April 3rd, 1881:
Lord, some people! Good help really is hard to find these days. I thought Ethan was burning through the staff rather quickly at first (he has replaced half our people by now, including yet another valet for losing a set of cufflinks), but now I see the validity of his complaints. No sooner had he agreed to ease up on them than the whole household fell to shambles. I still have my pride, so I am doing my best to hide the consequences from my husband, but I fear I cannot do so for long. Of the original staff, I have only a drunk butler and chambermaid, a disappearing gardener, and blessed, beleaguered Fitzpatrick. No officer has ever had a more loyal batman than I have in her, and any assistance on this particular battlefield is a godsend.
The new recruits – a housekeeper, chef, valet, and two maids – are no better than their replacements, and in the case of the “chef”, rather worse. Now there is one termination I will never understand, and possibly never forgive. Our previous cook was a delightful woman called Tiffey, borrowed from Merrimore’s own kitchens, and her food was divine! But Ethan thought it “beneath our dignity” to have merely a cook, and she and our supposedly renowned chef Lavoisier (a name he is barely able to pronounce) did not get along. So, out she goes back to Merrimore and I am left with this old fraud and his barely-edible concoctions. Ethan says I am exaggerating, but I have seen the look on his face at dinner, and suspect he is only putting up with Lavoisier to teach me a lesson. Unfortunately for him, that is precisely what I am doing as well, and we are equally matched in stubbornness. God willing, my poor husband will break first and will break soon, for I have never been so desperate for a decent pheasant in all my life.
Even worse than the chef is one of the new maids, a girl by the name of Mary Ballew, pretty as a daisy and dumb as a rock. I assume the only reason she has not fallen into a puddle and drowned by the age of sixteen is because no man would leave her alone long enough to do so. This child is the single most frustrating individual I have ever met. She means well, but truly, God never made a creature less suited for service. She is forever breaking things, oversleeping, back-talking the upper staff, and misplacing everything that is not nailed down. I found her feather duster in a vase, for Heaven’s sake! Ethan nearly dismissed her a week after she arrived, but she begged so pitifully, and we are so in need of help, that he allowed her until the end of the month to prove herself. It will be longest month of my life, I am certain, but I shall last.
It is wicked of me to admit, Diary, but as a result of all this trouble I almost appreciate the bouts of illness that keep going around the staff. Headaches, chills, nausea, cramping, even the odd fainting spell – it sounds dreadful, and I really do feel for the poor things most of the time. But there is a small, terrible part of me that is amused by the justice of it all, especially as it always coincides with some disaster they caused. Only the other week, for instance, we had our first party, and while the footmen and such my father-in-law contributed kept things from collapsing, our staff was nothing short of an embarrassment. The whole evening is one I would rather forget. Ethan and Amelia were still frosty towards each other, George arrived two hours late and spent the night moping in the smoking room without even telling me why, and our cousins’ complaints about the quality of the wine did not keep them from drinking it all.
Anyway, not two days after that debacle, everybody on staff came down with the most dreadful flu, which Ethan says is what the Indians call “karma.” Ethan and I managed to avoid it unscathed. Poor Amelia and George were less lucky, though Amelia is as strong as a horse and threw it off within a day or two. Frankly, I suspect George is also more or less healed by now, but, Lord, you’d never know it to hear him! He has been whimpering upstairs for five whole days now, even though the color is back in his cheeks, and he refuses to eat (yes, even food our clod chef didn’t cook)! Ethan says he is looking to be babied, or is hiding from his studies again, but I am not so sure. He looks so melancholy, Diary, such as I have never seen before. I shall write to Peter as soon as I can. Something is wrong with the poor boy, and if anyone knows what, it is him.
They stared at each other like stunned fish, then Joshua shook his head.
“Pull the other one, it’s got bells on. This is that girl from the Lady Folley case, right? The one whose old man got shoved off the roof – begging your pardon, lady,” he said, pulling the cap off his head. “She’s got naught to do with the Ripper. Is this a test or something?”
“Not this time, Mr. Tabak,” Holmes said, “and I must commend you on your choice of route. I know London better than most, yet I would be hard-pressed to tell you a way out of Whitechapel that did not pass a single newsstand.”
“I passed four, what are you talking about?” he said, before comprehension dawned. He cringed and held out his hand, like a child awaiting the ruler. “What I miss?”
Watson pushed the Times into his grip and Joshua flicked it open, but halfway down the page he shook his head and tossed it aside. “Shame the things people have to do to get a proper trial, eh? Poor lady’s gotta start a whole new witch hunt just to get the old one off her back.”
“My aunt is not a liar, sir,” Pippa said, growing hot under the collar.
“I didn’t say she was, ma’am,” he replied. “You don’t push a bloke out a window for no reason. I’m just saying she might have, y’know, tweaked the reason a bit, and you can’t blame her for trying. Folks is – folks are,” he said, eyes flicking over to Watson apologetically, “more likely to be on her side if they think your father was the Monster of the Era, instead of just another, everyday brute. But pity don’t – doesn’t change facts. My old man is the Ripper. I could prove it easy, if the clock weren’t ticking on that little party.” He gave Holmes a pointed look.
Pippa folded her arms. “I have plenty of proof of my own, I’ll have you know.”
Joshua let out a dark laugh. “Not like mine, miss.”
“I doubt that very much, sir.”
“Doubt all you want, lady, it’s still true.”
“Sorry to interrupt this very productive discussion,” Shekhar said, “but did you say ‘is’? He is Jack the Ripper?”
“Yeah,” Joshua said, once again glaring at Holmes as if he would like to beat him about the head. “Yeah I did. That’s one difference you can’t deny between you and me, Miss Cotton. No matter what your dad was, he’s dead. I en’t so lucky.”
Pippa scoffed. “Mr. Holmes, really, you can’t tell me you think the Ripper is still running around. I mean he’s not exactly a subtle man, nor the sort I would expect to take a ten year holiday from his butchery. Surely you do not think this story halfway as plausible as mine.”
“I do not find either of your accounts to be halfway plausible, Miss Cotton,” Holmes said. “I would give neither you nor Mr. Tabak better odds than one in ten of being correct. However, such odds do put you miles ahead of the rest of the theories I have heard regarding the Ripper case, and, if I may adjust a phrase the good doctor here so eloquently placed in my mouth -” he gestured to Watson, who smirked and rolled his eyes – “when you have eliminated the impossible, the implausible does have a way of becoming truth, at least after a fashion. Besides, I have known Tabak for some time, and am well acquainted with his failings. Delusion is not one of them.”
“You know them?” Pippa said, raising an eyebrow at Joshua.
“Tabak is one of our Irregulars,” Watson said, patting the young man on the back. “An assistant, if you will, gets in wherever Holmes or I cannot go.”
“Notoriety is really quite tiresome,” Holmes said, though he couldn’t keep the smugness out of his eyes, “and it gets in the way of many of the cases I handle. People keep an eye out when Sherlock Holmes is on the job, and even in disguise there always remains a risk that someone will recognize me and spook. But no one ever notices Tabak, and mine is a field where such qualities are of great and manifold value. It is possible he could make a passable detective himself, given enough training.”
Joshua’s cheeks pinked and he stood a little taller, feet straight and chest out like a robin. Apparently being called “passable” was the Baker Street equivalent of being knighted.
“Yet you’re only turning your father over to them now?” Pippa said, screwing up her nose. “Or does Mr. Holmes usually take a decade or two to solve a case?”
The boy rubbed the back of his neck. “No,” he said, in a smaller voice. “No, that one’s on me, ma’am, shouldn’t have sat on it half so long. But if you’ll hear me out, I think you’ll see why I did.”
He took a seat beside Holmes and hunched low over his knees, leaning forward like a diver on a block. He passed his cap from one hand to another as he spoke, bunching it up in each fist.
