
I tried to concentrate on the paper in hand.
“If I asked you to do something . . . “ She continued, standing rather close, observing the paper in my hand, “Something abnormal . . . would you?
I placed the page upon the desk and taking the pencil began to rub the lead upon the it, as I gave her a side-long glance, “"Abnormal you say?"
“Would you go to the library for me?” She asked.
I stopped the rubbing and looked at her: “And this is your estimation of abnormal? The library?”
“Yes.” She said with an edge of anxiety in her voice.
“If I know that for which I am being asked to look for.” I replied whilst my attention was diverted to the rubbing upon the page, “Here, take a note of this.” On the page the lead of the pencil rubbing had revealed via the impression: Waterloo tonight, Bradley.
PC Alderton smirks slightly, whether in regards to my response or the message revealed by the pencil lead I was uncertain.
“Neither of us know what we’re looking for, but I have a friend there who probably does.”
“At the library?”
“Yes – It is about the books, I am certain.’ She replied.
I then used the lead to make yet another rubbing, slightly lower, written at an angle, possibly some time later than the first: Contact for sale assured.
“Plus, she has a reflexive reprographic machine with which she could copy this journal a lot faster.”
“I must say I would certainly desire to maintain a facsimile copy.”
I turned to her, “Here what do you make of this?" I asked as I handed her the page, "Waterloo Station is very near where the dismembered parts were found. But, where would one . . . " I let the thought trail away – where ever she was disassembled, it had not been here in this flat.
“Them I will trade you,” She torn the page from her case-book upon which she had made the list of books, “I will take Waterloo – if you take this list to her. Her name is Irene Reedman. Maughan Library, Kings College.”
I glanced at the lengthy list of books and folded it and placed in my inner coat pocket as I continued to look about the well organized flat. “ I wonder who this Bradley is? There is no mention of him in Cotford’s case-book. “
“Hopefully we’ll find out tonight when we trap him on the bridge.” She sighed.
But I was suddenly preoccupied as I had taken notice of something near the window, barely concealed behind the drape. “What is that?”
PC Alderton stood for a moment looking at the drape before pulling on it slowly to reveal a piece of paper propped up behind it. She took immediate notice that the front side was marked with a large red circle. Her fingers also uncovered a stickiness at the top where multiple pieces of adhesive had been used. She reached over to the window pane and touched the pane. “It has been held here against the glass with adhesive.”
“A sign – used to signal some confederate.” I surmised, pointing out the window, “Perhaps located strategically along the rail-yard to observe.” But at the moment I had little time to examine the find as from the bedroom door there now came the voice of a constable.
“They’re sending a City Inspector and the Surgeon down, Sir,”
“Very good,” I replied as I turned to face him, “Keep watch upon all these accesses to the flat. We have little idea from whom these rooms may next draw attention.”
“Right you are sir." And the constable was off.
“I think it is our time to leave Mr Stone,“ Alderton said flatly, folding the paper to put into her case-book.
“I wonder what that is all about?” I remarked indicating the page she had slipped into the case-book. It clearly indicated there was someone else involved in whatever Dean was about.
PC Alderton sighed, “Well. . . we have a dismembered woman, an un-ransacked apartment with only a book missing. . . a few furtive messages and I am covered head to toe in what used to be another person . . . If I didn’t know any better, I’d say we’re in a spy thriller . . . She did work for the Admiralty. I wonder if this is maybe a naval symbol?”
Stone lifts an eyebrow, “Well, if we are not going to be detained here for the night, we best depart before the City Police arrive.”
Purposefully we moved back through the sitting room to be confronted once again by the grim spectacle of the blood and tissue splattered door. The bluing corpse of Inspector Cotford lying just inside the sitting room. Instinctively, I placed my hand flat against my pocket reassuring myself that his case-book was secure.
The constable standing just outside the door, speaking to another, who had apparently only recently arrived, glanced back at us inquisitively. “And here they are now.”
I pointed to the door, “Ensure no one passes until the surgeon and the supervising officer arrives.”
The newly arrived constable gave us a look, “You are departing?”
“Yes – there are other avenues of investigation to which we are called.”
