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Chapter Twenty-One

Of Craddock and Bradley



Jim Craddock had his lodgings on Bow Street, not far from his place of work and the Brown Bear Inn. In the short amount of time I had spent in Sprue’s company, dawn had broken proper and the hustle and bustle of the markets had started in earnest. The temperature had risen slightly and the ice and snow had turned grey. I picked my way carefully to the top of the street, still mindful of anyone who might come after me. The world looked grimy and downtrodden and my lack of sleep and the stress from the previous evening’s events weighed heavily on my shoulders. 

I slipped into a jitty and waited by a black-painted door. No one followed me. No one watched me. Still, I felt that old creep of anxiety. I had been here many times and, as Craddock’s wife, I suppose had some claim to it. I did not however, consider it to be my home, especially as I knew he had brought another here. I sorted through the keys on my chain and fitted the correct one into the lock. The door gave onto a dark hall. It smelled of three-day stew. There were bare boards to the floor and the walls were mouldy. Why must everything be dirty and decayed? I took myself up to the first floor, where the light from a cracked window gave onto a small landing with three doors. I fitted a second key into the lock on the first door and entered the room Jim Craddock called his own.

At first, it was as if I was a blind woman; the curtains were closed, the shutters too. I listened for his breathing, but heard nothing. I called out his name softly, but received no reply. I must admit to much relief at this. I unlatched the shutters. A shaft of grey light broke the gloom. His bed was unmade and nearby lay the remnants of a quickly eaten breakfast. He had been called in a hurry, of that I was sure, but whether to apprehend a highwayman, or to investigate our murder, I knew not. I could not take myself to the Brown Bear, for it would not yet be open. I could not go to Number Four Bow Street, where the magistrate abides and the Runners receive their orders, for fear of entering the lions’ den. I would have to wait for Craddock to find me. I cursed my luck and with an anxious glance back at the room, hurried to return to Covent Garden.

The sky had brightened considerably, and the night’s icy cold had turned damp. I reached our door without incident, though I was now overcome once more with the shakes. They came in involuntary spasms. I hastened to lock myself in my room. Although the house is never up early I did not want Deaf Tom to find me, nor Mother Shadbolt, either of whom might be on the prowl. 

I shrugged off my outer clothes until I wore just my chemise and stays, and crawled beneath my covers. Try as I might, sleep did not come. Lying abed, waiting for the knock on the door, was torture. I tossed and turned, but found no peace. My shakes gradually faded, it is true, but I found no more peace than that. 

I rose and took myself down to the parlour. Here I paced up and down, up and down. From time-to-time I peered out to the street below, but saw nothing untoward. Then, after what seemed like hours, I heard doors bang and shouting in Bradley’s shop below us. 

I ran down the stairs to the connecting door. Here I listened for a moment to the voices beyond. I must do something. I could not let Bradley suffer. He had done nothing to deserve the beating he would surely get from the Runners. I unlatched the door and stepped inside the shop. It was empty. The voices were coming from the distillery in the back of the building. I followed the sound down a short hall and found Bradley between two constables. 

Craddock glanced up at me as I entered. He shook his head as Bradley struggled and violently protested his innocence. Then Craddock drove a fist into Bradley’s belly and the poor man doubled up in pain. He spat blood onto the sawdust-covered floor. I winced at the sight. This was wrong. All wrong.

“Stop,” I shouted, and grabbed Craddock by the arm. 

He flung me aside. They knuckles on his right hand stood out like hard white stones.

“He doesn’t know anything,” I said.

The veins in Craddock’s neck were like taught rope. He scowled at me, but spoke to his men.

“Take him to the lock up.” 

Craddock could barely contain his temper; his teeth were set, his breath came hard. He pushed his face into mine so I could almost taste the blood coursing through his veins.

“The body that was found is this man that was in your bed,” he said.

“No,” I replied.

Craddock bounced away from me. He grabbed handfuls of his hair and shook his head.

“Woman. You lie to me at every turn. You told me his name. You called him William Westman and that he was found dead in your bed and is now found in a barrel that bears John Bradley’s name. This is that man, is it not?”

“Yes… No,” I hissed.  “It is not him. Westman lives. I have seen him.” 

Craddock cocked his head. “What?”

“William Westman is not the man that was found murdered. I do not know who that man was. I only know that John Bradley had nothing to do with it.”

“But it is his barrel.”

“Yes.”

“Then Sprue has done this.”

“No.”

“You told me he was getting rid of the body for you.” 

“No, I did not. You made that assumption,” I said.

Craddock grunted in anger and poked a finger hard into my chest.

“I will torture that bastard until he comes clean.”

I struck his finger away, angrily.

“Jack Sprue did nothing and he will not tell you otherwise. If a body has turned up in a barrel and it bears John Bradley’s name, yet he claims the barrel stolen, then there is nothing you can do. There is no proof and the dead man has no name.”

Craddock grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled my head back. I stared at him with cold eyes, tears welling up from the pain.

“You do not scare me Jim Craddock,” I said. But he did.

“I cannot ignore a murder just because you tells me to,” he hissed. He banged my head against the wall. “You hear me? You get it into your thick skull. This is a serious matter and before the day is out I will have the man, or woman, who committed this heinous crime. Nothing you can say or do will change that.”

He pushed me aside and strode from the room. I slumped to the floor, the blood from the back of my head trailing a scarlet path down the wall.

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