“I grew up in Whitechapel, in the Jewish quarter. My father was a bricklayer by trade and a bum by nature. Mum died when I was five, not that it made much of a change for her. Dad was your run-of-the-mill bastard for years before that, and I got the scars to prove it, but it weren’t – wasn’t nothing to write home about,” he said. “Everybody’s got an old man like that, it’s what they’re for.”
He gestured to Shekhar for confirmation, but the other boy just looked perturbed. Joshua tugged at his collar and cleared his throat.
“Well, anyways – anyway, he liked the ladies, my dad. Spent all his time on ’em, and all his money too, until right after Mum died. Then he stopped. Drinking, whoring, everything.”
“I assume grief is not the reason for this miraculous turnaround?” Pippa said.
“No. According to him, he found religion. Found syphilis, according to everyone else. Either way, the effect was the same. Decided the rest of us were all heathens and he was the real God or an angel or bloody Zeus or what-have-you, I dunno, I never listened to any more of his rants than I had to to stay alive. Gist of it is he’s perfect and everyone else is sinful beasts trying to distract him from purifying the world and ruling over it.” He scoffed. “If that’s true, he made it a damn easy job for them.”
“And prostitutes were among these distractions?” Shekhar said.
Joshua nodded. “Top of the list. Dad wasn’t one for conversion neither. At best, you could beat the sin out, but most folk – loose women ‘specially – had to die.” He scowled, and the motion threw an old scar along his hairline into sharp relief. “Violence is the one vice he would never give up.”
“But what makes you certain he was the Ripper?” Pippa asked.
“He had a method. It varied a bit, depending on the victim, but I recognized his handiwork at once. He was specific about how to do women, and he showed me a few times. On animals,” he added, as if that made it any better. “He worked in a butcher’s shop for a while and took advantage of it.”
Pippa wrinkled her nose. “Lovely.”
“You’ve no idea. And the cuts he made then were the same as the ones done the Ripper ladies. The removal of the ut -” He looked at Pippa as if seeing her for the first time and fumbled. “Erm, I mean, the…the inner…”
“The uterus,” Pippa said. “You may speak freely of such things with me, Mr. Tabak. I assure you, I am quite familiar with them.”
Joshua flashed her a wicked smile. It was strangely becoming. “Yeah, that,” he said, snapping back to business. “Dad always went for that first, and the ovaries as well. Removed the impurity, he said. So when I heard what was done to those poor women, I knew he was responsible. I wasn’t the only one neither. Everybody suspected him, at least down our way. He wasn’t quiet about his revelations.”
“Then why didn’t anyone turn him in?” Shekhar asked. “I understand why you didn’t, you were just a boy, but why didn’t someone else speak up?”
“I expect it was for the same reason the police commissioner destroyed key evidence at the scene of Ms. Eddowes’ murder,” Holmes said. “Fear of inciting a pogrom. Watson, if you could pull that file for me?”
Pull it out of where? Pippa thought, looking around at the detritus, but Watson instinctively reached behind Shekhar’s chair, picked up a stack of papers, and handed Holmes a folder from the bottom of the pile.
“Yes, here we are,” he said, opening the file and scanning the first page. “Roughly an hour and a half after Ms. Eddowes was discovered, investigators found a bloody section of her apron lying in Goulston Street. On an adjacent wall, someone had left a line of chalk graffiti. ‘The Jews are the men that will not be blamed for nothing,’ if memory serves.”
“Why, ‘if memory serves?’” Shekhar asked.
“Because Commissioner Warren had it hosed off before anyone could get a proper look at it,” Holmes said. “Most of the killings took place in Spitalfields, which has a large Jewish population, and there were already several mad rumors that the murders were some form of blood libel. Warren worried anything even remotely tying the Jewish community to the deaths would spark open violence, so off it went.”
“Forgive me, sir, but if someone from your parts was running around chopping girls up like firewood, I don’t think a fine gentleman such as yourself would be in a hurry to claim him,” said Joshua.
“I would hope I could swallow my pride and do right in such an instance,” said Shekhar.
“Yeah, well, hoping and doing en’t the same thing, are they?” Joshua said, sucking his teeth. “And it en’t – it’s not like nobody did anything at all. Fear takes folks in different ways, y’know, and for every ten men it makes stay down it makes one man get up. Plenty of people wanted to head my father off at the pass. Made things too hot even for Dad, so he slunk off to Grimsby, dragging me along. Weren’t any more Ripper killings in Whitechapel after that,” he said, giving Pippa a meaningful look, “though I bet Grimsby would’ve found a few, had anyone bothered to look properly.”
“When was this, exactly?” Pippa asked.
“1888. Mid-November, right after Mary Kelly was killed.”
“Rose Mylett was killed around Christmas, though,” she said with an odd sort of triumph. “That’s a full month after your father left Whitechapel. So it couldn’t have been him.”
Joshua took a deep breath, clearly struggling not to roll his eyes. “Rose Mylett wasn’t murdered. Plenty of people choke on drink. Should we arrest the bottle?”
Pippa scowled. “Mr. Holmes, you yourself said you weren’t satisfied with that explanation. Perhaps you can convince your client of my claim’s validity? I fear I may not have the patience.”
“A general rundown might be in order,” Shekhar said, massaging his temples. “I am afraid I am not yet caught up on the last decade’s murder victims.”
Holmes turned to Watson, but the doctor already had a handful of folders waiting, making Holmes smirk. “I would be lost without you, truly,” he said, taking the pile from his partner and riffling through them for a few moments, absently muttering under his breath.
Finally, he sprang up and dropped a stack of photographs in Pippa’s lap, and she recoiled. A series of grainy, bloated faces spread out before her. Various points – the parts she least wanted to look at – were circled and marked with notes. She nearly turned them over, but stopped herself, and shook her head when Shekhar reached to take them away.
This could have been Folley, she thought, and if somebody cringed away from her, you’d claw their eyes out.
She steeled herself and focused on the first image. A middle-aged woman with short, dark hair and a heavily bruised face lay on a slab. Pippa was inordinately grateful that her eyes were closed.
“Mary Ann Nichols, called Polly, aged 43,” Holmes said, pacing the room and ticking off names on his fingers. “Killed at approximately 3:30 the morning of August 31st, 1888, by two slashes to the throat, followed by a deep stab to the stomach and four to the side.”
“She would have passed by that point,” Watson added quietly, when Pippa’s hands trembled. “The injury to the throat would kill instantly.”
She nodded and flipped to the next picture, that of a pale, heavyset woman. Her hair was neatly combed, and her head lay against her right shoulder, her eyes closed and lips parted as naturally as if she were asleep.
“Annie Chapman, 47, killed at 5:30 the morning of September 8th. Smothered with her neckerchief, then disemboweled.”
Pippa swallowed hard. The words were easily said, easily known on paper, but it was quite another thing to look their subject in the face. She wasn’t half as prepared for it as she thought. Even Joshua, who had years of practice pulling himself together, stared fixedly at his knees while Holmes spoke.
“September 30th brought two victims, 44-year-old Elizabeth Stride and 46-year-old Catherine Eddowes. Killed at 1 and 1:40 in the morning, respectively.”
Stride’s eyes, too, were closed, but the image still sent a shiver down Pippa’s spine. Her lips looked bruised and dotted with blood, and for the first time Pippa could make out the jagged slit that ran across her throat. Her curly hair was damp and matted, and Pippa tried very hard not to imagine why.
“Curiously enough, Miss Stride suffered no further mutilations apart from the blow to the throat that killed her,” Holmes continued. “Miss Eddowes, however, was less fortunate.”
Joshua looked up in alarm, and Shekhar moved to stop her, but Pippa turned to the next image and gasped.
Whereas the other pictures had stopped at the shoulders, this one showed Eddowes’ full body, nude and bloodied. A surgical scar ran from her groin to her collarbone, ugly as a snake. Here and there along her body were dark splotches, culminating in a large black stain on her abdomen. Her tangled hair had been pushed back, but there was so much blood on her face that Pippa couldn’t make out any features below the eyes.