I made way for PC Alderton as she stepped over the body and across the short porch to the snowy walkway upon which there was now a track various sets of footprints.
“I say sir, the Surgeon and an Inspector should be here—“ The Constable protested.
“Of that I am certain.” I replied following in Alderton’s wake, “But need I remind you we are on the trail of a murderer who does not put too find a distinction upon those who wear the uniform. Inform them of all that has transpired here.”
“But – what sir, has transpired here?”
I turned sharply, “The murder of a Detective Inspector.”
“Oh, aye, so glad you lads at the Metropolitan could take a moment in your busy day to so inform us.” The smart tongued constable said unable to restrain his irritation. One which if I were in his position I would also entertain.
But we continued unhurriedly toward the Wolseley; drawing near, I extended my hand, “The keys.”
Alderton seemed hesitant, “I will have need of the car for the trip to the library,” I explained. She handed them over, “And as for you, I would suggest you review what we have uncovered as Barrington will be most anxious for a report now that we have a City Detective murdered.”
“I’m going for the bridge.” She said closing the door of the motor car.
“It grows late.” I said replied closing my own door and starting the Wolseley, “And night is upon us. And more snow is coming. I shall feel not at all comfortable in leaving you alone—not there.”
“I’ll raise a couple constables.” She told me as I turned the motor car about in the slick slush mucking up the street and headed back toward the Thames.
‘This sign. This red circle. We best look into this – it gives strong indication that whatever Miss Dean might have been involved with, she may very well have had accomplices. I will see this – woman . . . at the library—“
“Irene Reedmn,” She told me with a smile as she adjusted her hat, her hand careful of the bloodstain upon the shoulder of her overcoat.
“Yes, Irene Reedmin –“ I nodded, “But, I would be remiss in not saying that I see nothing good of this desire of yours to observe the bridge.”
She was looking out her window, “They are covering their tracks, Inspector. Although having been carefully examined and searched, they may still feel some sense of obligation to see for themselves they have left nothing behind. And, then there is the rubbing.”
I glanced over at her, “But we know not when that assignation was intended.”
Whereupon she sat silently, watching twilight give way to dusk
I drove back to the Victoria Embankment and pulled to halt near Tillman’s Timber Yard. There was an undisturbed covering of fresh snow lying atop the stacks of timber, as well as upon the decks of a small ship now docked, and the wharf, lined with dark-hued crates and barrels, each bearing the beginnings of new hoary drifts. Along the small pier near the bridge and the arch closest to the embankment, various small boats rocked in the wash of the Thames. "Are you sure you will be quite alright, Alderton?” I looked about, Tillman’s looks deserted enough. “There is a beat constable that passes by here – a PC Harper I believe – from Cotford’s notes. Be sure to flag him – I don’t want you here alone for long.”
“I shall be quite well Sir.” She told me closing the door and stepping back from the vehicle, “I am a very adept swimmer.”
“Swimmer?” I knitted my brows and pointed to the Thames, “You will maintain a discreet distance from that water.”
She smiled and waved me on.
I shifted into gear and the car lurched forward as I proceeded to Kings’ College and the library. The snow falling lightly upon the windscreen; although I strongly suspected it would soon grown in intensity. I glanced back to see Alderton turning on her torch and stepping forward. What makes a woman want to take a job such as this? I sighed heavily as I was suddenly mindful of the sight of her flinching when she had accidently touched the clinging bits of Cotford’s brain upon her coat.
Police Constable Vera Alderton Report
Evidence given in regard to events that transpired at Waterloo Bridge, 21 February, 1916.
