It really was a bloodbath.
Constable Matthews had traveled up in a cab from Southwark Crown Court fully expecting to discover that the clerk had exaggerated. You simply did not find massacres happening in the heart of London. It was absolutely unheard of.
But here he was, standing near up to his ankles in the gore strewn across the Black Flagon’s floor. There were smears of drying black blood running up the walls and in loose splashes on the roof beams. It was like the backroom of a slaughterhouse, men and women sprawled underfoot like pigs waiting for the butcher’s block.
He could see clearly enough how the thing had been done. A short wooden bar lay by the door where it had been used to seal the exit. Matthews had passed a woman, plump and with an expansive bosom, resting in a bloody heap against the wall of the alley outside. No doubt she was a witness, swiftly silenced.
Then the killer had moved through the tavern proper. He had begun with the gambling men, who still had playing cards and dice clasped in their rigid, grey fingers. Then he had forged a path of slit throats and hacked limbs through the evening crowd.
But that was not right, it was impossible. The place must have been packed. Even the sharpest blade would have become thick with blood, useless. Then the patrons would surely have defended themselves. Beneath hair matted with gore and faces twisted in shock or agony, Matthews recognised hard men who would not hesitate to crack a man’s skull to save their own skins.
So this was no ordinary killer, some demon perhaps.
A pair of boots rapped the flagstones and another constable entered the tavern. He was not a man Matthews knew, and he remembered every face he met. The man was tall, unsurprisingly, and had an added briskness to his step which marked him out as someone who had seen military service.
“The Commissioner wants this kept quiet. He wants no word getting out of what happened inside.”
Matthews’ brow furrowed and he felt a vein pulse in his temple.
“How does the Commissioner expect me to investigate this crime then?”
“You can mention the whore outside, nothing else. There’s this as well.”
The constable handed Matthews a folded note, turned on his heels and marched out of the tavern. His gaze did not even chance on the corpses sprawled around them as his boots clipped the stone floor. Matthews heard a cab door slam closed and the clop of hooves on the cobblestones outside.
He unfolded the note and read.
Dear Constable Matthews,
I am a great admirer of your work, and hear that you are investigating some of mine.
Meet me under the broken lamp tonight, 9.00pm.
Read more crime fiction here.
My novel is available on Amazon Kindle here.