“Disemboweled again,” she whispered.
“Exactly so,” said Holmes.
For fun. She touched the dark spot gingerly, as if snuffing out a candle with her thumb. Her breathing grew labored. My father did this for fun.
“Was there nothing else?” Shekhar growled at Holmes. “Could you find nothing neater, or did you not care to look? Is it not enough for this woman to die, you must take her dignity as well?”
“Death has no dignity, Mr. Deshmukh,” Holmes said, “no matter what the poets say. It has no more heart than it has reason. It will not wager with you, nor fight you, nor wait patiently at the door like an old friend while you get your things in order. Death takes. It does not care how. To act otherwise is disingenuous at best.”
Shekhar rose with a thunderous expression. “Hollow words to hide behind. There was no reason to show her that. I wish you luck with this madman, Mr. Tabak, though I fear all the luck in the world will not do you any good.”
“He’s only telling the truth,” Joshua said, though he gave Pippa an apologetic look. “Honesty’s a virtue and all.”
“Well, cruelty is not.” Shekhar put a hand on Pippa’s shoulder, but she did not move. “Pippa, please, let’s go. You do not need to do this.”
Holmes sighed and turned his cold eyes on her. “Miss Cotton, you said you wished to be of help to this investigation. I need you to be aware of exactly what that will entail. You strike me as a moderately capable young woman, but if I am wrong, by all means, walk away.”
“Holmes,” Watson warned, but his partner ignored him.
“You could be a great asset here. A young witness is better than no witness at all, and I am willing to bet you noticed more about your father’s doings than you currently realize. But you lack control, and if you wish for your involvement in this case to go any further than signing the check, I suggest you develop some.”
“I am not out of control,” she said through gritted teeth. “Forgive me, I didn’t realize that five seconds of natural empathy would be such a problem for you.”
“Empathy is fine. This, however?” He gestured at her face. “This is pity. Pity and guilt and fear and all the other completely natural, completely useless feelings which we have no time for. I can help you, Miss Cotton, but I am afraid I do not hold hands. You want to make amends? Solve the case. Your tears mean nothing to her, nor to me, nor to your family. Only your actions matter now. Are we understood?”
Pippa glared daggers at him but nodded.
“Wonderful,” he said, and flipped over the last picture.
Her stomach turned and her hands clenched on the arms of the chair, but she kept her expression as cool as she could, even as Shekhar jumped back and Joshua turned away. The figure in the photograph didn’t even look human, just a mess of blood and bone and tissue, splattered across a bed like spoiled meat. The face would have been turned towards the camera, if there were any face left.
“Mary Jane Kelly, aged 25,” Holmes said, watching her carefully. “Killed between 2 and 8 in the morning on the 9th of November, 1888. The last murder victim definitively connected to Jack the Ripper. A friend of your aunt, correct?”
“Yes.” Her voice was so quiet even she could barely hear it, but at least it was steady. “They were quite close. She was the one my father explicitly took credit for.”
“The only one?” Watson and Joshua said in unison, exchanging pointed looks.
Pippa’s lips thinned. “Perhaps the only one he knew by name, but I assure you, he was more than happy to claim all the Ripper murders collectively once he was unmasked. Along with the killing of Rose Mylett, of course,” she added, counting through the pictures, “whom I notice you have not included here, Mr. Holmes.”
“Hers was one of many additional deaths attributed to the Ripper, of varying degrees of plausibility,” Holmes said, seeing Shekhar’s confused look. “Rose Mylett, the Pinchin Street Torso, that ridiculous Fairy Fay story, the list goes on and on. In fact, if Mr. Tabak is to be believed, Jack the Ripper claimed his most recent victim not two weeks ago.”
Pippa turned to Joshua with raised eyebrows. “What victim?”
“Victims, actually,” he said. “See, like I said, a lot of folks were after Dad in the end, and managed to drive him off for a long while, ’round when I was seven. Now all those people are dropping like flies.”
He picked at a lose thread in his trouser leg for a moment, then got up and crossed to the window at top speed, as if trying to outrun the others’ eyes.
“How many people have been attacked?” Pippa asked.
“Four so far. Two in Whitechapel, two in Grimsby. I don’t know if there’s been anybody in between. Knowing Dad, I’d have to imagine so.” His voice was cool, but he clenched his fists repeatedly as he spoke.
“Herb and Florence Shafir were the first ones attacked, out in Grimsby. They used to live in Spitalfields too, and Florence had gunned real hard to get rid of Dad. When they moved out to Grimsby, they got him driven out of there too, without me this time. Took me in for a bit. Good folks, but I couldn’t stay there. Didn’t want to give Dad any more reasons to come after them.”
He stared out the window in silence for a moment, rubbing his upper arm as if soothing a burn, then cleared his throat. “Yeah, so, Dad got Herb about two months back. Couldn’t quite kill Florence – not surprised, she’s a tough old bird. Put her in hospital a long while, though. After that he laid low for another month, then killed Milosh Varichak, bloke who near broke his skull after the Double Event. Hell of a fight, too, from the looks of it. Finally, last Tuesday, he got a lady called Sarah Gassman, which is where I got this.”
He took out a crumpled sheet of a paper and slapped it down onto the table, smoothing it out as best he could. “Here, see? I snuck a look at the autopsy report, and Gassman was killed in the same way as Chapman and Eddowes. Florence had the same kind of facial injuries as Eddowes, too, though thankfully less serious.”
He passed his notes to Pippa, who was pleased to see he had included no images of any kind.
[I AM GENUINELY NOT SURE HOW TO WRAP THIS UP, BECAUSE EVERY TIME I TRY I END UP WITH ANOTHER 2+ PAGES OF USELESS FILLER, BUT AT SOME POINT HOLMES DRAGS THEM OFF TO SCOTLAND YARD.]
Pippa hated to give Headmistress Ashcroft credit for anything, but if the woman had ever given her good advice, it was this: Anything easily planned can be just as easily undone. Holmes also seemed aware of this, even used to it. Though every step into Scotland Yard drew resentful stares, his cavalier posture did not change, and when a constable got up to block their path, Holmes simply chuckled and waved Watson forward as if holding open a door. But Pippa wasn’t used to being told, “no,” and this was hardly the time to start, so she pulled up all the noble bearing left in her soul and stepped in before the doctor could speak.
“Excuse me, but I am Phillipa Cotton, niece to His Grace, the Lord Oliver Cotton. I am heiress to the duchy of Hallsbury, the earldom of Readham, and Cotton Steel.” She raised an eyebrow. “And you are in my way.”
The speech had no effect, other than to make Holmes snicker again and Joshua to shoot her a curious sidelong glance. The policeman barely seemed to notice her, glaring instead at Holmes. “’Course, milady, but he hasn’t been called in. Until he has, he’s to vacate the premises.”
“Vacate the premises?” the detective said. “Are we up to multiple syllables now, North? My congratulations.”
The man’s face purpled. “Listen, you sodding -”
“Look, we’re not here for that,” Watson said, preemptively kicking Joshua in the shin as he opened his mouth, “we just need to -”
“Shove your ‘need to,’ ya quack, you and this sneaking ratbag aren’t getting another foot in the door.”
“Strong words coming from a glorified scarecrow,” Holmes snapped, making Watson look like he was recalculating the direction of that kick.
The man snorted. “Wanna talk about glorified, look at you, ya jumped-up sideshow shill!”
Pippa ran a hand over her face. “If we could possibly get back to the matter at hand, gentlemen?”
“Is something wrong here?” said a familiar voice, and a bell went off in Pippa’s head as she turned around.
It was the sympathetic constable, sucking nervously on his top lip and staring down at her in trademark pity. She could have kissed him for it.
