Murder at Queen Street – Chapter 13

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

At long last, the police had come to twenty-two Queen Street. A crowd of uniformed officers had set up shop in flat #1. A barricade of ropes had been put up over the door and a sheet draped over the body. The occasional flash of a camera could be seen from the hallway.

Hugo and Theodore had explained the situation to their contact in the force, one Detective Sergeant Bennet. Bennet hadn’t said a word as the detectives gave their account of the previous night. His mouth twitched when they told him how they had deliberately delayed in calling the police. They were quick to explain their reasons, though they focused more on Kitty’s and Mrs Beck’s concerns than their own. Bennet seemed equally unimpressed to learn they had already identified the killer—or so they believed. And when the detectives requested he and his officers refrain from investigating the rest of the building until they had presented their findings, DS Bennet paused for an excruciating few moments. ‘If you can get me a confession and an arrest, I can wrap up without searching the building.’ These may have been the only words he’d spoken.

Afterwards, Mrs Beck found a moment to ask the detectives about Bennet.

‘He doesn’t seem very happy about this.’

Theodore chuckled. ‘No, I expect not. He doesn’t really approve of Hugo and I. We are criminals, after all.’

‘Then how is it he’s not arrested you?’

‘He takes the credit for all the cases we present to him,’ said Hugo. ‘He was a uniformed Constable when we met. Whether he likes it or not, we’re good for his career.’

‘I see,’ said Mrs Beck, though she seemed a bit wary of DS Bennet after that. Hugo and Theodore knew what she was thinking, for the same thought had occurred to them many times. The worry that there might be one day when Bennet’s patience ran out.

One by one, the residents of twenty-two Queen Street filed into Mrs Beck’s flat, the chosen venue of their presentation. The sofa and armchairs had been arranged into a row at one end of the room.

Kitty was the first. Mrs Beck went to wake her and escorted her to a seat. She was still bedraggled, though her expression was blank. Theodore had suggested that Mrs Beck should stay near her. ‘She’s not going to enjoy this,’ he’d said.

Mr and Mrs Rookwood were next. They went straight for the sofa, hands held. Last came Mr Glossop, assisted by Stiles. Mr Glossop’s eyes were red and he winced at the slightest noise. Nevertheless, he pushed Stiles off and lounged into one of the remaining chairs. With no free seat beside him, Stiles was forced to sit elsewhere, glancing furtively at his master. DS Bennet did not sit, but hovered nearby, surveying the room like a hawk.

Once everyone was seated, Theodore and Hugo’s eyes met. There was no idle chatter in the room, meaning they couldn’t share even a few whispered words without being overheard. So Theodore just gave Hugo an encouraging smile. Hugo nodded. Ready when you are.

They took their places. Theodore cleared his throat.

‘A glooming peace this morning with it brings,’ he boomed. ‘The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.’

Hugo took a more conventional approach. ‘Good morning. As you know, a man was killed here last night. He was found by Kitty Hinshaw in her flat at ten thirty in the evening with a knife in his back.’

‘Hugo and I have spent the night investigating,’ Theodore resumed. ‘Detective Sergeant Bennet of the Metropolitan Police has allowed us this opportunity to present our findings.’ He gestured to Bennet, who nodded curtly.

The residents all looked at one another, to see if anyone looked guilty. Then Theodore embarked on a well-rehearsed monologue.

‘How typical of London that we have a roomful of neighbours who are practically strangers. You come from different backgrounds with nothing in common besides your address. It is curious, then, that each of you had met Harry Jackson before.’ Theodore paced the width of the room, counting the residents on his fingers. ‘He was Kitty Hinshaw’s lover. He was William Rookwood’s former employee. He was Lucy Rookwood’s former colleague. He was Maxwell Glossop’s friend, through whom he also met Glossop’s valet, Mr Stiles. Even Mrs Beck had met him once before, when he viewed this flat. And…’ Another pause. It could not be said that Theodore didn’t enjoy theatrics. ‘He was the former client of Hugo and I.’

The room stirred. Mrs Beck started in surprise. They hadn’t mentioned this.

Hugo took court. ‘Five days ago, we were visited by a prospective client. A man dressed in women’s attire who called themselves “Florence”. We have had clients with similar proclivities, so we didn’t consider that this was in fact Harry Jackson in disguise.’

In spite of herself, Kitty laughed. ‘You think Harry was some sort of cross-dresser?’

‘My suspicions were first raised by the poster in your flat, Miss Hinshaw,’ said Theodore. ‘The one for Head Over Heels, which depicts your character wearing a black gown and wide-brimmed hat.’

