It had been a long day, just another one of many such days since his current investigation had started. It was almost evening and Detective Inspector Lewis was looking forward to home and hearth, just as soon as he reported to his Chief Inspector. He started towards her office but hesitated, the stranger at the charge desk catching his attention. It wasn’t hard. The insular smugness of expression and negligent lean against the desk were a draw enough without taking in the frock coat and waistcoat the man wore, or the blinding white high collared shirt and the long, black leather encased legs casually crossed in the way of a dilettante slumming it with the masses. He was certainly not your usual station house visitor.
It was the top hat festooned with a feather and aviator goggles that really set Lewis’ teeth on edge though. Another bloody elitist Oxford fashion-plate, no doubt complaining over a misplaced apostrophe in the latest police bulletin. Bit old for an undergrad though, a new don perhaps, feeling the need to lord it over the unwashed masses if his air of disdain was anything to go by.
The desk sergeant pointed towards Lewis and the man straightened, his expression morphing into one of almost blank cordiality under Lewis’ scrutiny and Lewis felt an annoying sense that his thoughts had been correctly interpreted and just as easily dismissed.
Picking up the holdall at his feet the man advanced, holding out a hand. “Inspector Lewis? Hathaway, D.S. James Hathaway. Seconded from Cambridge. For the Ripper murders,” he added at Lewis’ momentary confusion. “They said I’d be working under you.”
“Ah, yes. Innocent mentioned Cambridge constabulary had offered assistance, would be sending someone down, a Cambridge graduate no less. Not that I expect we’ll need it,” Lewis added, taking the extended hand, and cursing silently when his tactless remark brought an even more closed off look to Hathaway’s face. No point getting the lad’s back up any more than he had already, seeing they were obviously going to be working together. It wasn’t Hathaway’s fault he looked the perfect toff, or that the two university towns set up such competition between themselves with their sciences and philosophies and their desire to outdo each other with their new scientific discoveries and alchemical advancements. All out of his league really and he did wonder sometimes why he’d left the ease of down-to-earth science and university free Newcastle to come south.
“Well, you’re here now,” he said, pushing the wayward thoughts aside. “I’ve a meeting with the Chief Superintendent so you’re just in time.” Lewis turned away, pulling his functional sack coat a bit closer and settled his derby more firmly in place. “Come along then, Jim,”
“I prefer James, sir.” The sound of Hathaway’s voice floated over his shoulder as he headed to the stairs. Lewis grunted a response and kept his voice even. “Right it is then, James,” he said putting emphasis on the name. “And if I were you I’d not be saying anything about Ripper murders to the Super. She’s not too happy about the way the newspapers have jumped on that. Neither am I,” he added, leading the way up the wooden stairs to the top of the building and into Innocent’s office.
The Chief Superintendent was at her desk when they arrived, head down over the paperwork in front of her. Lewis opened his mouth but before he could speak she raised her index finger and pointed to the empty chairs in front of her without lifting her attention from the desk.
Lewis removed his hat and sat in one of the straight-backed chairs, balancing the derby on his knee, Hathaway settled in the one next to him, his elaborate top hat remained firmly in place. The office was fresh and roomy and to the back of the station, away from the hurly-burly of main street traffic so the only noise was the slight whir of gears and faint tick coming from the large grandfather clock in the far corner, and the scratch of Innocent’s nibbed pen gliding across paper. A large wood heater, its brass chimney running up the wall and through the ceiling, stood next to the clock, its warmth burning off the chill of the air. It hadn’t been a particularly warm summer and already the weather seemed to be turning to an early autumn.
Innocent put the pen down and continued reading for a few minutes, her eyes scanning the pages quickly before she finally looked up.
“Good morning, Lewis. And unless we have suddenly acquired personnel I don’t know about this would be our secondment from Cambridge?” she added, looking at Hathaway.
Before Lewis could speak Hathaway had risen, top hat doffed to reveal blond hair trimmed back to the extreme in the current, ridiculous in Lewis’s opinion, popular undergrad fashion, while long sideboards bracketed his face.
“DS James Hathaway. A pleasure to meet you ma’am” Hathaway said, punctuating the introduction with a short stiff half-nod half-bow.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Innocent responded a little stiffly in return, surprise at the formality of the greeting evident. “It was good of the Cambridge Constabulary to send you.”
Hathaway nodded again and resumed his seat, settling the top hat on his knee this time.
“Has Inspector Lewis briefed you yet on these so called Ripper killings?” Innocent grimaced at the last words, as if bitting into a sour lemon.
“He’s only just got here, ma’am, haven’t had a chance, have I?” Lewis broke in.
“Don’t get stroppy, Robbie.” Innocent cast him a withering look. “Going by these reports, your progress, or lack thereof, shouldn’t take all that long to relate.”
It was Lewis’s turn to grimace. But she was right, three killings over the last month and nothing much to go on. The investigation was not so much stalled as never having had a decent start.
