“I cannot believe you left me,” I muttered as I shut the door of 211B Baker Street.
“For the umpteenth time, Eddie. I didn’t leave you. On the contrary, I saved your life.”
“I couldn’t see! I was more or less blind, in an alley, with some monstrous giant bearing down on me!”
“Tosh. You’re long-sighted and, as such, the best way for me to ensure you could follow was to stay some distance away.”
“Don’t try and justify your actions, Hemlock. You ran away and left me.”
“Are you not long-sighted?”
“You know I am.”
“Did you not see me clearly at a distance?”
“Did that not enable you to know exactly where I’d gone?”
“Yes, but that was hardly your motivation for fleeing!”
Hemlock stopped on the stairs and looked back at me over her shoulder. She smiled enigmatically. “Wasn’t it, Eddie? Wasn’t it?”
I threw my hands in the air in defeat. There was little point in arguing; Hemlock had already worked out her reasons for running and she’d not be budged. I opted for changing the subject.
“What was going on back in the theatre?”
“Hmm?” Hemlock replied over her shoulder as she wandered into the living room. I quickly retrieved my spare set of spectacles from my next to my bed, giving them a quick clean and settling them on my nose, before returning to join her.
Hemlock removed her coat and tossed it towards the hat stand. It landed in a heap on the floor. I stooped down and collected it, hanging it carefully from a hook.
“Hemlock, what happened in the theatre?”
Mrs. Figgins bustled out of the kitchen with a tray laden with a jug of lemonade, glasses and a large iced cake.
“Hello Mr Whitlow, Miss Jones. I’ve freshly made lemonade. Can I tempt you to a glass?”
“Oh, Mrs Figgins. Uh, hello.” I looked at Hemlock and tried a subtle questioning nod.
Hemlock rolled her eyes. “I think Eddie could do with some lemonade, after all the excitement he’s been through.”
I took that as clear indicator that it was entirely acceptable to talk about ‘the case’ in front of our landlady.
“Ah, yes. I would dearly love a glass of your homemade lemonade to calm my nerves please, Mrs Figgins,” I said, before attempting to question Hemlock again. “Hemlock. In the theatre...” I placed my hat on the hat stand and my cane in the umbrella stand at the bottom. “What happened?”
“When you gave us away?”
“When I hurt my nose.”
“Is that lemon cake, Mrs Figgins?”
“Yes, Miss Jones. Fresh made this afternoon while you two were out. I am going to assume from Master Whitlow’s distress that you have been embroiled in something you should not have been?”
“Something we shouldn’t have been? Absolutely not.” Hemlock replied. She dropped into an armchair. “We were investigating the identity of our would-be killer, until Edward here walked into a window.”
“I did nothing of the sort.”
“Yes you did. In the middle of the stage, clear as day to anyone with eyes, was a huge pane of glass. You walked right into it, despite me warning you to avoid it.”
“Avoid –? You did no such thing!”
“I’m pretty sure I did, Eddie. Anyway, point is: Pane of glass.”
“Really?” I asked, unconvinced.
Mrs Figgins poured us both a glass of lemonade and cut thick slices of cake. “Dare I ask what you mean by ‘would-be-killer’? And what were you doing in a theatre? You are aware of our agreement, both of you: While living under my roof, you will follow my rules. One of those rules is that you will behave and play sensibly and respectfully.”
“Nothing to worry about, Mrs Figgins. We were visiting a theatre and investigating the murder of Professor Bantam. We were perfectly safe the entire time.”
Mrs Figgins pursed her lips. She was clearly not amused and (in my opinion rightly) concerned for the safety of her charges. “You were investigating a murder? That sounds very much like you are not behaving yourselves at all. I am more than happy to turn a blind eye to the two of you roaming London having ‘adventures’ as you call them, but I draw the line at interfering with the police! I’ll have your word, both of you, that you will not break the law, not conceal anything from me, and you will absolutely take care. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mrs Figgins,” we replied in unision, Hemlock rolled her eyes at me.