Kitty stopped laughing. ‘So? What’s that got to do with anything?’

‘Florence wore a strikingly similar outfit. On a hunch, I suggested to you that someone might have broken into your dressing room. You confirmed this, adding that only a costume and make-up was taken, which we later found in Harry’s room at Morley House. You were seeing Harry at the time of the burglary, so it would have been easy for him to gain access to your dressing room, would it not?’

Kitty gave Theodore a dark look. ‘Why on earth would he do that?’

‘Presumably, he thought it might be conspicuous for a man to buy women’s apparel on the high street,’ said Theodore. ‘Though I have some friends who could have directed him to an understanding vendor…’

‘No, why would he dress up as a dilly boy and pretend to be a client?’ said Kitty, rapidly losing patience.

‘A good question,’ said Hugo, ‘Among several others similarly good questions. Considering Harry went to such lengths just to meet us, it’s likely that his coincidental meetings with all the residents of twenty-two Queen Street were just as contrived. Why did he go to such lengths to meet each of our acquaintances?’

‘Mrs Beck proposed one theory,’ said Theodore. Mrs Beck flushed as all eyes turned on her. ‘She suggested that Harry’s friendship with Mr Glossop and his viewing with Mrs Beck were attempts to approach his love interest, Kitty. Harry himself suggested that was the case. And while I agree that Harry Jackson was most certainly forging connections with us to further his own interests, his goal could not have been Kitty, for he was already seeing her when he visited us in disguise’

Theodore paused again. He glanced at Kitty, anticipating a response. She didn’t react, though her breathing was heavy. Mrs Beck tried to take her hand but she pulled away.

‘So what was Harry’s goal?’ Theodore continued. ‘Let us examine these meetings in the order they occurred.’ He walked the length of chairs, looking to each resident as he mentioned them. ‘Even ignoring their previous relationship with Mr Jackson, it’s the Rookwoods who come first. Eight months ago, they ran into him in Covent Garden.’ The couple looked back at Theodore unabashedly. ‘Half a year ago, he befriended Maxwell Glossop in a pub.’ Mr Glossop’s drooping eyes blinked slowly. ‘Three months ago, he viewed the flat, under the supervision of Mrs Beck.’ Mrs Beck flushed again. ‘Two months ago, he and Kitty Hinshaw became lovers.’ Kitty continued to glare at Theodore. ‘And five days ago, he masqueraded as a potential client of ours.

‘So what’s the pattern? What’s the one thing we all have common? I’ve said it already: our address. Let us imagine there were something here, in twenty-two Queen Street, which Harry wanted. Something he couldn’t find anywhere else and which he would go to any lengths to get.’

He strode to the end of the row and walked the length again.

‘Naturally, he’d approach the Rookwoods first, since he knew them already. He offered work as their chauffeur, which would get him access to the building, but was turned down. The Rookwoods broke off all contact with him. A dead end.

‘Next, he approached Mr Glossop. A sensible target, as a socialite and a regular drinker he might be receptive to Harry’s intentions. But Harry would have quickly learned that Mr Glossop has a strict rule against entertaining at home. A useful contact, perhaps, but another dead end.

‘Then, by a stroke of luck, the newly converted attic flat became available for rent. Harry had no hope of affording it, but scheduled a viewing anyway. Success! For the first time, he gained entry. But he spent the whole time under the watchful eye of Mrs Beck. He attempted to gain credit on the deposit, hoping to have access for at least a day or two, for that would be all he needed. Naturally, Mrs Beck refused. Harry left, no closer to achieving his goal.

‘Finally, he approached Kitty. By maintaining a friendship with Mr Glossop, he had learned of a tactic to manipulate her into a relationship.’

‘Excuse me?’ Kitty spat. ‘What do you mean, “manipulated”?’

‘I’m afraid it’s true.’ Mrs Beck attempted a soothing voice. ‘Mr Glossop confessed he stole a letter of yours and hatched a ploy to seduce you.’

Kitty shook her head fervently. ‘You’re wrong. Harry loved me. You can’t fake that.’

‘No,’ Hugo interjected. He made no attempt to sugarcoat it. ‘The ploy Mr Glossop shared with us is identical to your first meeting with Harry, preying on your superstitions and fondness for dendrobium orchids. I’m very sorry, Miss Hinshaw. Harry used you. That’s all.’

Kitty stared at Hugo, then at Mr Glossop, who managed to sink even lower into his seat than he already was.

‘With each meeting,’ said Theodore, ‘Harry took another step closer to his objective. Until, at last, with Kitty, he succeeded in getting inside number twenty-two.’

