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Authors: Sally Spencer

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Historical

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BOOK: Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness
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‘An’ do they watch you while you’re takin’ this bath of yours?’ Lizzie asked, in horror.

‘Not if yer don’t want them to—an’ some of the girls didn’t. I don’t mind meself. I’ve got a nice little body, an’ if it gives them pleasure to look at it, then I don’t see why they shouldn’t.’

‘An’ do they ever try to...try to...’

‘Have their wicked way with yer?’

‘Yes.’

‘Never. The boss don’t allow that kind of thing. So yer see, yer’ve nothin’ to worry about at all, an’ my advice to you is to stop frettin’ an’ enjoy yerself while yer here.’

‘But what about when I go?’ Lizzie asked. ‘Where will they take me? Where did they take the other girls?’

‘I don’t rightly know,’ Cathy admitted. ‘I haven’t asked, an’ the people what run this place haven’t told me.’

‘But what do you
think?

‘My guess would be a brothel somewhere.’

‘An’ doesn’t that frighten you?’

‘Not really. I’ve got used to sleepin’ in a feather bed, and eatin’ real meat every day. I like not havin’ to scrub floors until me hands are red-raw, like I used to have to do in the workhouse.’

‘I know, but—’

‘An’ if all it takes to have the good things—an’ avoid the bad ones—is to spread me legs now an’ again, then I’m perfectly happy to go along with it.’

*

It was a relief for Patterson to be out in the night air again—to be smelling healthy horse dung and smoke, instead of being over-powered by the stink of perfume, greed and desperation. The sergeant walked quickly away from the house on Waterloo Road, and didn’t stop until he had turned the corner.

A mixture of emotions was rushing through his body—his earlier nervousness, which he had still not quite managed to quell; a relief that he had, against all odds, pulled the deception off; a pride that, even without Blackstone to guide him, he still seemed to be a pretty good copper. But gradually all these emotions retreated, and all that was left was anger.

He thought of Rose, his fiancée. She might sometimes torture him with her unreasonable requests that he should diet, but, all in all, she was a good little soul. When he did eventually marry her, she would still be a virgin, and any discomfort she felt on their first night together would at least be made easier for her to bear by the knowledge that he loved her and would not willingly hurt her.

It would be different for the poor girls that people like the madam procured for their customers. They would be deflowered by men they had never met before—men who would treat them roughly and take pleasure from the pain they were causing them.

Patterson had not wanted this case initially, but now he discovered that he was glad it had been assigned to him. He knew he could not clean up the whole world—or even the whole street—on his own. He knew that prostitution had existed since the dawn of time, and would continue to exist until the last second before the world came to an end. But even given those limitations, he could at least see to it that this particular bitch of a madam paid in full for her crimes.

 

 

One

 

‘The Northwich Police headquarters was a large black-and-white building—the black part being a timber framework, the white part the plastered-over bricks that had been used to fill in the gaps. It was very much like the buildings being erected around the time that King Henry VIII was using the executioner’s axe as a speedy and convenient method of making himself a bachelor again. And Blackstone, who had already noticed quite a number of similar structures on his way to the station, found himself wondering why a modern industrial town like this one would ever choose to ape a style that was already being considered old-fashioned three hundred years earlier.

But he was not there to speculate about architecture, he reminded himself, as he entered the police station and asked the duty sergeant if it would be possible to see the inspector in charge.

Inspector Robert Drayman was in his early thirties. He had light brown hair, pale-green eyes and a generous mouth. Drayman’s handshake was firm and welcoming, and—despite his avowed intention to treat all the local coppers he met with suspicion—Blackstone found himself immediately warming to the man.

‘Is this an official visit?’ Drayman asked, when he’d invited his guest to sit down.

Blackstone laughed lightly. ‘Official? Certainly not. It’s simply that I was in the area and I thought I’d call on you purely as a professional courtesy.’

‘I’m glad you did,’ Drayman told him. ‘I know that you bobbies who work in the big cities regard those of us based in small towns as little better than country bumpkins...’

‘No, no,’ Blackstone protested.

‘…and though I hate to admit it, you’re probably quite right to. We don’t have your experience of dealing with serious crimes, because there isn’t any serious crime to deal with.’

It was too good an opening to miss and Blackstone seized it with both hands. ‘I wouldn’t have thought there was a town in the whole country where there isn’t
some
serious crime,’ he said.

‘I suppose any crime’s serious—if it happens to you,’ Inspector Drayman said earnestly, ‘but perhaps what I really meant was that we’ve no experience of
complicated
crimes.’

‘Complicated crimes?’ Blackstone repeated.

