NextPrevious



Chapter Twenty-Two

I give Craddock certain information



I could not sit on that cold stone floor forever. Though I be as miserable a thing as any, I knew that if I did not do something - anything - then two men would hang, one of whom, John Bradley, was almost certainly innocent. I could not vouch for Jack Sprue. He was probably guilty of many a crime, but still, I did not think murder one of them. If I hurried I might still intercept the Runners at Sprue’s hole. 

Daylight had brought trade to the Garden and the street thronged with early morning shoppers. I smelled coffee coming from Carpenter’s shack. I promised myself a dish as soon as I could manage. I drew many gazes as I ran from the gin shop, past the stalls and down the privy passage, but whereas earlier, I did not care to be seen by any, now I threw caution to the wind. I had paid Sprue to remain silent, but it had been a pointless gesture. I was such a fool. Craddock would get the truth out of him. Of course he would. 

Sprue burst up from his lair, closely followed by two men and Craddock. 

“I don’t know nothin’, I tells you,” Sprue shouted. “Why aren’t you listening to me?”

The two men pinned him to the wall by his arms. Craddock fitted the point of a short-bladed knife under Sprue’s chin. Blood bubbled up from the old man’s chest, though not from any injury but from his own poor health. The knife nicked his leathery skin. 

“I swear I don’t know nothin’ about no barrel.” Sprue’s eyes were unfocused, his breathing naught but a rasp in his phlegmy chest.

“I have it on good authority, you stole the barrel to dispose of a body,” said Craddock. “Now why would anyone say you’d done that if you hadn’t?” 

“I did not steal the barrel.” Sprue could barely get the words out.

Craddock clenched his teeth - twisted the knife in his grip - caught sight of me out of the corner of his eye. He froze.

“For God’s sake woman. Don’t you know when to leave well enough alone? Get out of here,” he snarled.

I stuck my chin out proudly, and hastened towards him. I was afraid, but I would not be told what to do by him.

“He did nothing and you know it. If you want to take someone into custody, take me.” I held my arms out. Craddock ignored me. I held them out to the two constables. They too ignored me. Sprue coughed and spat out blood. 

“Can’t breathe,” he said. 

“He’s ill. Can’t you see that?” I shouted. Craddock clenched his teeth.

 “Take him away,” he muttered. The two men dragged Sprue down the passage. I turned to follow them, but Craddock caught me by the arm and held me tight.

“You’re going the right way to be hanged,” he said quietly. 

It never ceased to amaze me how his moods could turn so quickly.

“I told you what happened that night. I told you the man died in my bed, but that I did not know anything of it. I told you nothing of Sprue, though you chose to believe he helped rid us of the body.”

“He did.”

“It is of no consequence. I know who killed the man in the barrel and it wasn’t Jack Sprue.”

Craddock let go of me. 

“Who then?” he said. 

I wondered then if I should keep quiet. I had said so much already and look what trouble it had caused… but no, I would strike a bargain.

“Will you release John Bradley and our bully Sprue?” I said.

“He isn’t much of a bully, is he?” He glared at me and I glared back. I would not be turned. “If they plead their innocence and the Magistrate believes them, they will go free,” he said, eventually.

“They must not go before the Magistrate. I will tell you everything, but you must promise them free passage.”

“I don’t believe you, Kitty. I have to do the right thing.”  He sniffed and looked up and down the passage. I wondered at his ‘right thing’. It was so very often the wrong thing. He groaned.

“I promise they will be returned, but only because it’s you. If you lie... you will hang and I won’t save you. I won’t. Now tell me and don’t leave anything out.”

“Buy me a dish of coffee,” I said. “I have had neither sleep nor food and my head hurts.” 

I did not mention that it hurt because he had bashed it against the wall, but he knew very well what he had done. He agreed and we made our way to The Finish. It was still early and there were few customers, save those who were sleeping off the previous night’s debauchery. 

The coffee was all bitter hot water and curdled milk. Craddock sat across the table from me. I avoided his eyes for as long as I could. After a while I put my dish down.

“Well?” he said. “What have you got to say for yourself?”

“Last night William Westman found me at Northumberland House.” Craddock made to speak, but I silenced him with my hand. “I have seen him on two occasions prior to that. No, I lie, three occasions, but I do not count the first of those for it was the theatre and Mr. Boswell had just pointed him out to me.” I leaned in over the table. “I do not doubt that he is man you are looking for, but I do not know how he did it and I have no proof. It would not look well if you arrested him without knowing how he had committed the crime.”

Craddock frowned. “This is the truth? It seems convoluted.”

“All I know is, I thought the man who died in my bed was William Westman, but it was not him. It was Mother Shadbolt who told me that was his name. Mother Shadbolt.” 

I stubbed my finger into the table top to hammer the point home. A thought came to mind. Had the dead man given his name to her? Or did she know it already? I pushed the thought away. Lord Appleby had not hidden his identity, but then, I had already made his acquaintance via the good grace of my friend Polly. 