Having proceeded from Number 85 Blackfriar Road, SE (the flat of the alleged murder victim Pamela Dean), Inspector Stone and I took separate lines of inquiry. Owing to the brazen intrusion of the Dean premises by the intruder, in apparent search of nothing more than a solitary book, I was of a mind that he and his motorman might feel the need to revisit the site upon which they had first haphazardly installed the dismembered parts of Pamela Dean, for some other overlooked clue; as well as the information supplied from the rubbing taken off the impression left upon a page of writing paper discovered upon the victim’s desk. I decided to take up surveillance of the Waterloo Bridge. It was 7:05. The night was chill. A light snow had begun to fall as I looked about seeking an advantageous position from which to observe the area of the embankment leading up to the bridge with its collection of small piers and boats. As well as the arches and the dark recesses underneath. As I was aware that a constable from the Strand made a route along Surry Street and then around to Arundel in order to make his round back to Strand, I kept a wary eye for him. If necessary I could call out for assistance, but as one officer of the law had already died during this investigation I was determined not to allow that to happen again. The foremost weakness in my plan to lay observation to the bridge, should I once again encounter the Blackfriar Road intruder and his motorman, was in the fact there was only myself to keep watch. A brief search of Tillman’s Timber yard provided me with a pair of good sized dowels, which binding with twine and using my coat, I dressed as best I could to serve as a ‘scarecrow’ constable to give the appearance of having not only a reinforcement but a watch from another vantage point. It was growing considerably colder as the wind from the river was brisk and I was now without my overcoat. The flakes of snow began to grow more and more frequent as the flurry increased. I extinguished my torch and settled back amongst a stack of timber, to serve as brace against the wind as well as to afford concealment. It was then that I took note of a man approaching along the snow covered walk along the Embankment. He approached from the east and made his way toward a streetlight located near a bench. From his worn shoes, threadbare trousers and the frayed edges of his coat’s lapels and cuffs, along with the bottle of gin in hand, I surmised he was one of the occasional casuals who found a refuge beneath the arches of the bridge. He was humming a tune which I hazard to say was a sad attempt at ‘Nancy Lee.’ “’ey you, ain’t you got no sense girl. Jack’s back and he’s ripping’em up once again. Damn police never did find his arse.” He proceeded to exclaim having apparently spotted me as he approached. I ignored him. “You best take care, Saucy Jack if ‘e get’s ‘is ‘ands on ya, then—” And he made a motion with his hand across his throat, “Then you ain’t even got time for to scream.” He then proceeded to cackle at his mirth and took a long drink from his bottle of gin. I sighed and muttered a comment to myself. Shivering slightly, I continued to maintained watch long the approach from the bridge as well as the area beneath it’s arches. The light snow had begun to increase into a steady downfall as it collected upon all it lay a claim upon. Its hoariness gave a eerie illumination amongst the gathering of shadows. In the glow of the streetlamps along the Waterloo Bridge I could see the falling flakes as they gathered momentum. Upon the Victoria Embankment, the vagabond drunk had staggered over to the small bench where he had taken a rag to dramatically clear away the nearest edge in order to take up a seat to occasionally tip back his bottle of gin as the snow began to settled upon his shoulders. Off in the distance a rather forlorn dog howled. As he had apparently decided to sit and entertain himself by his observation of me, I left my place of concealment and approached. “What is you name?” I inquired, hoping that in making an official query I could move him along. “Neil Byrne. And this ‘ere bench it be mine, well most nights, anyway.” “Was it yours last night?” He squinted up at me, “What’s a girly like yourself doin’ out ‘ere, anyways. You don’t ‘ave the looks of one who shelters here much among the timbers. Them shoes of yours be not worn.” I felt a rise of frustration. His presence could dissuade any possible visitation by the intruder or a meeting that may have been arranged. “Official police business,” I explained and showed him my identification. To which he tossed back his head and laughed, “Police business you say? Lord, save us! Women coppers. Damn the war!” And he spat. I took a step back – uncertain if it was the war to which he directed his expectoration or myself. I revealed my truncheon in any case, aware of the snow stinging upon my heated cheeks. In the distance the dog howled once again. “I could have you in for an attempted assault upon an officer of the Metropolitan Police.” I said in the renewed hope of running him off. He took a sip of his gin, “The Met you say? You couldn’t catch ‘im then and you won’t be catchin’ ‘im now.”’ And, he spat again, this time ensuring it was away from me. “Bleeding Scotland Yard! What good were any of ya? So’s, now you ‘ere abouts the bits of the poor lass they found lying all about?" He made an expansive wave of his hand. “No, I’m here about a drunken git that sleeps on a nearby bench harassing passers-by.” He smiled and looked up at me, “I say’s it’s ‘im that be back – took ‘imslef a ‘oilday, ‘e did, off to the Isle of White for a bit of sun and such.” And as the dog continued to howl once again I was prepared to roust Byrne away when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I took notice of what appeared to be some movement in the light cast by the streetlamp upon the bridge. “O aye, and that stickman of your’s ‘e ain’t goin’ be all that much to rip.” “You—you be quite.” I told him sternly. It was 7:15. In the dim visibility, I returned my glaze to the Waterloo Bridge to see standing there behind the stone balustrade the figure a woman. She seemed to be looking down toward us visible as we were in the glow of the streetlamp near the bench upon which sat the gin soaked Neil Byrne. The dog howled again and somewhere not too far distant another dog echoed his howl in reply. For a moment I hesitated, unsure if the figure upon the bridge was but a mere passer-by or a person of interest. "Dear Boss,” The drunk continued to mutter, "So, it’s back to the little game. Sawin’ em off in the timber-yard for ya. Ha Ha.” The woman upon the bridge stood unmoving in the swirl of the flakes discernible within the glow of the streetlamp. Byrne took yet another drink of his gin, “Bringing’em in me cart, all tall and in me whites.” “You,” I said to Byrne with a sigh of growing frustration, “Keep your arse on this bench.” And so saying I began to make my way toward the bridge. I looked back at him, pointing to the bench, for emphasis: “You hear what I say?” “Oh, aye, lass.” He smiled. “As I say, this ‘ere bench it be mine. . . most nights, anyway.” I sighed and turned away. Approaching the Waterloo Road from the embankment so as to step upward from the slippery slope to the roadway in order to make my entrance to the bridge I was suddenly aware that for a cold, snowy night there was an oddly growing mist. A fog which seemed to swirl about the streetlamp and about the woman. Stepping upon the bridge I produced my identification card, “I am Vera Alderton, Scotland Yard. Identify yourself.” But the mist thickening now into a heavy fog, seemed intent upon devouring the woman as well as the falling snow. I could barely see the feminine outline. She was tall, trim and proper. Not one that would usually be expected to wander Waterloo Bridge at night, in the snow, without a coat. Cautiously approaching I proceeded closer as I entered into the bank of fog. “Show yourself.” I ordered. But my only reply was from the waters of the Thames below and the howling of the dogs in the distance. I moved forward, my hands outstretched seeking a touch of the woman, and as I did so the fog suddenly began to dissipate as rapidly as it had appeared. I continued to reached in the sure expectancy of grasping the woman only there was nothing upon the bridge but the falling snow and the fading mist. A fine mist which oddly did not seem to be damp upon my flesh. I turned about, torch and truncheon in hand, but I was all alone upon the bridge. I took a step over to the damp, snow capped, stone balustrade and peered down into the dark waters, but I was already more than certain the woman had not jumped as I would have heard the accompanying sound of her immersion into the river. I looked now from the vantage point the woman had had to see Neil Byrne still seated upon the solitary bench. But now, as the echoing chorus of howling dogs began once more, I saw in the light of the streetlamp behind him the first hint of a mist. “You there, beware!” I called out uncertain of my apprehension; only the gin-soaked Byrne did not seem to hear as he continued to be muttering to himself. I turned to hasten back down from the bridge, watching as the mist in the glow of the streetlamp behind Byrne began to thicken just as it had earlier. As I turned to exit Waterloo Road back upon the Victoria Embankment, the mist had thickened into a fog spreading out toward the bench, where I could hear Byrne continuing in his preoccupation with JTR: “Time again . . . to play the funny little game. Ha Ha. You won’t see me in me white apron . .” The fog swirling thickly now to all but conceal Byrne, “Come away from there.” I ordered as I drew near. In reply Byrne cried out horribly. I drew upon the bench even as the mysterious fog once more began a sudden dissipation. I could now see Byrne slumped upon the bench. I walked over to him as the fog broke apart and faded to reveal the wet flakes of snow as they fell upon him. Upon reaching out to Byrne, when I touched him, the bottle of gin fell from his fingers. A quick inspection revealed him to be dead. His neck broken.
