Murder at Queen Street – Chapter 4

15 Chapters. 31,000 words. PG-13 – Some mild violence
First Chapter • 2 • 3 • 4 • 5 • 67 • 8 • 9 • 10 • 11 • 12 • 13 • 14 • 15

Mrs Beck was worn out. In the days following her confrontation with Mr Fox and Mr Bellamy, she was still struggling to digest what she’d learned. Not only the matter of their peculiar detective agency, although that was rare enough. What had surprised her more was that they’d said they were in love. Lust, she could understand. Perverted desires, though unpleasant to think about, made sense to her. But to claim that the affection they felt for one another was love—not brotherly love, not camaraderie, but genuine, romantic love—was poppycock.

She hadn’t told a soul, of course. Better to keep the scandal under wraps, she thought, which was partly why she’d not called the police. The last thing she wanted was for twenty-two Queen Street to become known as a den of sin and iniquity, especially since she would have a room coming free very soon. Which reminded her, she would have to put another advertisement in the paper.

She’d not seen either Mr Fox nor Mr Bellamy since that night. She’d hardly dared leave her flat, in fear of bumping into them. She’d spent the whole next day in perpetual fear of this Florence character returning, as per Mr Bellamy’s invitation. Thankfully, nobody called for them again. She still occasionally heard Mr Bellamy’s and Mr Fox’s distinctive footfalls on the stairs as they came and went, though she no longer heard Mr Bellamy’s singing. In spite of everything, she found herself missing it.

Today, however, was Sunday. The first Sunday since the eviction. And Sunday was the day they always came to pay rent. Mrs Beck had been dreading it all night, and yet, at 8am, the knock didn’t come. By 9, it still hadn’t. Nor by 10. Mrs Beck wound up sat in her sitting room watching her door, urging it to get on and knock whilst also hoping that it wouldn’t.

At noon, the knock came. But after steeling herself for the inevitable, it was not Mr Fox or Mr Bellamy at the door. It was Kitty Hinshaw. With a friend.

‘Good morning, Mrs Beck! I’ve got somebody I’d like you to meet.’ She ushered in the young man, her arm wound in his, and paraded him before Mrs Beck. ‘This is Harry. Harry Jackson.’

Mrs Beck cast her eye over Harry. He was a young, handsome man, though a bit straggly and pale. It was clear he’d dressed up for the occasion, in shirt and tie, but there was stubble on his chin and he wore a hat, which he hadn’t thought to take off indoors. Mrs Beck noted with some interest that he was holding a ragged, leather suitcase. He held out his free hand to Mrs Beck. ‘Pleased to meet you, ma’am.’

Mrs Beck didn’t shake it. ‘I know you. You came to view the flat. You asked for credit on the deposit.’

Kitty stared at him. ‘Is that true?’

Harry made a show of looking embarrassed, though Mrs Beck suspected it wasn’t at all genuine. ‘It’s true. There was no hope of me paying it, of course, not with a chauffeur’s wage. But I thought if I could just get in for a day or two, I might have a chance to talk to you, darling.’

‘You tried to bluff your way into that flat just to talk to me?’

‘I did.’

Kitty made a noise like an injured kitten. ‘That’s so sweet!’ She swept Harry into her arms and nuzzled his ear.

Mrs Beck was less impressed. ‘So you never had any intention of paying?’

‘Oh, don’t be a spoilsport, Mrs Beck, it’s romantic,’ Kitty cooed. ‘Anyway, I wanted to ask you something. Could I get the spare key to my flat? It’s for Harry. He’s stuck for a place to stay, since his lodging house is being renovated, so I’ve said he could stay with me for a bit.’

Mrs Beck pursed her lips. She wasn’t sure she approved of an unmarried man and woman rooming together, but didn’t think it right to say so. ‘Very well,’ she said, and fetched the key.

‘Perfect. I appreciate it,’ said Kitty, with a sudden politeness that suggested she had picked up on Mrs Beck’s sour mood. She and Harry quickly excused themselves and Mrs Beck overheard them giggling as they scurried upstairs.