‘If there’s a murder here, it’s almost always either the result of a domestic disturbance or a fight in a pub. We usually have more witnesses coming forward than we could shake a stick at, and even when there are no witnesses, the murderer himself—full of remorse—is more than likely to give himself up.’

‘Sounds an ideal situation to be in,’ Blackstone said.

‘Do you really believe that?’ Drayman asked, sounding a little disappointed.

‘Absolutely,’ Blackstone confirmed. ‘The simpler a murder is to solve, the happier I am.’

‘Perhaps you’re right,’ Drayman agreed. ‘At the end of the day, I suppose it’s our job to bring the guilty to justice as quickly as possible. But once in a while I do catch myself wishing that I had a real challenge—a crime I needed to do some serious thinking about, rather than one with a solution that just falls into my lap.’

He paused for a moment, as if considering whether or not he dared voice the next thought that was in his mind.

‘Look,’ he continued, ‘I know you must be a very busy man, but I wonder if you could spare the time to have a meal with me tonight. I’d be most interested to hear about the cases you’ve had to deal with.’

‘I’d be more than willing to dine with you,’ Blackstone said.

Drayman smiled gratefully. ‘Excellent. I’m sure I’ll find it invaluable to hear your ideas. And, naturally, you’ll be my guest.’

They fixed a time when they would meet, then both men stood up and shook hands again.

‘Before I go, there is one thing that’s been puzzling me about this town,’ Blackstone said. ‘I can’t help wondering when—’

Drayman held up his hand to stop Blackstone saying any more, and smiled again.

‘Don’t tell me!’ he said. ‘Let me see if I can use what few detection skills I actually have to guess what you were about to ask.’

‘All right.’

‘You’ve just arrived in town, and most things you’ve seen here will be just like the things you’ll see every day in London—except that they’ll probably be smaller and more old-fashioned. But there’s something that has aroused your curiosity—something you
don’t
have in London. Am I right so far?’

‘You’re spot on,’ Blackstone said.

‘It has to be our black-and-white buildings. You’ve been wondering why this police station—and so many other buildings in the town—look as if they belong to some time in the dim and distant past.’

‘That’s right,’ Blackstone agreed.

‘The answer’s really very simple: they’re built like that because they have no foundations.’

‘Why don’t they—’

‘And the reason they have no foundations is because that makes it much easier to move them.’

‘But why should you want to move them?’

‘In this area, we never know where the ground’s going to subside next, so we have to be prepared for it to happen anywhere and everywhere. If it started to give way under this station, we’d simply jack the building up, put it on rollers and move it elsewhere. It’s not exactly an easy job to undertake, but I can assure you that it’s a damn sight easier—and a damn sight less expensive—than pulling the station down and building a new one.’

‘It must be,’ Blackstone agreed.

He had almost convinced himself that Drayman was as honest and straightforward as he appeared to be, but there was one test he needed to put the man through before he could really be sure.

He walked towards the door. If Drayman
was
hiding something, now would be the time he would begin to relax his guard.

Blackstone reached towards the doorknob, then suddenly turned around. ‘By the way,’ he said, ‘I don’t think I ever told you what had brought me to Northwich, did I?’

‘No,’ Drayman agreed. ‘I don’t think you did.’

‘I came to attend the funeral of a good friend of mine.’

Inspector Drayman looked sympathetic, but not overly interested. ‘Oh yes?’ he said.

Blackstone looked tile other man squarely in the eyes. ‘He was an old army friend,’ he said, with slow deliberation. ‘A man I owe a considerable debt of gratitude to. His name was Tom Yardley. Have you heard of him?’

‘No, I don’t think I have,’ Drayman confessed. ‘Wait a moment! He wasn’t that salt-miner who blew himself up, was he?’

‘That’s right.’

Drayman shook his head slowly from side to side. ‘It’s always a terrible thing when an able-bodied man is cut down in his prime.’

His eyes had not so much as flickered as he spoke, Blackstone thought.

If there was something rotten going on in Marston—something that involved members of the local police force—then Inspector Drayman was definitely not a part of it.

*

Ellie Carr and Jed Trent had spent the night at a boarding house in Tunstall, one of the six pottery towns which ran in a north-to-south line along the Trent and Mersey Canal and produced the china crockery that had made Staffordshire world-famous.


Trent
and Mersey,’ Ellie had said mockingly, the first time they’d crossed over the canal on their way to the town. ‘What an honour to have a long thin stretch of water named after you, Jed.’

‘There’s a river named after me, as well,’ Jed Trent had said, pretending to take her seriously, ‘though there are those who claim that the river got its name before either me
or
the canal.’

Ellie had laughed, and said, ‘People can be so jealous, can’t they?’