Inspector Stone’s Case-book
21 February – Evening —continued.
I must say I felt some considerable trepidation in having left PC Alderton alone upon the Victoria Embankment, but, for good or naught, this night would either assure AC Barrington’s experiment in the empowerment of the female ranks, or dissuade him of the idea altogether. For myself I had found my appraisal of Alderton having moderated by way of observation of her decorum and insights during our current investigation – in particular, her unhesitatingly giving chase to an armed assailant. I had seen many a man in uniform who would have balked at running head-long down that narrow access road mindful of facing a loaded Webley. Thus I wanted this errand done and a swift return to the embankment. There were still several lines of inquiry that needed attention.
But for now it was to the library.
The night had grown considerably more chill with the increase of the afternoon flurries as they gave way into the fullness of the evening’s snowfall, which, as I parked the motorcar before the imposing structure of the Maughan Library, had begun an accumulation upon the earlier slush of the street. Soon the tracks of trodden feet and the ruts of wheels carved upon the roadway would be obscured by newly fallen layer of fresh flakes. I hastened to the heavy front doors and entered. Whether it was the day, the hour, or the weather the library was scarcely populated. I made my way to the front desk. Presenting my identification, to the prim, white-haired woman sitting behind the counter on a high stool: “Yes, I am Inspector Stone. Metropolitan Police, I would speak with a Miss Irene Reedmin.”
She looked up to give me a rather haughty and a most unimpressed glance, “Metropolitan Police, you say?”
“Yes, madam.” I replied – twenty plus years and still the infamy of that mad-man retains amongst many of the citizenry a predisposition to hold us in their lowest estimation for our failures in his apprehension. And now, there where vague hints of his possible return.
The woman placed a heavy book on the desk with a laborious sigh, “She is on the second floor. Medical Reference."
“Thank you,” I replied and turned seeking the stairs
“Perhaps you might find the second floor.“ She called after me, “It is not all that difficult to locate, even for a Metropolitan.”
I ignored the slander and finding the stairs hastened to ascended in order to gain the second floor. It was even more solitary than the first. I took a moment to gather my bearings and then moved along the rows of the bookshelves. In the distance I detected the sound of what I surmised to be metal wheels rolling upon the hardwood floor. Thus, moving along a row of bookcases, I turned to observe a woman pushing a cart bearing upon it several stacks of books, from which she would retrieve one to place back upon a shelf. She was I would hazard to say in her early thirties. Her dark hair was gathered up and pulled back sharply to the nape of her neck, there pinned into a bun, from which idle strands found their escape; she wore sensible shoes for the profession; a long, hem to the ankle, dark skirt and a periwinkle hued blouse with a high collar adorned by a small cameo brooch. She wore a light grey smock, which I took for a professional garment.
“Excuse me, madam. I am Inspector Stone of the Metropolitan Police” I said by way of approach removing my identification card from my coat and presenting it, “ Would you happen to be Irene Reedmin?”
Little or no heed given to my identification, she slid a heavy book into place on the shelve before her, “Funny papers are in basement.”
“Yes, well madam, I am sorry, but I do not find murder to be at all humorous.” I retorted as I returned my identification card to my pocket, “I have been given to believe that you know, Vera Alderton. Is that not so?”
She paused in her resumption of pushing the cart and turned to look at me, “What’s Aldi done now?”
“At the moment, she is leading a murder hunt, and to that end, she has requested that I deliver to you this note,” I took the folded page torn from Alderton’s case-book bearing the list of books she had inventoried from Pamela Dean’s flat and handed it to her.
“Christ, and the woman says I’m gonna be the first to die.” Was her response as she took the note and unfolding the page began to scan the list of titles.
“Yes, well, I do think she strives for humour but it does not come easily to her.” I replied.
I watched somewhat astonished as Miss Reedmin reached into the left hand pocket of her grey smock in order to remove a narrow box of matches and a small cigarette case. She extracted one of the several rolled cigarettes, closed the case, and struck a blazing match. Lighting the cigarette, which gave off the scent of pipe tobacco, she then, with a quick flick of her wrist, extinguished the match, which went back into the matchbox. In a some what slightly undignified manner, she lifted a hip in order to settled herself upon the book-cart.
