The Fleet Street Murders (10 page)

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

B

ecause of the hook on the wall of the prison cell that must have been propping up Hiram Smalls from the waist—and Natt’s comment that it had been gone for “two or three years”—Lenox felt distinctly suspicious of the warden as he entered Newgate again. In the end, however, he wasn’t forced to confront the man and merely signed in with Dallington to see Gerald Poole in a small room where prisoners could receive visitors.

They went in and found the prisoner sitting at a small table with three rickety stools around it. The room was otherwise empty, though a guard remained outside the door.

“That can’t be John Dallington, can it?” Poole said with transparent shock on his face.

“How do you do, old friend?” said Dallington.

“Only middling,” said Poole, then laughed and turned to Lenox. “Gerald Poole. Won’t you sit down?”

“Charles Lenox,” said the detective, seeing right away the way Dallington had been trying to describe Poole. He seemed as unconcerned at finding himself in prison as he would have been at finding himself in Buckingham Palace. An unflappable lad. Of course, criminals often
were
unflappable.

“I’m pleased to meet you.”

“I wish it were under happier circumstances,” said Dallington.

“Whatever can bring you here?”

“It’s funny, actually—I’m an amateur detective now. Or training to be one. Lenox here made the daft decision to take me on as his student. Perhaps you’ve seen his name in the paper?”

“The Oxford case, wasn’t it?”

“Yes!” said the young lord and beamed.

“But—a detective, Dallington?”

Now here was a conversation Lenox had had a hundred times in his life. Peers and elders who had once considered him promising greeted the news with barely concealed consternation, while those less familiar with him idly wondered if he had lost his money on horses or women. How much easier to be like Edmund, a stolid MP, part of the great mass of respectable aristocrats who clustered around Grosvenor Square! Lenox loved his work dearly and felt it was noble indeed; nevertheless, ignoble though it was, part of him yearned for the comfortable respect of being a Member of Parliament. It wasn’t the main reason he was running, but if he admitted it to himself it was one of the reasons. No more uncomfortable moments like this one.

Dallington, predictably, was more open than Lenox. He laughed. “Just a fancy,” he said. “I haven’t been disowned or anything like that. I felt I could do some good. Neither of us was cut out for the old military and clergy line of things, were we, Gerry?”

Poole laughed merrily, accepting Dallington’s explanation at face value. “No, indeed not,” he said. His accent was very definitely English, though he had passed so much of his life abroad. Lenox thought of the traitor Jonathan Poole and suddenly found himself curious.

“I told Lenox you couldn’t possibly have killed either of those journalists, and he agreed to come over and see you. He’s the best, I promise.”

“I’m awfully grateful. I seem to have few friends in this city—if visitors are friends. My cousin visited but could never rid himself for a moment of his feeling of superiority, and a childhood friend came but found me changed beyond his liking. I’ve ordered in a few books, but these have been worrisome hours, I confess.”

“I have faults,” said Dallington, “but at any rate I’m a good friend.”

Here Poole broke into a magnificent smile, a truly radiant smile, and in that moment Lenox felt with great power that he must be innocent. All the incarcerated lad said was, “Yes, you are, John. A good friend.”

“Will you tell us about your meeting with Smalls?” asked Lenox.

“Business—yes. Well, it was the damnedest thing I ever knew.”

“Oh?”

“I only returned to London three and a half months ago, when I finally turned eighteen, Mr. Lenox, and came into my inheritance. Before then my education had been on the Continent, and my tastes had run toward that part of the world anyway.” Very openly, he added, “You’ve heard of my father?”

“Yes,” said Lenox in a measured voice.

“London was a bitter place to my mind because of him, you see, but my lawyers contacted me and said that I had to return to see to business—and anyway I was finally growing restless in Porto, where Dallington and I first met.

“I’ve found it pleasant enough here, although I had no friends and little enough acquaintance. I spent my time corresponding with friends abroad, seeing shows, walking in Hyde Park, dining at my club—in short, adjusting to London—when the man named Hiram Smalls contacted me.

“He called himself Frank Johnson, however, not by his real name. He said in a letter that he had worked for my father at our house in Russell Square when I was very young and that he had always been fond of me and longed for a reunion, having heard that I was back in London. I’m not sure
how
he heard that, and it strikes me as strange, frankly.”