“Some details have come through with the regular dispatches on autoscribe ma’am.” Hathaway came unexpectedly to his rescue. “The killings started on the day of the solstice, the 21st June. So far all are markedly similar, down to the commonality of the victims and the nature of the wounds inflicted, and all committed in the same area of Oxford, in Jericho. Am I correct?”
“Remarkably so,” Innocent said. “Nice to know our Cambridge colleagues are so up to date.” Lewis suspected sarcasm but her expression remained neutral. “I suggest the two of you go over the evidence we have and, Lewis, perhaps a visit to Jericho to acquaint Sergeant Hathaway with the scene of the crimes would be in order?”
Lewis took that as a clear dismissal and rose from his chair, Hathaway with him. Innocent’s head was again bent over her paperwork before they reached the door so she missed Hathaway’s sketchy bow of farewell.
Unlike the plush comfort of Innocent’s office, the small workroom that Lewis called his own held no large desk or warming wood fire. However, there was a curtain-less window at one side that let in sunlight and the brightness of a pulley light at the other, with a good solid table in the middle. A small stove in the corner of the room emitted many grumbles and a faint heat source, a tall hatstand standing beside it. They found a space under the window for Hathaway’s holdall but there was only one chair, so Lewis had to scout the main station area to find another one for him.
It was now past lunchtime so Lewis ordered penny pies and baked potatoes be brought in from the street vendor outside the station. After eating they sat facing each other over the table, steaming mugs of tea at their sides, while Lewis related the details of Oxford’s latest string of murders, all burned into his brain in indelible detail; the murdered women and the mutilations, the lack of any suspect or motivation for such brutal killings, the fear that was beginning to spread through Oxford and particularly the slum areas of Jericho.
They sat without speaking when he’d finished, until Hathaway broke the silence with the logic Lewis somehow knew would be coming.
“As much as Chief Innocent doesn’t like the idea, these killings do bear a remarkable resemblance to that bloody rampage in the East End of London we dare not mention.”
Lewis sighed. “Yes, ‘Jack the Ripper returns’, according to the local rags. But all that was two years ago. And it was London, not Oxford. If it were Jack why would he be doing his dirty deeds here instead of there? No, I can’t see it, man. If he’s back he’d be working on his own turf again, sticking it to the coppers who couldn’t catch him the first time round.”
Hathaway considered that. “Official opinion at the time was that Jack was a local,” he agreed. “Still. Were all these Oxford victims prostitutes?”
Lewis shrugged. “Most of the women who come out of Jericho work the streets at some time or other, but I’d hesitate to name them all as such and I’m as certain as I can be that at least one of our victims wasn’t in the trade.”
He bent to retrieve a file from the side of the table and opened it. It was a copy of the one Innocent had been studying. Hathaway quirked an eyebrow as Lewis spread a collection of grainy photographs over the table.
“Our police surgeon also has an interest in photography, says it’s the way of the future for police work, that and what she calls ‘forensic testing’. Suppose she’s right about the photography, these are certainly helpful. Not sure what she means by the other.”
“The collection, preservation, and analysis of evidence at the scene of a crime. It’s a new science, one that will hopefully bring policing into a new era,” Hathaway told him.
“Oh, all that, is it? Perhaps I should start listening to her when she bends my ear about it then.” He said it with what he hoped was a genuine smile and was rewarded by a lift to Hathaway’s lips.
“Yes, perhaps you should,” he said.
“As you can see,” Lewis went on as Hathaway studied the photos. “The injuries inflicted are similar to the Ripper killings in a number of details, including the mutilations.”
“Yes. Do you mind if I take these, and the file, with me when we leave? I’d like to study them in detail.”
Lewis hesitated. The police surgeon had other photographs from her examination of the bodies, but these were the only ones taken at the scene where the crimes had been committed. Hathaway was waiting for his response though and with a thought to Laura Hobson’s reaction if they went missing, he nodded.
Hathaway’s half smile went up a full notch and he gathered the photographs into a neat pile, replacing them in the file.
“Do you have lodgings already arranged?” Lewis thought to ask, watching as Hathaway carefully stowed the file in his holdall. The dull light of evening was dimming the room now, throwing shadows across the walls. “It’s too late in the day to attend the scenes of the crime. But we could make an early start tomorrow.”
“No, I thought to look for a place to stay after I’d reported in to the station.”
“I know of a boarding house not far from here, run by a lady of good reputation. That’s if you will trust my recommendation,” Lewis added hastily, the lad might prefer to seek his own place to stay after all.
“That would be admirable,” Hathaway agreed. “I am sure whatever you recommend would be most suitable.” The statement was simply made but Lewis couldn’t doubt the sincerity.
“Right then,” he said, standing up to retrieve his hat and coat from the hatstand. “Shall we see if Mrs Bell has a room available?”
