The Queens Gambit Ch. 02byLeopoldNicholas©
The ride from 221B to Limehouse was taken in silence. Morbidity had settled on us both and no doubt we shared the same fond recollections of poor Nikipoo as many of his acquaintances would that night. The journey took us down the Strand where an abundance of black memorial ribbons stood out starkly against the advertizing posters in the Savoy's foyer. Figures fleetingly appeared then disappeared in the swirling mist, silent apparitions ensconced in the oppressive silence.
The Tower came and went, St, Catherine's Dock sensed rather than observed and then the steady trot down the Highway before turning into Narrow Street.
"Stop at the 'Grapes' cabby!"
I decided that a stiff brandy was the best solution to our immediate emotional needs and also wished to ascertain any pertinent happenings in the vicinity. The 'Grapes' was quiet enough on the surface but had known its percentage of strange cargo passing through the rear windows overhanging the great pool. Twice I had good reason to believe that my great nemesis had disposed of bodies exactly that way and had every reason to expect the landlord's full cooperation in lieu of my continued discretion.
"Two large Brandies please and a pint of porter for the cabbie beyond."
I laid a golden sovereign on the counter and as Charlie attempted to retrieve it covered the glinting metal with my right palm.
"Surely our debt is square Mr. H."
I fixed Charles Dawson with my eyes and simply smiled.
"The Professor doesn't take kindly to our arrangement continuing."
I knew the mention of the devil himself would rouse John to distraction.
"Calm yourself John; we are just a quiet drink in convivial company."
"Mr. H. I really have been keeping very steady, not one single illicit dealing in many a month."
I smiled serenely and let him garrote himself.
"Not like down the road in Chinatown. Lots of troubles there I hear."
I winked admiringly and too late Charlie realized the hook was fast in his lip.
"Gercha! You're Old Nick himself Mr. H. I swear."
"In for a penny in for a pound Charlie, only in this case another nice shiny guinea would seem more appropriate."
Charlie bit into the coin not so much as to test the nature but more as a reminder to all present he was no mans fool. The two coins slid into his waistcoat pocket to clink against the very resplendent time piece already ensconced.
"Far too many new faces in Limehouse these days Mr. H. Lots of very young faces if you follow my drift."
Watson and I exchanged glances that needed little vocal explanation.
'The Professors not happy bout it either. Says it's queering the pitch so to speaks."
"Damnably strange sentiment from a man who chucks the ball consistently!"
I was beginning to worry that Watson's hot head would get the better. Charlie had started to eye the snug for possible backup incase of altercation.
'Excuse the good Doctor Charlie he is inclined to see everything from a sporting skew."
"I cannot speak for the Professors sportsmanship sir, but he is decidedly against whatever is occurring."
The statement was made loudly alerting me at once to the fact we were being eavesdropped. The dirty mirror behind the bar gave an excellent view of the area behind and I quickly noted the two or three possible lieutenants.
"Youngsters you say Charlie, how young we talking?
"Teenagers Mr. H, not long out of their mothers care and still with them pigtails down their backs."
He attempted to elucidate but I had heard enough. Opium was vice enough for these cobbled streets, human trafficking was quite beyond the pale. I tossed him another guinea for good measure and drained the last drop of brandy against the cold of the night.
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The junction with Three Colt Street marked the end of the rule of Empire. From there to till the happy reemergence of civilization at West India Dock the Imperial Chop held sway. A virtual no go area at night even the peelers from Westferry Police Station ventured here sparingly and then never alone. During the day the residents serviced the East and West Ends laundry needs economically and efficiently. At night the restaurants and brothels vied for trade with the contagious opium dens spreading to almost every basement. I knew the street well, had eaten, fucked and smoked here too often. John on the other hand was a comparative virgin soul with not enough vice to fill a thimble.
"Seems quiet enough."
Watson's absurdity was followed by the distinct sound of breaking bones as a body hit the cobblestones perhaps two yards to our left. The mound of rags moaned for a few seconds then fell silent. The window above slammed shut in distain.
"Don't bother yourself John the wretch is beyond our help."
The stairs that descended to Lui Pi's establishment were slippery from the combined encrustation of the multitude of humanity that had traversed in anonymity that evening. Carefully avoiding the more obvious flotsam we descended to be confronted by a heavy paneled door. Three knocks bought a questioning face to the peephole and we were admitted.
"It is always an honor to see you sir."
Lui Pi had the manners of a courtier carefully concealing the devilish machinations of a mass murderer.
"How may this humble unworthy be of service to such fine gentlemen?"
I had become familiar with the groveling tone that custom insisted but was not so naive as to consider for one moment any genuine wish to assist was forthcoming.