“We are helping the police, Mrs Figgins. They’re protecting us,” Hemlock said.
“Good then. I trust you both to be careful, and I want to know nothing more about whatever it is you get up to. You’ll both be dining in this evening?”
I replied in the affirmative. Mrs Figgins nodded once, before smiling. “I worry, that’s all, Master Whitlow.”
Mrs Figgins left us and headed for the kitchen.
Hemlock stared off into space silently for a while, before suddenly clicking her fingers.
“Eddie, where’s this morning’s paper?”
“Right here,” I replied, nodding to the arm of the chair, where the paper lay, neatly folded. “But really, Hemlock. We were very nearly killed. Again. Please can we talk...”
“Well, pass it – oh, never mind. I’ll get it.” She leaned over the table and grabbed the paper.
As she lunged across the table, I couldn’t help but jump, memories of my recent brushes with mortality still looming all too large in my mind.
Hemlock didn’t notice.
“Where is it? I know it’s in here,” she muttered as she tore through the newspaper, crushing pages in her eagerness to find some article or other.
“A-ha! Here it is! An article about a new play employing the Pepper’s Ghost illusion to make people think there’s a mysterious phantasm on stage. Eddie, why didn’t you mention this to me before?”
I stared daggers at Hemlock through the newspaper.
“Stop glaring, Edward. I’m only teasing,” she said, lowering the newspaper and grinning at me disarmingly.
“Hmph. You didn’t seem interested before.”
“Of course not. Before you hadn’t discovered a pane of glass with your face. But now, now, Eddie, everything’s changed!”
“Of course it has. Now, come on, there’s no time to waste!” Hemlock jumped to her feet, casting the newspaper aside.
I set down my glass. “We can’t leave now, Hemlock. Mrs Figgins is preparing our dinner. And where are we going?”
“How can you eat at a time like this?” She bent down and reached out her hand. “Where’s my coat gone?”
“I hung it up,” I said. “And I’m hungry, that’s how I can eat.”
“What? What strange behaviour,” Hemlock said, tugging her coat on. It jangled as she thrust her arms through the sleeves. “How can you be hungry? When we’re finally on the trail of Professor Bantam’s killer!”
Hemlock tore open the living room door. “We are! Come, Eddie, we must away!”
I chuckled. “We must away?”
She raised a finger toward the ceiling. “It’s a catchphrase. We need catchphrases for when you chronicle all our cases and the mysteries we solve.”
“When I do what? I have no intention of writing any such thing, Hemlock. Now, will you please explain what is going on?”
Hemlock was already on the landing and heading for the stairs. “I’ll explain on the way!”
I sighed and called out to the kitchen. “No rush on dinner, Mrs Figgins. Looks like we’re going out again.”
Mrs Figgins head appeared in the kitchen doorway. “Very well, Master Whitlow. It’ll be ready when you get back. Both of you remember our agreement and behave yourselves. Your father would have my hide if he knew you were out gallivanting and I will not have my good name dragged through the mud by misbehaving children. And I wouldn’t forgive myself if anything happened to either of you.”
I smiled and nodded, “Absolutely no misbehaviour, Mrs Figgins!” I scooped up my hat and cane and rushed down the stairs to the front door.
Hemlock was waiting in the hall, tapping her foot impatiently, arms crossed.
“Finally. Now, to the theatre!”
She spun on her heel and opened the front door.
A man stood on the doorstep.
It was early afternoon and not yet dark and, while snow dusted the rooftops, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Yet this man had an aura about him that seemed to suggest he was perpetually waiting for it to rain.
He was tall, thin and drooping. His eyes were cold and grey beneath their sagging lids and, when he spoke, his lips continued to hang down at the corners. Even his sentences seemed to wilt towards the end. He had a subtle estuary accent.
“I’m looking for Consulting Detective Ho— ”
Hemlock cut in. If she was surprised, she hid it well. “He’s out of London on private business, but perhaps I can assist?”