Poole lit a cigar and seemed to ponder this for a moment.

“What happened at your meeting?”

“It was the strangest thing. At first he began reminiscing in such broad terms that I was instantly sure we had never met in this life. After ten minutes I felt I had listened enough and asked him his true business. He denied lying, and I did all I could do—stood up and left. As I went I heard a barmaid who quite clearly knew him address him as Hiram. It left a strange impression upon me, but I didn’t think a thing of it after a day or two had passed. Then yesterday Inspector Exeter knocked on my door and arrested me for the murder of two men I’ve never heard of in my life. It’s the strangest damned thing under the sun.”

“Singular,” Lenox agreed.

“Clearly Smalls wanted to meet him in public for some nefarious reason!” said Dallington with passion.

“Yes,” said Lenox, “and he took you to a pub where they knew him and could testify to the meeting. It’s strange indeed. I remember something slightly like it, that I heard of once—though that was in France. I doubt the solution there meets the facts here, however. In that instance they needed the man out of his house in order to steal from it. Nobody has stolen anything from you, I hope?”

“Not that I know of, no.”

“Well—I certainly trust Dallington when he avers your innocence, Mr. Poole. He and I shall do our level best to figure out what happened to Pierce and Carruthers, not to mention Smalls. I take it the man you met at the pub was like the description you subsequently heard of Smalls?”

“Oh, yes—short and stocky. The very man, I would say.”

“Very well, Mr. Poole. Is there anything you wish to add?”

“I scarcely need to say that I’m innocent, I think.”

“Of course not,” said Dallington indignantly.

“In that case we shall bid you good day.”

Outside of the prison again, Dallington said, “What did you think, then?”

“There’s a chance he’s guilty.”

“There certainly isn’t!”

“A small chance, of course. Still, one must say it, a chance.”

“What on earth would his motive be?”

Lenox stopped. Around the two men London’s business milled. “You can keep a secret?”

“Yes,” said Dallington expectantly.

“Carruthers and Pierce testified against Poole’s father. Whether Gerald knew that or not I couldn’t say.”

Dallington whistled softly. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yes.”

“Gracious.”

“Can you blame Exeter for his certainty?”

This question snapped Dallington out of his reverie. “By God, I can! Gerald Poole is simply—is simply not a killer. I know it with every fiber of my being!”

“We shall have to work to prove it, then,” said Lenox, a doubtful grimace on his face. “Consider, though, the clear motive he had and his open admission that he met with Hiram Smalls, and Exeter’s case seems a difficult one to disprove.”

“Yet equally impossible to prove—because Gerry didn’t kill anyone.”

“I hope so.”

“Where are you going next, Lenox?”

To Jane’s
, the detective wished he could say, but he had other appointments to keep. “I expect I shall go see Inspector Jenkins. Then I think I’ll go and see Smalls’s mother. That will require tact.”

“What can I do?”

They stood on the corner, and Lenox examined his protégé. “If you want a job—”

“With all my heart.”

“Then you might go to Fleet Street and speak to Pierce’s and Carruthers’s friends and colleagues. You might find out whatever you can about Jonathan Poole. You might speak to Pierce’s family and find out about the landlady of Carruthers, the Belgian woman who vanished.”

“Then I shall,” said Dallington stoutly. “Will you be at home this evening?”

“God willing,” said Lenox.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

L

enox was closeted with Inspector Jenkins of Scotland Yard for some twenty minutes and came away from the meeting with a copy of the frankly unrevealing police report. Jenkins was pessimistic about the case. He felt far from sure of Poole’s guilt, as his telegram to Lenox had indicated, but admitted now that no other leads had emerged to contradict Exeter’s theory. He promised to meet Dallington and keep Lenox apprised of any news by telegram, but when the two men parted it was in a melancholy mood.

It was ten o’clock in the morning by then and had already been a long, long day for Lenox. He left the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police by hansom cab to see Hiram Smalls’s aged mother but had the driver let him out a few doors early so he could stop into a public house. A warm brandy braced him to no end and took some of the cold ache out of his bones, and he walked up Liverpool Street with a renewed sense of purpose.

“What is she like?” he had asked Jenkins.

“You understand I haven’t been involved in the case at all—or rather, simply as a spectator with better access than the public.”

“Still, I know you speak to the constables on their routes, the other officers.”