“Inspector Roberts, is it?” she said, in a voice so childlike it made her companions turn and stare. “Thank goodness it is you. You can help us, can’t you, sir? Please, you must!”
Roberts looked taken aback at being recognized, and she couldn’t blame him. He was a plain, fair-haired man of 30, so mousy he nearly faded into the wall. The only distinguishable thing about him was his mouth, and that too was only notable by absence; his lips were long, but so thin you could barely see them, like a tear in a sheet of paper. In her experience, such men were putty in the hands of strange, pretty girls, and if the blush that crept into his sandpaper cheeks was any indication, Roberts was no different.
“W-What seems to be the trouble, Miss Cotton?” he asked.
“Please, sir, I must see my guardians, or at least Messirs Burts and Cromwell. I come on vital business.”
Roberts glanced at Holmes, and the compassion in his eyes was dimmed by pique and, perhaps, a little amusement. “I can see that, and I am sorry to inconvenience you, Miss Cotton, but Inspector Farrier has been quite clear. No one is allowed to see the pris – erm, your relatives without his permission.”
“Then get me his permission. Let me at least make my case to him, please. I know Inspector Farrier does not think highly of me,” she said, lowering her chin and looking up at him through her eyelashes with a little sigh, “but I know you are a fair and honorable man. So could you please speak to him on my behalf? I am certain he would listen, if only you put in a good word for me.”
The constable blushed again and straightened. “Um, yes, of course, madam. No, North, I’ve got it, don’t worry. Right this way.”
As they moved to follow him, Joshua and Shekhar crept up on either side of Pippa with identical grins.
“Shame on you,” they whispered.
She shrugged. “It worked, didn’t it?
Indeed, her charms got them all the way to the third floor, and the color only drained from Roberts’ face after he had knocked once on Farrier’s door.
“Inspector Farrier, sir,” he said, his voice fading with every word, “I have…well, someone would…it’s about the Hallsbury case, sir, if you wouldn’t mind…”
There was a grunt, the door was wrenched open, and Farrier stormed into the corridor, glaring daggers at his underling. “Oh, for God’s sake, Roberts, what is it n – ?”
He stopped and stared at Holmes for several seconds, then leaned his head against the frame and groaned. “Roberts, why have you led this mad Scot to my office? Do I look like Lestrade?”
“Hardly,” Holmes sneered. “Lestrade can occasionally be reasoned with.”
Farrier pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. “Mr. Holmes,” he said, as if talking to a child he was not allowed to hit, “this is a state case. We have things perfectly under control. I applaud your sense of civic duty, but I have no need of amateur input. Thank you and good day.”
“I am not here as your consultant,” Holmes said, gesturing to Pippa, “but as Miss Cotton’s. She is certain her aunt and uncle are at risk of becoming the victims of a gross miscarriage of justice, and considering you are in charge of their case, I am inclined to agree.”
The inspector’s lip curled as he caught sight of her. “Miss Cotton. Of course. You know, madam, I’d say you’re at risk of becoming the most unpleasant person I’ve ever had to deal with – ” here he shot Holmes and Watson a dark look – “but that would not, strictly speaking, be true.”
“Give it time, Inspector,” she said. “Meanwhile, I would like to speak with my guardians, as would these gentlemen.”
“Quite the rogues gallery you’ve assembled here, Miss Cotton,” Farrier said, circling the five of them like a vulture. He squinted at Joshua and took his face in hand before the youth could react, turning his head to the right. “This one seems familiar, though that’s hardly surprising of his sort.”
He tapped him on the end of the nose, and Joshua scowled.
“There is no need to manhandle him like that,” Shekhar said. “No doubt you’ve seen Mr. Tabak assisting Mr. Holmes on previous cases, like the perfectly upright citizen he is.”
Farrier didn’t even glance at him, still smirking at Joshua. “Like he always was, no doubt,” he said.
He released him and stepped back from the two young men, talking to Pippa between their heads as if they were not there. “In any case, Miss Cotton, the answer is no. Your aunt and uncle are to have no visitors at this time, certainly not unsanctioned outsiders.”
“Unsanc – I hired them! I have my aunt’s written approval to do so!”
“Madam, you cannot hire anyone,” he said. “You are a female minor and cannot sign off on any sort of binding contract, written approval or no. If Lord Hallsbury wishes to employ these men as consultants – God knows why, but if he does – he may go through the proper channels before his arraignment tomorrow morning.”
“Fine,” Pippa said, shoving her way into his office. “Let me speak to him then, or to my aunt, by myself if you won’t let the others in.”
“That too is impossible,” Farrier said, struggling in vain to close the door behind them before the other four could follow them. “We have reason to believe Lord Hallsbury may attempt to use his family to compromise the integrity of the state’s case. Your safety, too, is of great concern to us. Both of your guardians have confessed to committing hideous acts of violence against your father. We cannot be sure they would not do the same to you.”
“You will need proof of that,” Shekhar said, “as well as for any claims of attempted evidence tampering. Under statute 435.9, subsection B, a detained businessman has the right to confer with his legal heirs regarding the management of their estate prior to arraignment, unless the police present substantial evidence that said heir specifically would be in immediate physical danger in such a circumstance. Can you provide that?”
He folded his arms expectantly, and gave Pippa a wink over his shoulder, who smirked back. Just barely smart enough for Cambridge, indeed.
Farrier, meanwhile, looked at him as if he had popped into being a cloud of sulfur. “Miss Cotton, it may not be my business, but I would suggest you stop taking legal advice from your…valet?”
A muscle jumped in Shekhar’s jaw.
“I am no more servant than you are, sir,” he spat, “and likely a good deal less so. I am a student of the law, however, a subject you clearly have yet to master.”
The look Farrier gave him would have frozen Satan solid. “I’ll be sure to find something to study, then,” he said. “Your visa, perhaps. In the meantime, as the chief inspector here, I can make certain calls at my discretion, and that includes refusing Miss Cotton entry. I suspect she could stand to be refused more often.”
“Lord, man, she is only a child,” said Watson, “show some sympathy for once.”
Farrier snapped his fingers and gestured to the door. “It is not my job to be sympathetic, Dr. Watson. After all, I’m not here to sell books. I’m here to uphold the law.”
Joshua snickered, tapped Pippa with his foot, and jerked his head towards the door.
“Like you did on the Mitchell Affair?” he said to Farrier in an unnaturally loud voice. “Think you’ve got any kinda high horse to sit on with a bungle like that behind you?”
Farrier turned scarlet. “That was not the fault of my department, as well you know. We did everything we –”
“Oh, lah dee, sure you did,” Joshua said, strolling around to the other side of the group and standing to Watson’s right. “Mr. Holmes told me just how by-the-book you were with that one, how fair and honest and rigorous your investigation was.”
“Quite,” Holmes said, smirking as Farrier’s face darkened further. “You have a legal brain, Mr. Deshmukh, so I wonder what you would think of that mess. I imagine your professors will bring it up at some point, whenever they are looking to make your hair curl.”
Farrier’s head swiveled in Shekhar’s direction just as Pippa backed away, but Joshua quickly grabbed his attention again. “Say, who’d you bribe to get this case, anyway? Can you introduce me? Cuz if they gave you the Ripper, then, shit, they’ll probably let me cuff the Queen!”
“You would deserve it more,” Holmes said, “than some underhanded, self-centered –”
Suddenly Farrier lunged forward until he and Holmes were almost nose to nose. “Careful. You are not the only one who can dig up secrets around here,” he hissed.
“I have no idea what you mean.”
“Really? Well, isn’t this a first? Sherlock Holmes has no ideas.” He laughed coldly, then leaned towards Watson. “I hear you recently remarried, Dr. Watson. My congratulations.”
“Thank you,” said Watson hesitantly.
“Yet you’re still living at Baker Street, are you not?”
“For part of the year. My wife has family on the continent, and my practice is closer to Baker Street. While she is away I take up my old rooms. We both agree it is most efficient.” Still, the doctor looked a little pale.