There perched she sat smoking and examining the list of titles.
“Where and when was this missing book purchased?’ She inquired, looking up from Alderton’s list, one hand tossed back with the cigarette burning between her fingers.
I reached into the inner pocket of my overcoat and removed Cotford’s case-book so as to review his notes in order to refresh my memory regarding the contents of Pamela Dean’s purse, “I am not at all sure this aligns with the book which was taken, but a receipt we have indicates about a fortnight ago.”
“And which seller?”
I checked again, “Hathaway Fine Books.”
I immediately took notice of her eyes. They seemed to glaze over upon the mentioning of the establishment, taking on that cast which I would say best described the allusion to a 1000-yard stare. She suddenly took a long frag from the cigarette.
“That lying swine!” she suddenly exploded in an exclamation of derision.
I frowned as I watched as she hopped off the book-cart and proceeded down the aisle, leaving her cart unattended.
“Pardon?” I asked uncertain of reasoning behind this exclamation.
Waving the hand with the trailing curl of cigarette smoke, she suddenly ordered me to follow: “Come along flat-foot. Keep up.”
I did as I was bidden.
“Your book,” she continued as we walked; her leading; me following behind, “It’s a first edition of Dracula, published in 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company, Westminster. Cloth bound. Yellow with red stamping.”
I admit to a certain puzzlement upon this pronouncement: “Dracula?” I am not at all certain what I expected but this information in regards to the book for which the intruder had risked detection and subsequent apprehension, had murdered Cotford, and no doubt Pamela Dean as well, was nothing more than some fantastical novel of penny dreadful drivel was all but incomprehensible. “You mean that gothic romance about some Transylvanian reanimated corpses?"
She stopped and turned to look at me with some consideration, “A well read male.’ She took a long inhalation of her cigarette as she looked at me anew, “ And a copper at that.”
“Yes, my late wife. She purchased it. I found it all a bit too fanciful. I mean, a man transforming into a bat? And where pray where would his clothing be found when he performed this transform back from bat to man. A villain in his all together in the middle of the night? Not at all well thought out." I critiqued.
She smiled, “And—a critic at that.” She placed her cigarette between her lips and continued now along a main aisle. I continued to follow along behind. She raised a hand to wag a finger, “I told Hathaway to let me know if he ever came across one—that son of a whore.”
“Do you mean to say this book . . . it has some value?”
“Earliest we have is the 1901 abridgment, afraid it’ll have to serve you.” She said as she abruptly turned down an aisle.
“Enough to kill for?’
“Who knows what one will kill for?” She said philosophically as she ran her fingers along the spines of the books to suddenly pull one free and hand it to me. I reached out to take the proffered novel, but Miss Reedmin continued to hold it rather tight. “Well read or not, you listen here bobby, these books are like . . . family to me.” She lifted a high arched brow and glared at me, “If anything happens to this one, I mean anything, if it comes back spattered in blood like that note-book, well, then your station fellows are gonna be hunting for a "Jacquelyn the Ripper. Mind?”
I nodded assent.
She release the book into my care, “This bookseller, Hathaway you know him?”
“Well enough to curse him.”
“Would he be one that in having sold a book, let us say a first edition, then seek someone to hire in order to purloin it back, should another, wishing to obtain such a volume, be inclined to offer more that his original selling price?”
She cupped a hand to capture the ashes of her cigarette, “Possibly . . . but I would doubt it. There wouldn’t be that much of a bidding completion for a first edition this recent. And not for this book. Not unless he received an absurd asking price. Which in an of itself would be criminal in my opinion. I mean, even what with Stoker having recently died – there’s still the memory of his last . . . The Lair of the White Worm . . . to content with . . . “ She laughed and pointed at me, “ Now, there’s a far too fanciful novel for you. A complete mess. Why Richer and Sons of London ever published it – at least in its present form. Is beyond me. Instead of binding it, they should have had Stoker figure out whatever it was he was trying to say with the monstrosity.”
