Authors: Kirsty Ferry
Fired up by the new information, Kester determined to take himself to the East End and establish where these creatures were living; if possible, he would kill every last one of them. He made his way slowly out of the hallway and walked towards the back of the house. He was fairly sure that the owner was never coming back and there was now nobody around to let anybody else in. He would leave by the back door, head out through the Mews onto the main road and hail a cab. It was the quickest way to the docks, New Gravel Road and the Ratcliffe Highway.
The Ratcliffe Highway was deep within the slums of the East End, running for a mile through London. It was the haunt of villains, murderers and prostitutes. Amongst the Rookeries, shadowy figures slipped about their business. Nobody questioned them. Nobody dared enter the area, unless they had no choice. Kester had a choice. He knew what to expect and he knew what he might find there. He felt the hilt of the dagger close to his body and sent a prayer up to the Lord above.
‘Lookin’ for somethin’, Sir?’ came a voice. Kester jumped and turned. A young girl, sixteen, seventeen maybe, slunk out of the filthy gloom of an alleyway and tilted her head to one side. She smiled up at Kester, her hand on her hip. ‘I can probably help, Sir,’ she continued, ‘if you let me, Sir. If you pay me right, Sir.’
‘No. No, there is nothing you can help me with, thank you.’ he replied and turned away from her. He didn’t like conversation at the best of times.
‘Go on, Sir. I can, you know. Don’t see your type ’round here much. You got to be lost or lookin’ for somethin’, aincha? Don’t lie to me.’ She smiled again and sidled up to him. Kester shrank away from her, almost automatically. The girl was as filthy as the alley she had come from. Dirt ingrained her face and her sludge coloured hair was pulled into a rough topknot. A ribbon which possibly used to be a bright scarlet, was wound around her head and the ends of the ribbon hung lank and frayed down the side of her face.
Kester’s eyes dropped down and saw that she was obviously pregnant. ‘Good Lord,’ he whispered.
The girl followed his gaze and laughed. She rubbed her belly. ‘Turns some men on, that does,’ she said. ‘Not you then?’
‘Please – just go. Go and take care of yourself,’ he said.
‘Nah, can’t go back yet Sir,’ she said. ‘It ain’t right. Not ‘til I made some money for him at any rate.’ She pressed her hand into the small of her back. ‘You sure Sir? I’ll make it worth your while.’
‘For God’s sake...here. Take this and go away,’ said Kester, pulling his leather wallet out from beneath his coat. He longed for the girl to disappear back into the alleyways and giving her money seemed to be the quickest way to chase her. He rifled around for some coins. ‘Tell whoever you answer to that you made it...doing whatever you do.’
The girl laughed softly. ‘You’re a good ’un, Sir,’ she said. The coins disappeared somewhere inside her shawl. ‘What’s that you got?’ she asked, nodding towards Kester’s waist. ‘Seems awful nice to be carrying here. Protection is it? You oughter be careful, Sir.’
‘Thank you. I am quite capable of looking after myself,’ muttered Kester. His eyes travelled around the alleyways, taking in the closely packed houses. He suspected this was the right place, he could feel it. This was the very place they would come to. They could lose themselves here and nobody would ever know where they were. Nobody would come into this area without a jolly good reason. The bridge wasn’t far away so that would be a good place to start...
‘You gotta be extra careful around here, Sir,’ said the young girl.
‘Please, can’t you just leave me alone?’ snapped Kester, turning his back on her.
‘You don’t realise, Sir. Anything could happen,’ she replied.
And Kester didn’t know what had hit him. The girl leapt at him, knocking him off his feet. He tried to struggle up, scrabbling in vain for the dagger, but the girl was strong. She pinned him down and bent over him. ‘Anything could happen,’ she hissed. She bared her teeth and brought her face down to his neck.
Kester’s screams were ignored as his life was taken from him. Just more screams in the Rookeries from another fool who had strayed too close to Ratcliffe Highway. The girl stood up, and smiled, blood dripping from her mouth. She wiped her face on the back of her hand, and bent over Kester’s body, stripping him of his wallet. She pulled his cloak to one side and ripped the silver dagger from his waistband. She looked around and slipped back into the alleyway. She lifted her shawl and pulled out the bundle of rags she had stuffed her own clothes with. She replaced them with the dagger and, looking around once more, melted away into the Rookeries.
Guy looked up from his notes as he heard the shouts and clattering of visitors, feet and luggage coming along the corridor - the history students, he realised. Christine, the landlady, had told him last night she was expecting a crowd of young lads. She was fussing at the fact she might not be able to keep them fed. She had the place filled for three days at least, and he had three days to concentrate on his research whilst she was otherwise engaged.
There was a final slam of the door, a few minutes after everyone else had been shepherded to their rooms by Christine. Guy caught sight of a tall, sandy haired lad hovering in the corridor, looking around, apparently hoping that someone would appear to show him to his room.
‘Lucas!’ hollered a voice from the highest landing. ‘Up here, mate. We got the attic room. That’s OK isn’t it? Come and pick your bed. There’s one left.’ Guy heard a guffaw of laughter. ‘Sorry, mate, couldn’t resist. Good view of the pub from the window. Good to keep an eye on the locals.’ The boy laughed again. His voice faded slightly. ‘Come on, hurry up. We’ve got work to do.’