Jenkins shook his head. He was an intelligent, sensitive young man, who found fault with Scotland Yard but served it faithfully. “Nobody saw her other than Exeter,” he said. “Who reported back that she was entirely intractable.”

“What a wasted opportunity.”

Jenkins, who had heard with horror that Exeter had neglected to ask for Smalls’s personal effects at Newgate, nodded. “Then again, many people in the East End fear the police. With reason, sometimes.”

“She’s in her right mind, however?”

“I believe so. Exeter said nothing on that score.”

Lenox rang at the door, and a small, plump, red-cheeked girl of two or three and twenty answered the door. She had sharp little eyes.

“Yes?” she said.

“I’m here to see Mrs. Smalls, miss.”

“Are you, then? Well, I’m sure I don’t know whether she’s receiving visitors.” The girl put her hands on her hips. She had a pronounced cockney accent. “May I ask ’oom I ’ave the pleasure of meetin’?”

“Charles Lenox, ma’am.”

“Fair enough, Mr. Lenox, and your business?”

“I’m investigating Hiram Smalls’s death.”

Instantly the tone of the conversation shifted from the suspicious to the outright combative. “We don’t want none of your kind here, Mr. Lenox.” His name as if it were a curse word. “Good day.”

“Are you Mrs. Smalls’s landlady?”

“Am I her—well, I’m sure it’s no concern of yours, but I am, yes.”

“I believe Hiram was murdered.”

She inhaled sharply, and her eyes widened. “No!”

“I’m not with the Yard, ma’am. I’m a private detective.”

“Well.”

“I only want justice.”

“For Hiram?”

“If he was wronged.”

“Of course ’e was wronged! Hiram wouldn’t ’urt a fly!” Her outrage was in its way as persuasive as Dallington’s on behalf of Gerald Poole. “Come into the ’allway, come in. I’ll speak to Mrs. Smalls.”

After a series of complex negotiations, in which the landlady went back and forth and inquired who Mr. Lenox was, first, and then who Mr. Lenox
thought
he was, second, and finally whether he was quite sure he didn’t belong to Scotland Yard—only after all of these questions had been posed by the doubting go-between and satisfactorily answered by Lenox did she lead the detective up one flight of stairs to see Mrs. Smalls.

Now, Mrs. Smalls was, anybody with a rudimentary faculty of perception could see straightaway, a particular type—a faded beauty. She retained all the ornaments and outward accoutrements of beauty, including a beautiful velvet dress, profuse jewelry, and massive, heavily curled hair. There were gaudy cameos of a pretty young girl on half the surfaces in the cramped sitting room, and on the other half sat framed and dusty notices of a variety of plays.

Although the woman herself was pale, painfully thin, and red eyed, and Lenox speculated to himself that perhaps this tragedy had punctured her vanity for good. She looked as if the cares of the world had all crowded around her at once.

“How do you do, Mr. Lenox?” she asked in a somber voice and gave her curled forelock a vicious twist and tug as she curtsied.

“Fairly,” he said. “I’m so sorry about your son, Mrs. Smalls.”

“You believe my Hiram was murdered?”

“It may be the case.”

She sighed heavily. “Mr. Smalls was a fishmonger, Mr. Lenox. I was on the stage, you know, and Lord Barnett once asked at the stage door for me—”

Here she paused for a moment to give Lenox the opportunity to appreciate her accomplishment, which he did with a lift of his eyebrows.

“Still, we always figured Hiram would follow his father into fish.”

There was something ludicrous about this that under other circumstances might have provoked laughter in Lenox. Despite that, there was the weight of grief in the apartment, and he merely nodded.

“He didn’t, I take it?”

“Put it this way, Mr. Lenox—he never worked a proper job, but he always had money.”

“Something illegal, you think?”

“Ah, but he was so sweet, Mr. Lenox! You ought to have seen him, in his blue suit. He worked hard, whatever he did—and like the fool I am, I was proud of him whatever he did.”

“It’s a becoming pride in a mother,” said Lenox gently.

“Well,” she said, with a theatrical but genuine sob—in fact, the theatrical
was
the genuine in Mrs. Smalls, perhaps. “Oh, but he was sweet! Did you know I owed a man a hundred pounds—think of it!—and was only a few months away from debtors’ prison when Hiram paid it off? Months away!”