I randomly flipped through a few pages – it being written in letters and journals to give it a more realistic feel, “Then, you can think of nothing significant in regards to this book, madam?"
“Aside from the text not having been altered like later editions—no.”
I shut the book, “Altered you say, in what way?"
She shrugged and was obviously growing tired of my questions, even as I felt foolish in asking them now aware of the book under discussion, “Well, I could tell you the differences Sir, an no doubt why they were made, but you see that bastard Hathaway didn’t sell it to me.”
“Is it common place for there to be such alterations in editions?”
She nodded and was now in need of a place to extinguish her cigarette, “Horrifically yes. Sometimes those editorial butchers hack-away whole chapters to make the story "read better” or so they say.”
“And so, this edition may be missing substantial portions of the first edition.”
“Less paper, a lower price. Whose to know.” She told me as she turned to walk away.
“Madam,” I said to halt her progress, “I will not take up too much more of your time – but I was informed by PC Alderton you have an apparatus . . . some such device which can make a copy of this?’ And I held up Cotford’s case-book.
She looked at it disdainfully, “I do.” She confirmed. “But I’m tempted to charge you 5 shillings for any cleaning that note-book might may require of the machine afterwards.”
“Madam, I am more than certain you shall be compensated for any repairs.”
The woman sighed heavy, and reaching into a shelf to remove a small tea cup, she ground out the stub of her cigarette. “Then by all means, let us make way to the basement bobby!” And she proceeded to march out of the aisle and toward the door which lead to the stairs. “We shall take the back stairs, I don’t want to hear that old drone Littleton gossiping about me alone with a man in the basement. HA!”
I followed Miss Reedmin down the flight of stairs into the a basement filled with the scent of old books and dust. I was growing more apprehensive of the time, being well aware that the City Police would by now have discovered Cotford’s case-book to be missing and that as PC Alderton and I had left the scene they would suspect it to be one of us to have possession of it.
Miss Reedmin progressed through a maze of boxes and dustbins to a worktable beside which stood some mechanical apparatus covered with a drop-cloth, which I hazard was to secure it from dust and soot from the furnace. “This process it is not time consuming, is it?” I inquired as the device looked rather complicated when the cloth was pulled free.
“Reflexive reprographic machine is the fastest copying system currently known to humanity.” She said with a bit of pride as she reached out and took the case-book from my hand. In examining it she glanced at the bloodstains and then with brows knitted looked over to me, before she set about operating the device.
“If it is lengthy process, I need but the last five or six pages.”
She waved me off, “Never fret.” And she busied herself with whatever operation the device needed as she worked upon the rather loud leavers and gears for close to two minutes, before she turned about and handed me back the case-book and the copy sheets.
I flipped through the pages and marvelled at the continuing ingenuity of our age, “Thank you very much Miss Reedmin. And having taken too much of your valuable time, I will say good bye.”
She nodded and was busy covering up the reflexive reprographic machine as I left her to make my way back toward the stairs.
“You might check with his widow, Stoker’s, if you are interested in his notes and such. Her name is Florence.” She called out to me.
“His wife?” I repeated as I looked back at her and smiled, “Yes. Very good idea Miss Reedmin, thank you and once gain, a good evening.”
“Good evening to you.” Her voice growing more soft and indistinct as I mounted the stairs and hurried back the way we had come. From the second floor I retraced my steps to find once more the stairs leading back to the main lobby, where I was greeted with the same scowl from the older woman at the front desk. Upon exiting the front doors of the library I found that the light snow had progressed into a considerable snowfall.
I pulled up the collar of my coat and headed quickly towards the comfort of the Wolsely. Upon opening the door of the motorcar, I by chance happened to glance upwards, as something, some movement, had caught my eye. At first I thought it a flake caught upon the lash of my eye and so brushed at it. In doing so I was still looking upwards. The snow falling from the cloud laden sky was visible against the light of the obscured moon, and for a second I could have sworn there was a woman standing atop one of the buildings. In point of fact I could all but feel her eyes upon me. I placed a hand to shield my eyes from the hoary flakes to have a better look – but there was no one there.