“This is his address?”
“Is that relevant? You need assistance. I can assist.”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Do you work with Detective Ho—”
“He’s an associate of mine. I am in the same line of work and, as he is indisposed on the other side of the country, it seems to fall to me to help the police in his stead.”
“Shouldn’t you be in school? You look a little young to be assisting the police.” He paused. “How do you know I’m with the police?”
“School doesn’t start for three weeks, and I assure you we’re more than experienced enough. As for being with the police, I would say that was pretty obvious, if you don’t mind me saying, Inspector...?”
“Trelawny, Scotland Yard.”
Hemlock nodded. “Hemlock Jones. Would you like to come in, or should we go straight to the scene of the crime?”
“Neither. I require a consulting detective to investigate a crime. Not a child to play games of cops and robbers.”
“We are not playing games. We are offering to assist the police. Need I remind you that you came to my door?”
“By accident –” the policeman began.
Hemlock waved away the assertion. “You came to us in need of help in solving a case. We can help. I understand your concern, but permit us to convince you. At this stage, you have nothing to lose.”
Inspector Trelawny stared at Hemlock with his hooded eyes stared for a few seconds before sighing. “Right now, I can’t see I have much choice if I want this case solved. I’ll update yourselves in the cab.” I winced at his strange choice of words, before he added. “Though I’m not sure what good an amateur will be.”
“Quite agree, Inspector. I assume that’s why you came to a professional.”
The inspector didn’t smile. Behind Hemlock, I quaked. I was slowly becoming accustomed to Hemlock’s irreverence, but I hadn’t ever expected her flippant attitude would persist when confronted by the police. Just the sight of a dark blue policeman’s helmet on the street made me nervous, even when I had done nothing wrong.
Hemlock, however, had no such concerns. She nodded at Inspector Trelawny and stomped past him and on to Baker Street.
“Come on, Edward.”
Inspector Trelawny turned his droopy gaze to me. I instinctively recoiled, before catching Hemlock’s amused expression over the policeman’s shoulder. Steeling myself, I nodded in what I hoped was an imperious manner, tipped my top hat and strode out of the apartment.
“This,” Hemlock indicated in my direction, “Is my associate, Edward Whitlow.”
“A pleasure, Inspector.”
Trelawny nodded. “Master Whitlow. Cab’s waiting.”
Inside the hansom cab, Trelawny wasted no time in getting down to business. Clearly, small talk was neither a forte nor even an area of interest for him.
“A woman was killed in a house facing Regents Park. Last night.”
“Murdered?” I asked, bouncing around as the cab moved along a cobbled street.
“That’s what we want to know.”
Hemlock nodded. “Circumstances?”
“A housekeeper. Molly Dudgen. No signs of violence. No forced entry. One witness to the crime – the lady of the house.” He withdrew a small notebook from his jacket pocket. “A ‘Mrs Lively.’”
I looked at Hemlock, remembering the name Lively from our conversation with the diminutive Mrs Bantam. Hemlock made a small motion with her head to warn me to keep quiet.
“The housekeeper,” said the demystifier. “Too young for the heart to fail? No other sicknesses?”
Trelawny shook his head. “I was advised, at the property, that Miss Dudgen was young and healthy.”
I looked at Hemlock, expecting her to mention the inspector’s bizarre manner of speaking. To my amazement, she made no comment, asking “And I assume you’ve already discounted Mrs Lively as a suspect?”
“We have. Mrs Lively has no apparent motive. Additionally,” he referred to his notebook again, as if he was reading from his notes “I observed that Mrs Lively was too shaken to have done it... Err... To have committed the crime.”
“Mysterious,” I said, trying to feel part of the conversation. Hemlock and Trelawny looked at me silently. I shut up and looked out of the window.
“However, there are some peculiarities to this case observed by myself,” the inspector continued. “There are no bruises or marks of strangulation on the body of the victim, but she appeared to choke to death. And,” he licked his lips. “There’s something else odd.”