“A remarkably understanding woman,” Farrier said. “You are lucky to have her. Don’t you agree, Mr. Holmes?”
Holmes’ lips thinned but he said nothing. The room went dangerously quiet, and Farrier started to turn just as Pippa’s hand touched the doorknob.
Help, she mouthed to Joshua.
Like stone around a snitch’s feet, he sank to the occasion. “Awful interested in somebody else’s wife, entcha? Some things never change.”
Pippa did not stick around for the fallout, but she could hear it through the door as she closed it behind her. Poor Joshua. Probably deaf in one ear by now.
Giving the door a small salute, she started off down the corridor in search of the holding cells. Before she had taken five steps, however, a hand fluttered across her left shoulder, and she turned to see Roberts hovering behind her.
“Pardon, miss,” he said, pointing back at the office, “but I think Inspector Farrier would prefer you remain with your party.”
Pippa bent her shoulders and knees inward. “Oh, I know, sir, but I simply must have some air, just for a little while. You don’t mind, do you? I’m afraid all the bluster in there has rather distressed me.” She put a hand over her chest and stumbled slightly. “I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience, but I shan’t be a moment.”
It was a good performance, but Roberts didn’t buy it. “We can open a window for you, ma’am, and you are welcome to sit out here until you recover yourself. But you are not authorized to go anywhere down that way.”
Pippa put a hand on his arm and tried to force tears to her eyes. “But you are.”
“Please, sir. I am sorry for deceiving you, truly, but I…” All at once, the grief became real. “I haven’t seen my uncle in a week. I don’t know what’s become of him, nor of my aunt. If there is any pity in your heart, Inspector, grant me the comfort of seeing them.”
He craned his neck, checking the door. “Miss Cotton, I can’t let you wander around the station unaccompanied.”
“Then accompany me. Show me where they are. Please, Inspector Roberts,” she said, hanging on his arm with both hands, “I need to see my family.”
He checked once more over his shoulder, then sighed and dropped his voice. “Just your uncle. Lady Hallsbury’s still being processed.”
The detective walked down the hall, took a left, and opened a small green door. “This way,” he said, beckoning her.
She followed him down the longest, darkest flight of stairs she’d ever seen. There was one lamp for every floor, and they were ancient, spluttering things, barely stronger than a firefly, so they only illuminated about four inches of the walls they were mounted on. The rest of the stairwell was black as pitch, with no railing, so Pippa had to feel along the wall, listen for Roberts’ footsteps, and hope. Every step made her feel like she was being doused in ice water. She wondered if the darkness was meant to scare prisoners, or if it made them feel at home.
Finally, they came to a large, circular room on the bottom floor, ringed by more green doors. Taking out a key ring, Roberts unlocked the third door from center and ushered her in.
Pippa burst in the room like a bullet, and cried out when she saw Oliver sitting on a thin cot in the corner. Cromwell, his middle-aged, redheaded lawyer, sat on a wooden chair across from him.
“Uncle!” she said, throwing her arms around Oliver’s neck.
He held her tight for a moment, then pulled her off and ran his hands over her face and shoulders like a blind man. “Pippa? My God, what are you doing here? Are you alright? Are the children well, are they here?” He looked behind her expectantly. The desperation on his face made her heart pang.
“No, sir,” she said, “they still won’t let…”
His face fell, but he nodded. “No, no, of course not,” he said, patting her hand with a bitter smile. “Still, it is good to see you. You have no idea how good it is.”
“And to see you,” she said, though in truth she was nearly sick with rage. Her uncle seemed to have aged ten years since she last saw him. His face was sunken, lined with worry, and he was dangerously thin. His nails and fingertips were shredded – a nervous habit – to the point that he left faint, bloody stains on everything he touched. Already his dark hair was gray at the temples. Never had she seen a more defeated-looking man.
“Mr. Cromwell told me what happened,” he said, his eyes full of sorrow. “My dear child, I cannot imagine what you must be going through right now. I am so sorry. You weren’t supposed to find out like this.”
Pippa let out a short, sour laugh. “Wasn’t supposed to find out at all, it sounds like.”
“No, and I hope you can forgive me for that. We thought you would be happier that way, that we would all be safer, but you see how well that plan has turned out.” He winced and put his head in his hands, rocking back and forth. “I have made such a mess of things, haven’t I? Got complacent…careless…stupid, God, so stupid…”
“Hush, Uncle, it’ll be alright,” she said, but he barely seemed to hear her.
“And now they have taken Folley. Lord, that was the one thing, we agreed, she promised, no matter what, she was going to be safe. That was the point of everything. That’s why I killed the bastard in the first place.” He leaned back, still rocking, and bit the knuckle of his left forefinger. “Why would she, why would she, why would she?”
“Did you?” Pippa said at last.
Oliver stopped muttering and cocked his head. “Pardon?”
Her voice shook. “Did you kill the bastard?”
Horror unfolded on his face. “Oh, child,” he said, “I did not mean…”
“You may want to be careful with your ‘did not means,’ sir,” Cromwell interrupted. “Unless you plan to change the details of your plea?”
The attorney sounded hopeful, but Oliver glared him down. “I did not mean to cause my niece any distress, is all I was going to say. The truth remains the same as it ever was. My brother died at my hands, and deserved far worse than I gave him.”
Her father’s face flashed, unbidden, before her eyes. “Can I have a strawberry tart too, Father? I know you said only two, but they look so good.” “Of course, precious. Take whatever you like.”
Stop it. She folded her hands and pinched herself hard on the thigh. Control.
“His sins have nothing to do with you, however,” Oliver said, patting her on the knee. “You are your mother’s daughter, through and through.”
That’s not much better, she thought, but gave him a stiff smile all the same.
“So it is settled then?” Cromwell asked. “Not guilty by reason of self defense?”
Oliver nodded, and the lawyer pursed his lips. “I must remind you that this will go to full trial in that case. In the absence of other witnesses, you will likely be called to testify.”
“I am aware.”
“You and your wife, sir.”
Oliver hesitated, then turned to Pippa. “Has Pierce arrived yet?”
She shook her head, and he swallowed hard. “Mattie, then. She saw the start of Ethan’s attack. Surely between the two of us that would be enough evidence to keep Folley off the stand.”
“Not if Her Grace continues to insist that she delivered the fatal blow. Now, if one of you were to corroborate the other’s story, we might have something to work with.” He packed up his briefcase, then added in an undertone, “And, of course, with a guilty plea, we could avoid a trial altogether, not to mention the noose.”
“For me, and me only!” Oliver said, leaping to his feet. “But I will not throw my wife to the wolves, she who has done nothing wrong in this whole affair! If that is so difficult for you to believe, Mr. Cromwell, then perhaps I should call upon more competent services!”
“It is not a question of belief, Your Grace, it is a question of law,” Cromwell protested. “If I could put your brother on the stand and take him to task, believe me, I would. But I cannot, and so a guilty plea is the surest way to save both yourself and Lady Hallsbury from the death penalty. Otherwise, there will be no leniency in sentencing.”
“Already planning for a loss, are you?” Pippa said.
Cromwell turned to her with a sigh. “I must always be prepared for the worst, madam. It is my job.”
“Your job is to protect Folley,” Oliver said, “make no mistake about that. Put me entirely out of your mind if you must. I know who is really on trial here, and what for. I want your word that you will defend her even ahead of myself, both her life and her honor.”
Cromwell’s shoulders slumped. “I am sorry, Your Grace, but I cannot do both.”
His client gave him a furious look, then paced up and down the room with his head in his hands. “She will not be moved?” he said at last. “To give me over, instead of herself?”
“No, sir. I am afraid our cards are all riding on you.” He smirked bitterly. “Forgive me, Your Grace, but whoever said that women are the more agreeable sex has not met Lady Hallsbury.”