“Why would a man use an alias?” I quizzed.

“To hide his identity,” replied Craddock.

“Or to incriminate another.”

“Yes. You say you have encountered him on three occasions. The first was the theatre?” said Craddock.

“Yes.”

“And the second and third?”

“The second was in the street. I followed him.”

“You followed him? Why?”

“He passed while I was shopping. I followed him because I wanted to know more about him. I lost sight of him, but then, suddenly, he was there. He drew his pistol on me.”

“What did he want?”

“Nothing. He just said not to follow him. That was it.”

“An innocent man does not care to be followed by a whore.” 

“He is not innocent. There is the incident at the Church,” I said.

“Another dead man.”

“Quite.” 

“And William Westman was present at the Church? You saw him?” said Craddock.

“I did. He was nonchalant, but I could tell he was up to no good.”

“And what of Northumberland House? I assume you were ‘working’?”

“I was a guest.” I remembered my vision and my need to sit quietly and recover. “I sat for a moment and Westman came out of the shadows.” 

I could not tell Craddock what he had said about my unborn child. That would be a step too far. Besides, I would rather he did not know about my pregnancy.

“Did he speak to you?” said Craddock. “Did he utter anything other than for you to cease following him, as before?”

“He said that I wanted something from him. It is a lie. I want nothing from that man.” 

I turned my face away and stared through the window. I could see our house on the corner. The shutters had been opened. I had to return. I owed Mother Shadbolt an explanation.

 “Show me where he lodges,” said Craddock.

“What? No. I have had no sleep and I still have a day’s work to do.”

“You will be lying down for most of time. Show me where he lodges,” said Craddock. 

He took my dish of coffee and finished the dregs. I sighed from the sheer weight of worry I carried. I did not really have a choice in the matter and I must admit, I wanted to see Westman’s face when he realised his game was up. 

I do declare, I was quite exhausted by my night’s escapades, but I led Craddock to Mrs. Trencher’s house on Great Wild Street and waited anxiously while he knocked the door. There came a great muttering from inside and the bolts were thrown. Mrs. Trencher stood on the step.

“What d’you want?” she said. 

She peered at Craddock and then over his shoulder at me. 

“Oh, you.” 

She crossed her arms and stood square in the door. If she thought this enough to bar our presence, she had not bargained for Craddock’s intentions. 

“You will not prevent one of Sir Fielding’s Runners from entering, I assume?” he said. He pushed past her. 

“But… you cannot simply…” said Mrs. Trencher. She gave me a look of incredulity, but stood aside for me to pass. “The girl Sally is not here, if that is who you come for. She lives with her husband. He is…”

“Your nephew. Yes.” I said. “We do not come for either of them.”

Craddock mounted the stairs two by two. “Which room?” he said.

“It is on the second floor at the back,” I said, and followed him up.

“There’s no one there,” shouted Mrs. Trencher, after us. “He’s gone.”

Craddock flung open the doors to the rooms beneath the eaves of the house. Both were empty of human occupation. Nothing remained in evidence save the bed, stripped of its linen, a rude chair and dresser. 

“There was a trunk with chits and receipts and I found a letter addressed to him from his brother.”

“This brother, who is he?”

“I don’t know. There was no name.”

Craddock pulled the drawers open. They were empty. He turned the mattress over. Nothing. He ran back downstairs. I took a long look around the room. If I could have conjured Westman from the wooden panelling, I would have done so. Craddock’s voice boomed as he questioned Mrs. Trencher. I shut the door and descended the stairs. 

Mrs. Trencher wrung her hands, a pained expression on her face. I smiled at her, but it did nothing to alleviate her anxiety nor, if truth be told, mine. I touched Craddock on the shoulder and indicated that we should leave. He drew in a breath and nodded.

“This man of yours seems to think I have hidden Mr. Westman away somewhere. I have not,” Mrs. Trencher said.

“Yes, thank you,” I replied. “We are sorry to have disturbed you.”

I stepped outside. We had accomplished nothing. Craddock followed. He fitted his tricorn on his head and looked up and down the street.

“Yes, well, he says he’s a Runner, but where’s the proof of that? Come here… making a mess.” shouted Mrs. Trencher. 

“Yes, we’re sorry. Thank you,” I said.

Grumbling, Mrs. Trencher shut the door on us. 

 “What now?” I said. I was eager to keep on Craddock’s good side. He considered. 

“Now you let me do my work and you go about yours. This man is gone, for now at any rate. If you see him again, you tell me.”

“And you will allow Sprue and Bradley to return home?”

Craddock walked out into the street in front of a sedan chair. It caused the carriers to misstep and curse.

“You will free them?” I shouted after him. I received no reply. I turned briefly, to glance back at Mrs. Trencher’s house. The curtains twitched. She watched us.

Close

This is a web preview of the "The Finish: The Progress of a Murder Uncovered" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App