“An apparition.” Hemlock said.
Inspector Trelawny blinked. “Indeed. Mrs Lively stated that,” again he read from his notebook, “‘a ghostly figure appeared through the window and pointed at Miss Dudgen, who cried out and collapsed.’”
Trelawny tugged at the corners of his mouth with his fingers. “This doesn’t surprise you, Miss Jones?”
“Not really, no. An apparition struck at The Fern Restaurant, hence your desire to bring an expert on board.”
“How could a child know that?” the Inspector asked, as if realising for the first time that Hemlock was no ordinary child. “Would you, uh, care to explain?”
“Perhaps later, Inspector. I believe we’ve arrived.”
Sure enough, the cab turned on to Albany Street and pulled up outside a grand, cream-coloured building. Greek pillars supported an impressive porch above a solid-looking oak door. The entrance was both raised and removed from street level by stone steps.
We exited the cab, Trelawny instructing the driver to await our return, and climbed the steps to the front door. He rang the bell and we waited. A few moments later, a stony-faced butler answered the door.
“Good day,” he said in a cultivated accent.
“Inspector Trelawny, Scotland Yard.”
The butler turned his cool, disinterested gaze to us. “Are these young persons with you, Inspector?”
“Yes, they are assisting in this case.”
The butler raised an eyebrow, but made no objection. “Very well, sir. I shall ask Mrs Lively to meet you in the study.” The butler opened the door and stepped to one side. Trelawny entered, followed by Hemlock. I removed my hat and nodded to the butler in an attempt to be friendly as I crossed the threshold. The butler looked through me and sniffed.
He closed the door behind us and spoke to Inspector Trelawny. “Do you wish me to show you to the study, Inspector? Or can I inform Mrs Lively of your arrival?”
“Inform Mrs Lively that we are inspecting the crime scene. Thank you.”
“Very good, Inspector.” The butler strode away, stiff-legged and straight-backed.
Trelawny nodded his head in the direction of a closed door. “This way.”
The interior of the building was warm and filled with natural colours. It didn’t have the rustic charm of my family home out in the country, but it had the feeling of a well-travelled townhouse. Persian rugs on the floors, African masks on the walls and various ceramics and carvings from the Middle East and Europe on wooden tables and surfaces.
Trelawny stopped outside a closed door, one hand on the highly polished brass handle.
“Just to remind you, this is a crime scene.”
Hemlock snorted. “Inspector, we’re professionals. Now, if you’d open the door and let me work?”
Trelawny glanced at me and I tried to smile in a reassuring and professional manner. I suspect I failed. Nevertheless, the door was opened and I saw my first dead body.
She lay where she’d fallen, on the other side of the room. The sun shone on her body through the window, casting her in a strange yellow light. Her legs were bent and folded, her arms lay slackly by her side. She looked cold. And a little scared.
Hemlock moved straight over to the body and knelt down. Her gaze roved over the maid, eyes narrowing as she focused on something I couldn’t see.
“Come here, Eddie. Look at this.”
Tentatively, I joined her. A large part of me did not want to look at all. I shivered, the cake I’d eaten earlier threatening to rise up. To see someone lying there, bereft of life, that indefinable, almost clichéd notion of a spark. There is a warmth to the living, in the eyes. There is nothing more terrifying, to me at least, than seeing eyes devoid of that warmth.
I tried to look anywhere but at Miss Dudgen’s face. This close, I could see how pale she was.
“I never knew that,” I said.
“Hmm?” Hemlock didn’t take her eyes from the body.
“That bodies… get puffy.”
“They don’t get – wait, where?”
I indicated the hand, lying palm-up, nearest me. Hemlock glared at it. Cocked her head to one side.
“You see, the rings –” I began.
“Yes, yes.” Hemlock held up her hand. “Rings too tight. Fingers swollen. Wrist looks too large as well. I wonder...” Hemlock suddenly reached out and thrust two fingers into the maid’s mouth.