Outside the station house the air was so heavily laden with the noise and smell of oil and steam from passing carriages as well as the perfume of overcooked fish that it set James’s eyes to watering at the sting of it, whilst the merchant ships and passenger liners ghosting overhead added more effluence to the general fog. He was about to lower his aviator goggles, but the possibility of Lewis’s arch look made him hesitate. He wiped his hand across his face instead and pulled his top hat down a little in an effort to cut off some of the miasma. It wasn’t at all surprising when Lewis started walking briskly along the street. No steam powered carriage for the Inspector. James wondered briefly what chance he stood of persuading the man towards more acceptance of modern technology in their investigation than he had displayed thus far. He thought it would be interesting to find out.
With that thought in mind he measured his pace to that of his new superior and allowed himself to be led through the twisting turns of Oxford city, past the butcher shops, the grocery shops and hatters, then the colleges until they reached the promised boarding house, a neat and tidy double story townhouse on a quiet street that wasn’t, after all, very far from the station house.
Mrs Bell, a matronly woman of indeterminate age but ample bosom, did indeed have a room for the gentleman friend of Inspector Lewis.
“It’s not a very large room, in fact the smallest I have vacant at the moment” she said half apologetically as she bustled them up the staircase. “But should serve you well enough if you’re not of the fussy sort.” Before James could assure her that he was indeed not exceedingly fussy she carried on.
“I can provide you with an evening meal, no extra charge, but any laundry you require doing will be at three pence a bundle. The rent will, of course, be required in advance.”
“I’m sure we can arrange some form of reimbursement for your expenses with Chief Superintendent Innocent,” Lewis broke in. “Seeing as how you’ve been seconded.”
“That won’t be necessary, sir,” James responded a little forcefully perhaps. While recompense would be a bonus, given his limited resources, the thought of importuning Innocent for cash wasn’t.
They’d reached the top landing and Mrs Bell opened the door of a room at the far end of the passage with a flourish and an expectant look. James obligingly stepped inside and looked around. It wasn’t, as she’d said, a very large room, but the bed was long enough to accommodate his tall frame and there was a workman-like desk that would suit his needs, plus a sturdy wardrobe for his clothes.
He turned to the landlady and Inspector Lewis. “Yes, thank you, this will do nicely.”
Mrs Bell beamed as James handed over enough money for several days rent while she in turn handed over a key to the front door of the boarding house and proceeded to give detailed instructions on meal times, local attractions that might be of interest and suitable for a young gentleman of class - of course said young gentlemen were not expected to be bringing guests into their rooms of an evening - and prearrangement for laundry days. Lewis in the meantime leaned against the doorframe; derby held loosely in his hands, and studied both Hathaway and the room in a vaguely disconcerting manner.
“Right, I’ll leave you to get settled,” Lewis said finally, when Mrs Bell drew breath. “See you first thing in morning. You can find your way back to the station?”
James assured him he could and succeeded in ushering them both from the room before Mrs Bell could find her voice again. There was an amused half-smile on Lewis’s face as he replaced the derby on his head and headed down the stairs, Mrs Bell a pace behind.
James closed the door with a sigh of relief, anxious to get down to the business of the file and photos. He had been pleased to receive this assignment from his superiors, despite the fact it had been given more for the convenience of being rid of him for a few weeks than as a merit on his part, and he meant to make the most of it.
He removed his top hat first and brushed it off, straightening the feather before placing it on the top ledge of the wardrobe; then his frock coat, stored with equal care on the hanger provided. The file Lewis had given him was set on the desk, ready for his perusal. After that James unpacked his belongings from the holdall. It didn’t take long, there wasn’t that much to remove; a couple of clean shirts, an extra pair of trousers, a valued evening suit, nightclothes, underwear and spare tie, his special magnifying eyeglasses, and a drinking mug.
He lifted the last item from the bottom of the bag with reverence and sat it on the bedside table. A Bellington Steam Powered Instant Hot Water Receptacle and Teapot, his most prized possession, named for the inventor of such delights as the Bellington Constant Temperature Bed Warmer. Hathaway had heard Bellington’s Thermostatic Mixing Valves would be used in the next generation of airships, a marked improvement on the last generation. It was his opinion that if the government had used Bellington’s theories rather than rely on those of the since disbarred inventor, Horace Hamilton, the Hamilton airship disaster that cost so many lives would not have happened.
It was the work of minutes to set the dials and wires properly in place and connect the special voltaic pile battery. He filled the teapot with water from the thoughtfully provided jug on the small table under the window and waited for it to boil. When the water sizzled and bubbled he added a carefully measured amount of his hoarded supply of the finest China tea.
His tea brewing, James settled at the desk and opened Lewis’ file. He went through the photographs again, using the highest magnification on his eyeglasses to glean more detail. The photographs were of the finest quality, as good as any he had ever seen. He would look forward to meeting the surgeon who had taken them. He thought he would look forward to working with Inspector Lewis too. The look that had crossed Lewis’ face when he first saw James had stung, but his manner afterwards was easy and his offer of help with accommodation delivered in a friendly and helpful way. He thought he could get along with the man, and rather hoped that would indeed be the case, and that Inspector Lewis could get along with him, something that might not be a foregone conclusion.