Constable Matthews was standing alone on the high stone bank of the Thames. Except that he was not alone. Inside the city it was hard to ever find somewhere truly isolated. There was a hum of noise drifting out of the taverns behind him and tired yellow light glowed in the windows of warehouse offices.
Scribes and sailors alike would be getting little sleep that night, the one hastily finishing the accounts of the day and the other drinking away whatever demons haunted them. This was to say nothing of the rats. In London you were never far from a rat.
But the constable was seeking out a different sort of vermin that black night. He lingered as a portly phantom in navy blue coat and helmet under the dark void beneath the shattered street lamp. The smooth cobbles at his feet were still tarnished by the maroon blemish of spilled and dried blood.
“Good evening, constable.”
Matthews looked up from the old stain and saw a familiar face. The constable’s mind was an impeccably kept and ordered repository of all the names and faces which frequented his beat. It was a catalog of local knowledge which could have put the national library of any state to shame, if they were in the habit of keeping such records.
Even as his beady eyes watched the fellow pass him by, Matthews was running through everything that he knew of the man. Last name Smithly, dockyard laborer by trade, no family, no church and frequents the Steady Berth. The latter was one of the seedier tumbledown places where criminals of all sorts gathered to conspire and gloat.
“Stay out of trouble, Smithly.” Matthews called to the laborer’s retreating back.
It was not long before another regular passed him at his lonely vigil. Chandler, no association with trade or ship-building, a well-to-do bachelor with apartments in Kensington, old Anglican stock and patron of some of the less wretched but still morally corrupt alehouses of the docklands.
“God give you good evening, Constable Matthews.” The man called with a tip of his hat.
“Good evening to you also. Be sure I don’t see any of Tapper’s girls sporting sore bruises tomorrow or I’ll be coming for words with you.”
The gentleman straightened his back, turned his chin up at the constable and hurried away with aristocratic aloofness. Those two were not the only men Matthews saw during his watch, but they were of the most note. A career criminal and an entitled philanderer, prime suspects indeed.
His vigil beneath the broken lamp had a determined purpose to it. Experience had taught Matthews much. He had learned that a nation’s worst persons congregated in its ports and the vilest excesses therein were carried on by its docks.
He also knew that men who sung hymns and toiled at honest labor beneath the sun’s glow would rob, fight and worse when the moon was high. But the most important piece of experience he had earned was the realization that a killer’s footsteps always brought him back to the scene of his crime, willingly or not, and invariably on the evening after it was done.
One of the men who passed him that night had wielded the razor in the dark, opened a woman’s throat and painted the cobblestones red.
Read the first in this series of short stories here.
For a fantasy series click here.
You can also find a historical novel written by me here.