Oliver’s face split into a grin, and for a moment he looked himself again. “She is the most solid person, is she not?” He chuckled, but his cheer soon faded, like the sun dipping back behind the clouds. “All the same, I would spare her such indignities. Are you sure there is no other way?”
Cromwell shook his head. “No one else can support her claim. Unless she pleads or names you as the killer, we must question her about her role in the murder.”
“That will not be the extent of the questions, though, will it?” Oliver snapped. “I know this Farrier’s game, I know what my family wants to hear, and I will not have it! I will not sit there and let my wife be humiliated, dissected like an insect on a slide, for all the world to see! Why must she answer for Ethan’s crimes?”
He sank onto the cot, shaking with rage, and Pippa put an arm around him. “I may have some good news on that front. I’ve found a detective willing to start an investigation on your behalf. That would at least delay the trial, and if he can prove Father was the Ripper, maybe even get the state to drop the case.” She looked to Cromwell for conformation.
“Assuming the judge agrees,” he said. “It would also give Farrier more time to find evidence of his own. It is a definite risk, Your Grace.”
Oliver stared up at the ceiling in thought. “Which detective did you say it was?”
“Mr. Sherlock Holmes, sir. Folley sent me to him,” Pippa said. “She has great confidence in his abilities.”
That confidence was clearly not shared by her husband. “Ah. Pierce’s uncle. Well, he is certainly, um…he has a knack for the, er…unconventional, I suppose. Clever, Pierce always had to give him that. It’s just…he’s just, uh, well…”
“He’s a nut,” Cromwell said.
“A nut with a near perfect success rate,” she said. “Scotland Yard has turned to him themselves, numerous times. Jurors would have to respect that kind of background.”
“Catching blackmailers and horse thieves is one thing, madam,” Cromwell said, folding his arms, “but homicide is quite another.”
“He has solved plenty of those, as well.”
Cromwell thumped his fist on his leg. “None like this! Not remotely like this! Miss Cotton, this stands to be the most challenging murder case in English history! A team of detectives – properly trained detectives, mind – would still have a nightmare of a time with it.”
“Well, we don’t have a team of detectives. We have him.” She turned plaintively to her uncle. “We just have him. But I do believe that will be more than enough.”
Oliver rubbed his temples and bit his lip, but before he could respond, the cell door flew open and Farrier burst in. He was soon followed by Holmes and the others, despite his best efforts to elbow them out.
“Your Grace, Mr. Cromwell,” he said through gritted teeth, “I am sorry to cut short this happy reunion, but Miss Cotton must leave at once. I said there were to be no social visitors, and sneaking behind my back is not going to change my mind.”
Cromwell rose and beckoned Pippa to follow him, though he scowled at Farrier. “Really, Inspector, this level of restriction is absurd!”
“File a complaint,” Farrier said. “In the meantime, get her out of here. Only counsel and experts, as you agreed.”
Oliver’s head swiveled from Pippa to Holmes for a long moment, his expression inscrutable. Finally, with a small sigh that was halfway between a laugh and a wail, he rose and addressed Farrier.
“Mr. Holmes is my expert,” he said, though his voice was stiff and squeaky, the way it always went when he tried to lie. “I hired him ages ago to carry out an independent investigation into the case. Pleased to hear you could finally make time for it,” he added, shaking Holmes and Watson’s hands in turn.
Farrier rolled his eyes. “Right. Of course you did. Funny that Miss Cotton told me she only summoned Mr. Holmes today, though.”
Oliver picked at his nails and tried to shrug, though it looked more like a small seizure. “Oh, well, you know young people these days, heads in the clouds.”
“She also said it was Lady Hallsbury who had her send for him,” Farrier said, “and a married woman cannot –”
“It was on my instruction, I assure you,” Oliver said hastily. “Folley would never think to make such a serious decision without my direction. My wife is a simple, unschooled country girl, so you may be sure she does nothing that I do not tell her to do.”
There was a pause as the room collectively fought to keep a straight face.
“I can vouch for Mr. Holmes’ appointment, if you wish,” said Cromwell, who had more training in the art of practical deceit than his client did. “All perfectly legal and above board.”
“Sure it is,” Farrier muttered under his breath, but there was nothing more to be done. The inspector surrendered with the worst possible grace, pulling Joshua and Shekhar out of the cell by the collar and grunting at Pippa to follow. “These three have no business here, though. Out, all of you, now.”
Pippa hugged her uncle quickly, though she hated to let go. “I promise I’ll get you out of here,” she said, kissing him on the cheek. “You and Folley will be home before you know it.”
“Thank you, sweetheart. I am certain we will.”
But there was no such certainty in his voice, and the further she walked away, the weaker he looked, like steam dissipating in the air.
The boys had broken free of Farrier’s grip by the time she caught up to him. “Glad to see you’ve remembered your manners, Inspector,” she said snidely, assuming she, too, was out of arm’s reach.
She assumed wrong. Farrier’s eyes flashed, and he suddenly caught her by the collar and under the arm. During the entire sprint up to the main level, her feet barely touched the stairs.
“Let go,” she coughed, trying to flail out of his grip, “how dare you? I will not be manhandled like this!”
“Miss Cotton, there are precious few things I am allowed to ignore these days,” Farrier hissed. “Thankfully, your opinion is one of them.”
They reached the top of the stairs with a furious Shekhar and Joshua at their heels, and Farrier shoved them through the door with all the ceremony of dumping out a chamber pot. The three tripped over each other into the hallway, nearly colliding with Roberts.
“Um, Inspector Farrier, sir,” he said, dodging the pile up, “there’s a…well, there’s an, um, incident…it seems that, um, they are…” He trailed off, jerking his head over his shoulder.
Farrier ran a hand over his face, looking like he would give anything in the world for a good two-minute scream. “Perfect. As if today wasn’t long enough. Watch them, will you, and for Christ’s sake, don’t botch it this time.”
He wheeled on the trio and pointed at them like he was throwing a hatchet. “Do. Not. Move. Not a step, the lot of you, or I swear I’ll clap you in irons – yes, including you, Miss Cotton!”
Huffing, Farrier stormed off towards his office. No sooner had his footsteps faded, however, than Joshua turned to the others and said, “So I know they’ve got tea around here somewhere. Fancy a cuppa?”
“Absolutely,” Shekhar said. “Where to?”
“Dunno, they keep switching wings on me,” Joshua said, strolling down the hall.
Shekhar held his arm out for Pippa, but she shook her head. “No thanks. You go on ahead.”
“Erm, please don’t go on ahead, actually,” said Roberts, who was trotting along after Joshua like a reluctant horse. “The inspector told you to stay here, sirs, so if you don’t mind -”
“Tell you what,” Shekhar said to Joshua, shouldering Roberts aside, “you take the left wing, and I shall take the right. Tuppence to the first one to find it?”
Joshua grinned and shook his hand. “You’re on.”
Before Roberts could stop them, the boys took off down opposite halls at top speed. The constable hesitated, then shot Pippa a pleading look.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Roberts’ face melted in gratitude, and he gave her a little bow before taking off after Joshua.
Pippa sighed and kicked at the wall with her heel. You can do this, she thought, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. You will do this. There’s no scrape you haven’t be able to pull yourself out of by the skin of your teeth, and this one will be no different. It’s going to be fine.
But she couldn’t stop seeing fire behind her eyes.
“Nobody deserves to go like that,” she heard herself saying, in some distant, sense-making place. “Nobody deserves to die in such a terrible way.”
“So you are with them, then?” said a nasally voice behind her.
Pippa started and turned to see a teenage boy, a few years younger than her, staring at her like a specimen in a jar. He was unusually well-dressed, with dark red hair and a nose so pointed you could use it as a letter opener.
“I mean, I certainly wouldn’t be,” he said. “Let them rot, I say.”