“Hemlock!” I exclaimed, rearing back in horror.
“Oi!” the inspector cried out, before barely mastering his accent. “Miss Jones! This ‘ere is a crime scene!”
The demystifier ignored us both, moving her hand around, clearly exploring the corpse’s mouth. “Hmm, as I expected.”
“Get your hand out of her mouth!” I said as sternly as possible.
“Oh, stop fussing Eddie.” Hemlock pulled out her fingers, wiping them on her skirt.
I tried to relax my nostrils and untwist my face from its flared look of horror. “That... that is... that’s disgusting, Hemlock!”
Hemlock ignored me, instead looking around the room and muttering to herself.
“Swelling…” she muttered some words I couldn’t make out. “Agent…” more words I couldn’t hear. “Missing…” She stared at me and asked, “But what and why?”
“What and why what?”
“I don’t have time for your questions, Eddie!” She leapt to her feet and moved to the open window. “Ah, well, that makes sense. Rather dependent on chance, though.”
I was just about to ask what Hemlock was talking about, when a tall, and very attractive, lady entered. She was thin, with thick blonde hair piled high above large blue eyes and full, red lips She greeted the Inspector and then turned to me.
The inspector introduced me as Miss Jones’ assistant.
“Colleague,” I corrected, offering my hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Mrs Lively?” My introduction became a question as I realised Trelawny had failed to introduce the lady to me.
“Indeed so, Master Whitlow. And this must be Miss Jones, the detective?” Her gaze shifted to the body of Miss Dudgen and she shuddered. “I’m sorry, I simply cannot stay in this room a moment longer. Forgive me for not shaking hands.”
“It’s for the best,” I muttered, remembering Hemlock wiping her fingers on her skirt.
Inspector Trelawny fawned over Mrs Lively as an unattractive man is all too likely to fawn over an attractive woman. “Of course, Mrs Lively. I’m sorry to have disturbed you again, and rest assured we’ll have the body moved as soon as possible.”
“Don’t go far,” Hemlock said, still inspecting the window.
“Excuse me?” Mrs Lively was clearly unaccustomed to such a tone, particularly from a young woman.
Hemlock turned and smiled a most disarming smile. “Just I’d very much like the opportunity to speak to you, if at all possible. As part of my investigations you understand.”
“I gave a statement to the Inspector.”
“Of course, and I’m loathe to ask you to repeat anything, but it would be most helpful if you could spare a few minutes to just go over events for me.”
Mrs Lively paused, then nodded once, curtly. She glided from the room. I watched her bustle as it swayed through the doorway.
Hemlock elbowed me in the ribs.
“Put your tongue away and concentrate,” she said. I might have imagined it, but I think she was a little upset.
“I was simply...” I began.
“I know exactly what you were doing, Edward. Now, come look at this.” She moved back to the window.
It was open, propped by a glass jar. The sills and frame where white and in good repair.
“What do you see?”
I looked at Hemlock.
“The jar, Eddie.”
“What about it? I assume the ropes that hold the window open are broken.”
Hemlock pointed up. “Nope.”
“Then, perhaps... well... it could be...”
Hemlock raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms.. “Go on...”
“I have no idea,” I confessed.
“The window isn’t broken, but it is propped open by a jam jar. Also, you’ll note that something is missing from the left-hand side of the mantelpiece. And, Miss Dudgen here has swollen up.”
“I told you that,” I said, meekly.
“Yes you did. Well done. You have worked it out then? No, I thought not. This was a very clever murder. And not just a murder, but a theft as well. The murderer was after something specific.”
“And the maid disturbed them, so they killed her somehow?” I suggested.
“No. The main motive was murder. The theft was more opportunistic.”
“How can you know that?” Trelawny said.
“The jar is the murder weapon. Moreorless. That takes planning and a great deal of luck.”
I was confused. “Why luck? How is a jar a weapon?”
Hemlock looked at me. “Between us, Eddie,” she whispered. “Right now I have no idea.”