“Where did he find the money?”

“Oh, he always found the money. You should’ve seen him as a lad, you know! Always wanted a ha’penny for candy, he did. Little nipper.”

Lenox sighed inwardly and to forestall any further reminiscences said, “May I ask you one or two questions, Mrs. Smalls?”

Instantly her look sharpened. “Now, where do you come from, Mr. Lenox?”

“Not Scotland Yard, ma’am. I’m an amateur detective.”

“How do you come to involve yourself in the case, sir?”

“A friend of mine knows Gerald Poole and has asked me to intervene on that young man’s behalf.”

“Who is intervening on Hiram’s behalf?” said Mrs. Smalls angrily.

“Nobody, as yet. I shall see what I find. As I understand it, the prison remitted your son’s effects to you?”

“Yes, as why shouldn’t they?”

“Of course, ma’am, of course. I had hoped to see a letter he was in possession of.”

“I know the one.”

“I didn’t quite understand what it was.” Now, here was a fib: He recalled that it was thirty-two words, beginning
The Dogcarts Pull Away
and ending
No green
. “Do you have the letter?”

“You have a trustworthy face,” she said and half-sobbed again.

“Thank you.”

“Well—here it is, then.”

It was on a coarse piece of paper such as might be had for a penny in any shop, unfortunately, and looked new—relatively clean, written recently. It was in an unsophisticated hand; there was a greeting but no farewell, nor was there a date. There were two paragraphs: a short one of thirty words and another that was even shorter, only two.

Mr. Smalls—
The dogcarts pull away. I’ll see that Messrs. Jones get all the attention and care they need. For the others, George will rely on you and on your worthy peers.
No green.

Now this was, at best, puzzling. It seemed as if Messrs. Jones (but wasn’t that a strange locution, in fact?) were in for something sinister, as were the “others” to whom George and Smalls—if indeed the letter was addressed to him—were to give attention and care. Although clearly the keys to it were the first sentence and the last:
The dogcarts pull away
and
No green
. Both of them seemed like utter nonsense to Lenox, anyway. A dogcart was a rough-and-ready farmers’ equipage used on country roads.
No green
perhaps meant “no money.”

Lenox read it two or three times, skipping words (“The-pull-I’ll”—“The-away-Messrs.”—no), reading backward, and adding one letter to every word, then to every other word—first
t
, then
r
, then
s
—but no. It had to be written in some prearranged language that the reader would understand without resort to any trick. So faithfully he copied the note down and thanked Mrs. Smalls, promising her he would give it his further consideration.

The puzzling thing about the note was
why
Hiram Smalls would have taken the letter to prison. Either he had acted very stupidly, had been been sure of the code’s impenetrability, or else he had wanted to be caught for something—or perhaps it wasn’t his! That was the possibility that shook Lenox slightly. What if after all Hiram Smalls was innocent of any involvement in the murders of Simon Pierce and Winston Carruthers?

“Mrs. Smalls, do you see any meaning particularly in the oranges that Hiram ordered while he was at Newgate?”

She shook her head vehemently. “There’s been too much discussed about that, Mr. Lenox. It doesn’t mean a single thing! I don’t remember Hiram enjoying oranges, but he has very refined—erm—parentage, sir, and there’s no reason why he wouldn’t enjoy the finer things in life.”

“Of course,” said Lenox sympathetically. “What else was there among his possessions that the prison gave you?”

Her trust in the detective was more or less complete now, and she brought out a bag of things—and slightly sad things they were, a little rough, of coarse fabrics and cheap paper. The serge suit, the copy of
Black Bess
, the pouch of tobacco. Methodically Lenox searched through these but found nothing.

“May I ask you one other question?” he said as he returned Hiram’s things to her.

“Yes?”

“Do you think your son was capable of murder?”

She shook her head violently. “Never! Never in a million years!”

Lenox thought again that this was as persuasive as Dallington’s fervent advocacy of Gerald Poole, in its way. Apparently everyone was innocent. With a sigh, Lenox wished Mrs. Smalls good-bye and went back out to the street.

Other books

Summer in the South by Cathy Holton
The Yellow Snake by Wallace, Edgar
Limitless by Alan Glynn
The Aden Effect by Claude G. Berube
Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt
Miss Shumway Waves a Wand by James Hadley Chase


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2022