“Well, case closed then,” she said, shouldering past him with a scowl. “A random brat says they should rot. Might as well skip the whole trial.”
“Don’t you miss your parents, though?” he said, falling into step beside her. “Don’t you miss everybody? Father says you would.”
“I’m terribly sorry to disappoint your father, then,” she said, “and rob him of his job as dictator of the world’s opinions, but no.”
She had a sudden flash of piano keys, of her father’s hands over hers and his voice gently singing as she plunked along: “Allouette, gentille allouette, allouette, je t’ai plumerai…” Her heart twisted in six different directions at once, but she did her best to shake it off. “Either way, my parents are none of your business, so shove off.”
The boy let out a low whistle. “Lord. You are a cold fish. I sure hope I don’t get landed with you, no matter what Mother says.”
“Landed with?” She scrutinized the boy’s smug, hollow face. There was something familiar about him, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “Have we met?”
He shrugged. “Possibly. I really couldn’t say, it would have been a long time ago. Ransom Blackwood II,” he said, holding out his hand like it was a medal. “I am your cousin, I suppose.”
Pippa recoiled. “Dear God, you’re joking. Why would a Cotton be lurking around – oh no.” Her guts boiled. “No, those weaselly bastards, they wouldn’t dare show their faces here, not now!”
Picking up her skirts, she raced down the corridor, jostling policemen and knocking papers off desks. Finally, as she approached Farrier’s office, she heard a cluster of raised voices, all far too refined to be there and clearly trying to remind the inspector of this at every turn.
“The devil do you mean, you are still holding him? What on Earth for?”
“Really, sir, it is most unusual, and I fail to see any purpose in it. Surely you cannot think our poor cousin dangerous? Why, he would never harm a fly!”
“He says he took a third of his brother’s head off with a battleaxe, Lord Stanhope,” Farrier said, each word more clipped than the last, “so I’m afraid I must disagree.”
“You know perfectly well that lowlife serpent wife of his is responsible for Ethan’s murder,” hissed a third voice, a woman’s this time. “Are you really going to let him take the fall? For her of all people?”
“And what of Mrs. Christina Cotton’s death, Lady Foster? I suppose that was Lady Hallsbury’s fault as well?” Farrier said. “Is she such a master of the long con, or did she time-travel?”
The ensuing uproar was so loud that Pippa’s entrance was lost in the flurry (a shame, as it had been very impressive, and she was sure those doors would never slam the same way again). It took nearly a minute for them to notice she was there. At last, a bony woman with hair like a wicker basket caught sight of her and squealed.
“Oh, dear Lord, it is you!” the woman said, in a voice far too prim for such a girlish tone. It was like a nun trying to sing shanties. “Everyone, look, it is little Pippa! Oh, you poor thing, did this upstart drag you out here too? Come, come, let Auntie Renee have a look at you.”
The woman advanced with skeletal fingers outstretched, kissing the air, and Pippa fumbled for the door handle. Thankfully, she was whisked out of the way by one of the men, a sharp-looking character in gray pinstripe, who looked her over in desperation.
“It is,” he said, his square jaw relaxing into what might have been a genuine smile. “Of course it is. You are your mother in miniature, you know that?”
“Or George,” said Lady Foster, a handsome, imposing woman in green. “Around the mouth especially, like Ethan always said.” She folded her arms and made a strange, tchh-ing noise at an older man seated in the far corner of the room, but he seemed half-asleep and did not respond.
The man in gray gave her a warning look before turning back to Pippa, patting her on the head as if she were four years old. “It is good to see you again. I doubt you remember me, but I am your cousin Henry. Henry Van Den Burg? We are all your cousins, actually.”
“Yes, and we have all missed you so terribly much, my darling, you would not believe it!” said the last man, pushing Van Den Burg aside. He was a puffed-up creature in blue with watery, oversize eyes and a thin mustache. The mustache was the only thin thing about him, despite the fact that he had trussed his gut so tightly he looked like a summer sausage. “Ransom Blackwood I, Baron Stanhope, at your service, dear child. Never fear, we shall have you and your uncle out of this place and away from that dreadful woman, just as soon as Mr. Farrier here sees sense.”
He made to kiss her hand, but Pippa jerked away and retreated towards Farrier, who for once seemed like the safest person in the room.
“That ‘dreadful woman’ is my aunt,” she said, “and the Duchess of Hallsbury to boot. I suggest you speak of her with proper deference from now on, my lord.”
The room chilled. Blackwood and the two women pursed their lips in trademark Cotton fashion, while Van Den Burg looked like he had pulled her knife out of his back and was deciding where exactly to return it. Farrier, meanwhile, was trying not to laugh.
“Sorry, perhaps I should have warned you,” he said, in a tone that implied that not warning them was the best decision he’d made all week, “but Miss Cotton is solidly against the state’s case. In fact, she has found a detective…of sorts…in order to prove Lady Hallsbury’s claims. I’m sure this stubbornness may seem shocking to you, but believe me, for anyone who has spent more than five minutes in Miss Cotton’s presence, it is not.”
“Traitorous brat,” said Lady Foster with another cluck of her tongue. “Though it is hardly surprising, considering how fast the harlot got to work on her. Remember how cold she was to Ethan near the end? Used to hang off his ankles whenever he was home, but after six months in that woman’s grip she barely seemed to notice he was there. Broke his heart, the poor fellow. I should hate to see what this kind of betrayal would do to him. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you little viper.”
“Sarah!” Van Den Burg hissed. “Patience. We cannot expect her to come around right away, not after all these years. Give her time, she will understand.”
“Of course she will,” the bony woman said, putting her arm in Blackwood’s and simpering. “I know this is all so much for your pretty head to cope with, but you shall realize it is all for the best once we get you home.”
“Exactly, my dear, exactly,” Blackwood said, patting his wife’s hand. “That woman stole your life, Pippa, the life you deserved. Perhaps it does not feel like it right now, but it is true. She took you away from your family, you and Oliver, how kind does that seem?”
“Having met you? Extremely. I must be sure to bring her flowers next time I come here.” She folded her arms and braced her feet like a boxer. “In the meantime, I’m certainly not going anywhere with any of you, and neither is my uncle.”
“On that point, Miss Cotton, we are agreed,” Farrier said.
Van Den Burg started to argue, but he was cut off by a creaking whisper from the corner.
“You said you hired a detective, young lady?” said the old man, and Pippa jumped, having quite forgotten he was there.
The man’s rheumy eyes narrowed. “Impossible. They are all under our employ, every consultant worth having.”
“You missed one, then,” Pippa said, “for my guardians shall be employing the eminent Mr. Sherlock Holmes in their defense.”
She said it as confidently as she could, but after a brief, stunned silence the Cottons burst out laughing.
“Sherlock Holmes?” Lady Foster shrieked. “That cut-rate busybody from the Strand? Is that the best you can do?”
“Oh, the trollop would pick him though, wouldn’t she?” Lady Blackwood giggled, mimicking Folley’s accent. “Cor, ‘e’s in the mag’zines, ‘e is, ‘e must be good! Real gee-nee-oos, all ’em stories says sos!”
“Really, Pippa, do not be ridiculous,” Van Den Burg said with a pitying smile. “All the finest legal minds in the country are behind us. Folley has no proof, no case, no chance at all. Do not let some lunatic ambulance chaser tell you otherwise just because he has his face on a book or two.”
Pippa’s eyes flicked over to the old man, who was glowering down at his shoes as if they were burning his feet. “Funny, that didn’t stop you trying to pay him off.”
He started, then adjusted his jacket in a huff. “Best to have all avenues closed, but no matter.”
“No matter is right, darling,” Lady Foster said, nodding along with him. “There is nothing he can do for her, not if he had the year to try. If he has any skill at all, he shall soon see her story for the codswallop it is and leave the case. If he hasn’t any skill, well, all the better.”