She continued to hear them for the rest of the day. With only a few inches of wood and plaster between their two flats, Mrs Beck heard every footstep, every shuffle of furniture, every tickled laugh and high-pitched note of endearment. She hoped to God she didn’t hear them move to the bedroom. She’d already learned enough about what her tenants did in the privacy of their flats.

Neither Mr Fox nor Mr Bellamy ever came to deliver the rent. That afternoon, Mrs Beck found a cheque from them in her postbox. She was relieved. Hopefully, they would just leave quietly and there would be no need for any more fuss.

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Mrs Beck awoke with a start. At first, she wasn’t sure why, then she heard the second scream. It came from the flat above.

With a speed she’d long thought beyond her, she was out of her bed and pulling on her dressing gown. Before she left her flat, she had the presence of mind to check her wall clock. Half past ten.

She ran upstairs, heart pounding. She suddenly remembered she’d given her spare key to Kitty. If Kitty was trapped or injured, she wouldn’t be able to get in to assist her. But as she reached the ground floor hallway, the door to Kitty’s flat swung open. To Mrs Beck’s astonishment, she found herself holding a sobbing Kitty in her arms.

‘What’s the matter?’ said Mrs Beck. ‘What’s happened?’

‘I-it’s Harry,’ Kitty gasped. ‘He—He—I d-don’t know…’

Mrs Beck could see she wouldn’t get a sensible answer. She glanced through the open door to Kitty’s flat and her blood turned cold. Harry was lying on the floor, just inside the door, with a knife in his back.

‘Kitty…’ breathed Mrs Beck. ‘What have you done?’

‘No, I-I did—I woke up and he was… he was…’

‘All right, all right, I believe you,’ said Mrs Beck, trying to reassure her with awkward pats on the back. ‘Come on, come away, now…’

She ushered Kitty towards the stairs, though not before reaching out and pulling the door closed. She couldn’t have her other tenants walking past and catching sight of that. Together, she and Kitty hobbled downstairs and into Mrs Beck’s apartment. She dropped Kitty into a chair and gave her a spot of brandy to calm her nerves. Her hand shook as she nursed it.

‘Just sit there, while I telephone the police,’ said Mrs Beck.

Kitty nodded vacantly. But when Mrs Beck lifted the receiver of her telephone, Kitty leapt across the room and depressed the hookswitch.

‘What are you thinking!?’

‘Don’t call the police,’ said Kitty, glaring. She wasn’t shaking anymore.

‘What are you talking about? We have to call them.’

‘If the police come now and find Harry’s body in my flat they’re going to think I killed him.’

Mrs Beck scowled. ‘But you’re innocent, aren’t you? The police will figure that out.’

‘I don’t give a fig what the police think,’ said Kitty. ‘It’s what the press think that matters.’

‘Oh, you’re talking nonsense now.’

‘It’ll be on the front page of every newspaper by morning. “Kitty Hinshaw a killer?” “Man found murdered in West End star’s Mayfair apartment.” Even if the police prove I’m innocent, it won’t matter. Once the idea’s out there, people will think it forever. It’ll ruin my career.’  Kitty looked insane, her eyes wide with desperate pleading.

Mrs Beck scoffed. ‘What do you suggest we do? We can’t just leave him lying there.’

‘I don’t know…’ she muttered. She stumbled back into her chair. Whatever fire had fuelled her had gone out. ‘I don’t know…’

Mrs Beck was about to reassure her that it wouldn’t be as bad as all that, when another thought struck her, regarding the criminals she was harbouring in flat #4. If the police came and poked around, the scandal Mrs Beck had been so desperate to keep under wraps might break. And if Kitty’s profile brought the attention of the press, it could snowball into a catastrophe. She might never find another willing tenant again. She would have to leave Queen Street and live in some God-awful dormitory. An even worse thought occurred to her. She didn’t know if she was breaking the law by failing to report Mr Fox and Mr Bellamy. What if she was charged as an accomplice to their crimes?

Mrs Beck took a deep breath and put the receiver back in its cradle. There was only one thing to do.

‘Don’t worry,’ she told Kitty. ‘I’ll sort it out.’

Next update: Thursday, 30th November 2017.

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