‘What about the time he dressed as a woman?’ Mr Glossop heckled.

Theodore pretended not to hear. He couldn’t abide people going off script.

Fortunately, Hugo knew his cue. Theodore stepped aside as he took the floor. ‘After two months of cultivating his relationship with Miss Hinshaw, Harry Jackson put his plan into action. He met Kitty with his suitcase and spun a tale about his lodging house being closed for renovations, banking on her pity to offer him a place to stay. His plan worked. He became a resident of number twenty-two. However, he could not pursue his objective while Kitty was awake. He had a plan for this too.

‘Harry Jackson was a drug dealer, as evidenced by the stash of chemicals we discovered beneath his mattress at Morley House. Amongst those chemicals were ether and chloroform, surgical sedatives. A handkerchief soaked in either one of these could have been used to sedate Miss Hinshaw.’

‘You mean… Harry drugged me?’ Kitty gaped. She was starting to get numb to these revelations.

‘It explains how you were able to sleep so deeply at a time so early for you,’ said Hugo. ‘The effects of the sedative lasted an hour. When they wore off, you awoke naturally.’

Kitty put a hand to her mouth, as if she might feel the ether still lingering there.

‘With Miss Hinshaw sedated, Harry Jackson was free to pursue his goal. Within an hour, he was lying dead in Miss Hinshaw’s sitting room. But even a cursory examination of the body made it clear this was not where he died. No doubt the investigating officers will reach the same conclusion.’ He looked up at the ceiling. ‘The knife in his back does not fit the wound and there are no bloodstains on the floor. This led me to the conclusion that Mr Jackson was not killed there. He left the flat in pursuit of his goal and the killer returned his body in an attempt to implicate Miss Hinshaw.

‘And so, the question we are left with is this: What was Mr Jackson’s goal? In answering this question, we have a number of things to consider.’ He held up a finger. ‘Number one: Mr Jackson spent a year of his life and went to drastic measures trying to get into this building.’ He raised a second finger. ‘Number two: Whatever it was could not be obtained anywhere else.’ He raised a third and last finger. ‘Number three: Somebody in this building was willing to kill to keep him from it. To which object do all these things apply?’

Hugo did not have Theodore’s flair for theatrics. He delivered his monologue in the same dry, quiet voice he always spoke in. Nevertheless, he paused for moment and passed his eyes over each of the residents in turn, allowing these questions to simmer in their minds. Then he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out Harry’s letter. He cleared his throat.

Dearest,

I’ve been trying to see you. I’m not angry. If you’ve changed your mind, I’ll understand. But we must talk. I’ll be at 22 Queen Street.

With love,

You know who.’

‘We found this letter among Jackson’s possessions. We initially believed it had been sent to him from one of you, but the reverse is true. Jackson sent this letter to one of you. It is not a letter inviting Jackson to Queen Street, but rather Jackson informing the recipient to expect his arrival.’

‘Je reviens en trois jours; ne te laves pas!’ said Theodore with a snigger.

‘Jackson delivered this letter personally, presumably inserting it under the door of the relevant flat. Since he would have to have been inside the building to do this, there is only one occasion when he could have: five days ago, when he adopted the “Florence” persona. When he left our flat that day, that was the first time he was left unsupervised inside this house. And his plan with Kitty was approaching fruition.

‘And now it becomes clear why the disguise was necessary. Nearly everyone in the house had met him before. In his obsessive surveillance of the building, he must’ve learned of our detective agency. Perhaps, while visiting Kitty in her dressing room, his eye landed on her costume and a plan hatched in his mind. A plan that was successful. The letter was delivered.

‘However, he had misapprehended the nature of this relationship. The recipient was not pleased to receive this letter and made their feelings clear by returning the letter unanswered.’

Here, Hugo paused again and studied his audience. Somebody was sweating. Hugo smiled to himself.

‘So who was that recipient? Whose flat did Harry go to in the night? Who might Harry Jackson have had a previous relationship with but since became estranged? Who, of all of us, did Harry approach first? Who never left the house alone? Whose husband was reliably out of doors on the day Harry Jackson chose to knock on her door? Whose drug habit was likely supported by Harry’s dealing when they worked together at Rookwood Manor? Whose handwriting sample matched the handwriting on the envelope?’

‘STOP!’

A gasp filtered through the crowd. William Rookwood was on his feet, fists clenched, breathing heavily. Lucy Rookwood looked up at him, shaking her head. DS Bennet uncrossed his arms.

‘I did it,’ said William. ‘I killed him.’


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