“I hate to interrupt this list of Mr. Holmes’ failings,” Farrier said, checking his watch, “really, I do, but I must speak to the prosecutor, so if you don’t mind -”
“Oh, no, we are not finished with you,” Van Den Burg said, baring his teeth, “not until my cousin’s charges have been dropped.”
“Lord Hallsbury has not recanted his confession.”
“Pah, give me two minutes to talk to him, he will recant.”
“Even if he did,” Farrier said, eyes flashing, “the evidence against him, combined with his own statements prior to and post-confession, is such that we could proceed with prosecution regardless. And. We. Will.”
The Cottons exchanged shocked looks.
“Ridiculous,” Foster wheezed. “Absurd. Try a duke – a peer of the realm – for fratricide? Put him in the docket like some tavern brawler? A scion of the house of Stuart? Who exactly do you think you are?”
“The chief inspector on this case, and I intend to behave as such,” Farrier said.
“Some chief inspector.” Foster said with a sneer. “I shall speak to your superiors of this. Schuster, York, now those are men of honor and decorum.”
“Yes, right up until they were removed from office for corruption,” Farrier replied coolly. “We are on the cusp of a new century, sir, and Scotland Yard is a new force. We have revitalized, without stain or graft or favor. I realize that may be difficult for some to imagine.”
His eyes fell on Van Den Burg, and the nobleman fumed.
“Every man is entitled to a fair trial,” Farrier said, “just as they are all entitled to a fair punishment.”
“Please, Inspector,” said Blackwood, “would you at least consider releasing him on bail? We would be more than willing to pay.”
“Bail?” said Van Den Burg, scandalized, but Farrier shook his head.
“Lord and Lady Hallsbury have been deemed considerable escape risks, and I have advised Justice Horne not to post bail for either of them,” he said. “You may bring the question up at the arraignment tomorrow morning, but until that time His Grace will remain in custody.”
There was a timid knock at the door, and Roberts poked his head in. “Sorry to disturb you, Inspector, Your Graces, but Messirs Burts and Cromwell would like to speak with you before Mr. Streeter arrives.”
Farrier sighed and shot Pippa a look of deepest loathing. “No doubt to approve your new appointments to the defense. Very well. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He gave the group a stiff bow. “If you will excuse me.”
“This is your fault,” Lady Foster hissed, swatting Blackwood on the back. “You opened this can of worms in the first place. You swore up and down they would let him off once she cracked, and now look what has happened!”
“Hush up, woman, so we wait until the arraignment, what difference does it make?” Blackwood said, though he fiddled nervously with the head of his cane.
“No difference to you, is it? You just want the land,” Van Den Burg said, wheeling on the Blackwoods. “You have already burned through a barony, now you want to see how long it takes to spend a duchy!”
Blackwood’s face reddened. “Now see here!”
Van Den Burg ignored him, pointing at the Fosters. “And you, you only came because you don’t want him to pick the carcass clean before you get a bite. If Oliver hangs, what do any of you care, as long as you get what you want?”
“That is unfair, Henry,” Lady Foster said. “You know that is not fair.”
But Van Den Burg just shook his head and took off in pursuit of Farrier without another word. Pippa dashed off as well, trying to beat him to it, and they ended up flanking the detective in the hallway.
Farrier clenched his fists as if reining in the urge to knock their heads together. “Lord Catesby, Miss Cotton, if you please.”
“I told you, this is not over!” Van Den Burg said. “Now we put you onto this case, and you are damn well going to follow it as you ought!”
“Strange, I thought I was already doing that.”
“You know what I mean! Look,” he said, seizing the detective by the shoulder, “you were supposed to get rid of her, understand? Just her!”
“I am not your dog, sir, for you to sicc and call to heel whenever you like!” Farrier roared, and the nobleman cringed away. “If you regret doing your civic duty, that is no skin off my nose. But Lord and Lady Hallsbury have both confessed, they will both be tried, and yes, if they are found guilty, they will both hang!”
“You will never get a jury to convict him,” Van Den Burg said, though his voice wavered. “Not one of his proper peers.”
“Watch me,” the detective snarled.
He stormed off and it took Van Den Burg a minute to find his voice. “N-Now see here, you cannot speak to me like that, you -!” he started, but his rant was interrupted by a quiet, familiar voice behind them.
Pippa and Van Den Burg spun around to see Oliver coming towards them, led by Roberts and trailed by Holmes, Watson, and the lawyers. Joshua and Shekhar followed a few feet back, behind another pair of officers. As he passed his cousin, Oliver paused and gave him a small, sad smile.
“Do you still hate me so much?” he asked.
Van Den Burg’s face twisted. “Olly,” he said, reaching out, “you don’t understand.”
Oliver turned away, gave Pippa’s hand a reassuring squeeze, and continued on. Van Den Burg watched the strange procession for a moment, then lunged forward, bursting through the ranks and grabbing his cousin by the shoulders.
“Recant,” he said, shaking him hard. “Recant, damn you, it is your only chance! Everything will be normal then, you can have your children back, your home, your titles, everything! Just give it up!”
“It’s the truth, Harry.”
“Listen, we are your family,” Van Den Burg said, struggling to throw off the officers closing in around him, “we will not let you die for that…that…”
“That what?” Oliver said darkly. “And I suppose letting her die for me, that’s alright, is it?” He shook his head.
The rear guard finally pulled Van Den Burg off and held him back as Oliver and the others followed Farrier around the corner.
“For God’s sake, man, come to reason!” he cried, but Oliver did not look back. Van Den Burg struggled for another moment or two, then, defeated, slunk away.
“What was that all about?” Joshua asked, watching him go.
“Relatives,” Pippa said in an icy voice. “Apparently I have Lord Ransom Blackwood I and company to thank for this entire mess.”
Joshua looked askance. “The first? They dished that name out more than once?”
She shrugged. “Why not? Giving people bad names does seem to be their favorite pastime.” The injustice bubbled up within her, but she tamped it down as best she could and cleared her throat. “So what’s the plan now? Should we go in with them?”
Shekhar shook his head. “Mr. Cromwell is going to sort everything out between Mr. Holmes and the prosecutor. In the meantime, though, Farrier wants you out of here.”
“Fat chance,” she said.
“So does your uncle, though,” he finished. “I am to escort you back to Merrimore on the next train.”
“There’s not much more you can do here, anyway,” Joshua said, when she showed every sign of resisting, “and you don’t want to burn yourself out.”
“What sort of wilting violet do you take me for?” she said.
“Cor, I didn’t mean it like that, let a man talk, for God’s sake,” he said. “It isn’t you, it’s the load, y’know? Carry a case around too long, and it breaks you, breaks anybody, and yours is rougher than most. Gotta put it down for a while. Clear your head and take a step back, as far back as you need to make sense of things again.”
“It’s my family,” she said firmly, “I don’t need to, not with this.”
“Yes, you do. Trust me.” His eyes softened, and again she felt that dull pull. “Get some rest. I’ll do the same m’self, find somewhere to kick around for a couple hours. Holmes and Watson never let me in on negotiations. Can’t imagine why,” he said with a grin.
“Come on, Pippa,” Shekhar said. “I am sure it would do your family good to see you, at least.”
She nodded begrudgingly and followed the pair out to the street. However, when Joshua moved to split off, she stopped him.
“Wait,” she said, “why don’t you come with us? Have dinner or something. I imagine we still have a lot to talk about.”
“Nothing about the case, remember?” he said, wagging a finger.
“Oh, alright, but still,” she said, “you got me some time with my uncle at last. It’s the least I can do to pay you back.”
He thought for a moment, then cocked his head back at the building and smirked. “Can’t imagine that lot would want a Jew in their castle, especially after going through all this trouble to get it back.”
“No more than they’d want an Indian, I’m sure,” Shekhar said.
Joshua’s smile widened. “And we’re a full set. An Indian, a Jew, and an uppity woman. Well, shoo, now we gotta do it.”