Guy got up and moved to the door, pushing it open slightly. The lad he assumed was Lucas, was climbing the stairs two at a time. Guy had a strange feeling about this one. He worked on instinct most of the time, and he was picking up something here; something that just didn’t feel right. He watched Lucas until he disappeared, then closed the door softly. He went back to the table he was working at and took a sip of cold coffee, pulling a face as he did so. He brought the morning newspaper closer to him and read the article for the hundredth time.
Genevieve de Havilland stared up at the frost, which glimmered against the wall of the ruined chapel. Half covered in lichen and moss, the arch, which once held a stained glass window, looked blindly out across the white countryside. An abandoned nest hung from the weather-worn bricks in the corner, and Genevieve put one gloved hand up to it. The decaying twigs crumbled under her touch, and she rubbed her finger-tips together, breaking up the dusty greyness. She turned to Will Hartley, fixing him with dark eyes. The young man was leaning against a gravestone, his black hair stark against the whiteness of the moors and the grey stonework of the chapel.
‘So is this the last time we’ll be together?’ Genevieve asked. ‘When do you have to leave?’
‘Tomorrow morning,’ he said.
‘And when will you be back?’
‘I don’t know. My father is entertaining colleagues from Europe tonight. I’m supposed to travel with them tomorrow but nobody has mentioned coming back.’
‘And what are they trying to achieve by doing this?’
‘I do believe they are trying to keep us apart,’ he said. He pushed himself away from the stone and held his hand out to her. ‘You are asking a lot of questions.’
‘You told me you would marry me,’ she said, ignoring the gesture. ‘Come tonight, Will. Come to the Hall instead. We will tell them there and then.’ She smiled to herself. ‘Now wouldn’t that upset my mother’s plans?’
‘I would love nothing better, but I have to abide by my father’s wishes.’
‘No, you don’t,’ she said. She stared at him, waiting for him to reply, but he simply smiled and held his hand out again.
‘It’s not that easy. We may need to wait a little longer than we intended.’
Genevieve scowled. She took Will’s hand and he led her to her horse, a white mare which was pulling at some frozen stalks of grass.
‘You won’t stay away long,’ she stated. ‘Do you understand?’
‘I understand,’ said Will.
‘I don’t want you away from me,’ said Genevieve. ‘You are to come tonight and I will see you then.’ She mounted the horse and whipped it, cantering off without waiting for an answer. She wondered briefly whether Will would rather risk her displeasure, or his family’s. She would make things very difficult for him if he chose his family tonight over her.
Genevieve cantered through the wintery moorland, the sun glinting off the white branches and dazzling her eyes. She was eighteen now and had apparently been ‘marriageable’ for a year or so. Her mother and brother were planning a ball for her that night; in Genevieve’s opinion, it was a calculated, deliberate way to separate her from Will. She slowed Star to a trot as she approached the front of the Hall, the pathway swept through the gardens where oddly shaped lumps and bumps in the snowdrifts signified plants and shrubs. Someone had made an effort to clear the steps up to the house, and Genevieve saw a few of the manservants digging a channel away from the house down the drive. She continued towards the house, weaving Star around the sweep of the drive and bringing the horse to a halt by the mounting block at the side. A servant ran across to her and helped her down. She picked her way towards the steps, holding her skirts up out of the way. The day was already darkening and Genevieve hurried up the steps into the hallway. The lamps had been lit inside and a fire was crackling in the grate. A maid appeared and curtsied to her, taking her gloves and hat, and Genevieve started to climb the stairs to the first floor. She could hear her mother complaining about something in the library.
‘I am just as pleased that man is going away. It’s the best thing. He should have been sent away sooner. I blame them both.’
Genevieve’s heart skipped a beat and she stopped on the stairs. She leant across the banister, listening as Lady de Havilland ranted on. She gripped the banister tightly, the anger bubbling up inside of her. This was ridiculous. They weren’t the ones who had committed a crime. She leaned further over the banister and took a deep breath.
‘Does it matter?’ she shrieked. ‘Does it really matter? He will marry me and I’m not open to any other suggestions.’
Her mother’s voice juddered into shocked silence. The door of the library banged open and her brother stormed out. ‘That’s enough!’ Joseph snapped.
Genevieve headed back down the staircase and faced him. Five years older than her, she had never liked him.
‘Enough?’ she cried. ‘I will not be attending the ball and I do not have to prove anything.’ She turned and pushed past Joseph into the study, slamming the door behind her.
Joseph caught it and threw it open again, storming in after her. ‘It’s the least you can do,’ he hissed. ‘It’s only a ball. If Hartley was coming, you would be there.’
Genevieve narrowed her eyes. ‘Oh dear, did you forget to invite him. Don’t worry, I’ve asked him and he’s coming.’
Joseph lowered his voice dangerously. ‘It’s time you left the Hall. Nobody wants you here, but we have to be seen to do it properly.’
‘I’m so sorry that I destroyed your plans, dear brother,’ replied Genevieve, equally dangerously. ‘I could have been gone by now, but I ruined it, didn’t I? What a shame.’
Joseph raised his hand, his eyes blazing. ‘How dare you...’ he started.
Genevieve moved quickly out of his way and grabbed a lethal-looking paper-knife from a desk. ‘Violence solves everything, doesn’t it?’ she said. ‘Will would never even raise his