Tunstall was not more than three or four miles from the drainage ditch in which Emma Walsingholme’s body had been found, but seemed almost to be on a different planet. There were no hedgerows or lush meadows there. It was a town dominated by chimney stacks and bottle-shaped kilns, and even when these were shut down, the smoke they produced hovered around like an unwelcome relative.

‘Just like being back home,’ Ellie told Jed, as she sniffed the air just after breakfast.

Yet when Superintendent Bullock arrived in a pony and trap to take her to Walsingholme Manor, she was surprised to discover that she was quite looking forward to the prospect of seeing green fields again—so perhaps she could grow to like the countryside after all.

‘In the olden days, potters always used charcoal in their kilns, you know,’ Superintendent Bullock said, as they left the smoky town behind them. ‘But the problem with that was that England’s quickly running out of the wood to make the charcoal from. Which is how this place started to come into its own. It had the right sort of clay, you see, but it also had coal mines to provide an alternative fuel to fire the kilns.’

‘Very interesting,’ Ellie Carr said politely.

‘The only thing that was holding the potters back was a decent transport system,’ continued Bullock, who appeared to have a real enthusiasm for the subject. ‘Then, around a hundred and thirty years ago, they built the canals that connected us to all the major cities—Liverpool, Manchester, London—and all obstacles were removed. So now you can travel to almost any part of the world and be confident you’ll find Staffordshire pottery.’

‘You said “us”,’ Ellie pointed out.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘You said, to connect
us
to all the major cities.’

Bullock grinned, sheepishly. ‘Caught me out, haven’t you?’ he said. ‘Yes, you’re quite right—I was born and brought up round here.’

‘So you know the area well,’ Ellie said.

‘Like the back of my own hand.’

‘That must be a great help in the investigation.’

The smile disappeared from Bullock’s face and was replaced by a look of deepest gloom.


Nothing
helps in this investigation,’ he said, ‘nothing at all. I’ve investigated eight murders of eight innocent young girls so far, and I know no more about the killer now than I did when I started.’

*

One of the men had taken Cathy away, and once she had gone, Lizzie felt the fear starting to return.

She found herself wishing she was back in the workhouse, because though she had hated the institution, she’d at least known the rules—at least known what to expect.

Here there was only an uncertainty that stabbed into her gut like a knife—which made her jump when there was even the slightest noise. And when she heard the sound of footsteps approaching her cell—heavy, decisive footsteps, like the ones she was hearing now—she almost wished she was dead.

The cell door open and she saw one of the men standing there. He was very big and very ugly, and she could smell the stink of alcohol on his breath even from a distance.

‘Take your clothes off,’ he ordered her.

‘What?’

‘Take your bleedin’ clothes off, you little bitch!’

‘Is it—Is it time for my bath?’

‘Maybe later. Right now, I’m goin’ to do what I’ve been dreamin’ about all night: I’m going to
have
you.’

‘Please, no!’ Lizzie begged.

The man laughed.

It was the most evil laugh that Lizzie had ever heard, and she understood immediately that the man was pure evil himself, and that the more frightened she was, the more he would enjoy what he was about to do.

‘If you don’t do what I tell you—and right away—I’ll not only have you, but I’ll whip you into the bargain,’ the man said. ‘And I promise you, little girl, you wouldn’t enjoy a whipping from me. So do as I say: let the dog see the rabbit, before I lose my temper.’

He
wanted
her to resist, she thought. He
wanted
to give her a whipping. But she would at least deny him that satisfaction. With tears streaming down her face, Lizzie lifted the workhouse smock and pulled it over her head.

‘Nice,’ the man said, licking his lips with his thick slimy tongue. ‘Very nice indeed. Now let’s see the rest of it.’

‘What the hell’s going on here?’ demanded an angry voice.

Both Lizzie and her tormentor turned towards the doorway.

The new arrival was a well-dressed man, carrying a walking cane in his hand. He was nowhere near as big as the brute who wished to violate her, yet he was clearly the one who was in control.

‘I asked you what was going on in here,’ the man repeated, in an icy tone.

The tough looked down at the floor. ‘I was ...er ...just inspectin’ the new girl, boss,’ he mumbled.

‘You were just doing
what?’

‘Inspectin’ the new girl.’

The boss stepped into the cell.

‘Liar!’ he said. He sniffed the air. ‘You’re drunk! It’s eleven o’clock in the morning, and you’re already drunk!’

‘What if I am?’ the tough demanded. ‘A man’s entitled to a bit of pleasure, ain’t he?’

‘And if I’d arrived a few minutes later, your “bit of pleasure” would have included deflowering this girl.’

BOOK: Blackstone and the Heart of Darkness
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