"We have come to collect one of our friends who I believe may be enjoying your fare."
"It is so difficult to keep track of all my clients. They come, they stay then leave, always with discretion."
"Hopefully in general from the door Lui Pi as opposed to an upstairs window."
"That unfortunate incident a few doors away? I am told the gentleman quite accidentally toppled from a window whilst in the process of whistling for a cab."
"You are informed of such 'accidents' very quickly."
"I have a certain position amongst the community. Such is the nature of respect."
"Yes you are number 438 I believe. No doubt the respect is only eclipsed by the obedience of your subordinates."
Lui Pi was not enjoying our exchange. My open acknowledgement of his secret exalted position as Deputy Mountain Master in the Triad made him extremely uncomfortable. Western observation or even knowledge of the underbelly of Imperial Chinese politics was considered a serious affront to dignity and since most of their dealings were in criminal affairs overtly dangerous.
"My associates will bring Inspector Abberline to the front. I would be most gratified if the matter were considered finished."
"Just one question Lui Pi. Why are all the young men?"
If he had any knowledge bearing on the subject he gave not a hint. Confronted by stoic silence I stared hard. I would consider myself a keen student of human expression but the granite of this mans face flinched not one fraction. Inscrutability was his badge of office.
"No matter it is of little import."
Taking Watson by the elbow I led him back to the street. The pile of rags was gone and a fresh dousing of water indicated a suitably swift and complete cleanup.
"I see our friends have done the laundry John."
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The cab ride from Limehouse to St. Thomas's was taken in silence. The effect of the bizarre sights and sounds of Lui Pi's establishment had obviously affected John considerably. Abberline simply slouched in the corner as close to distraction as was possible whilst awake. The markets were in full swing, the aroma of produce filling the air with a pungency that not even the thickest fog could disseminate. Costermongers vied with each other for passage in the narrow streets, handcarts and baskets full of the exotica of home and Empire set for Broad Street, the Garden or a dozen other bustling destinations.
"Rear entrance please cabby."
The doors into the morgue were unmarked and nondescript. I stopped at the office just long enough to make sure the autopsy was still awaited then followed John and a very unsteady Abberline to the tiled heart of the mortuary. It was a quiet night. Just four corpses laid out on the slab our interest being in number three.
"Sorry about this Braithers."
The uncovered body wasn't a pretty sight. Some effort had been made to clean the body but the ugly gashes to abdomen and groin gaped into evil grins.
"Cuts almost disemboweled the poor devil."
The wounds were deep, caused by a razor sharp object, almost as if a large circular saw blade had been forced against the flesh, lifted then forced down again. The cuts were at thirty degrees to each other and wouldn't have been immediately fatal.
"He died from exsanguination by the looks of things."
John had entered that place that removed reality from theory and a body no matter the condition of previous ownership became an object of purely scientific interest.
"He didn't struggle much, probably due being bound. The abrasions on wrist and ankle are rope burns, deep ones. Incisions must have hurt like hell."
The information came fast and without emotion, a near perfect flow of fact to feed my greedy intellect.
"There's a slight scent of alcohol on his breathe, but not a large quantity. Guessing he took a hair of the dog before all this transpired."
The torso had lost all personal connection to Watson now, his hands moved swiftly and professionally from limb to limb, probing, pinching, fingertips able to disseminate the smallest detail from every touch.
"Injection traces on the left forearm. You can't see them but I can feel the slight bumps where the needle went in. Intravenous opiate I would say knowing Braithwaite's history."
"That's interesting. Arthur stated the poor chap was completely clean these days. Wonder what pushed him off the abstinence wagon?"
I helped Watson roll the body onto its belly.
"Nice set of fingernail scratches down each side of his back and looks like someone or something bit into his shoulder a few times. He's definitely been buggered very recently by a very large object."
Watson was probing Braithers anal passage with a swab.
"Well no doubt about that. He was fucked hard by a very large cock and this semen seems to suggest it was fairly recent."
The sound of excessive vomiting disturbed the scientific interchange momentarily.
"Feeling a bit better Abberline?"
Abberline sidestepped my sarcasm easily.
"Buggered after he was dead you mean? In the morgue you think Doctor?"
"No no Inspector it was prior to his demise and quite consensual. Well as consensual as would be practicable with that monster impaling him."
"Then in Whitechapel. Body was found near Brick Lane, there are several Molly houses within a few hundred yards. Soon enough find out if Mister Braithwaite was frequenting any of them."
Suddenly Abberline was totally cognizant. John had often remarked on the change that overcame my personality and demeanor when hot on a case. It was fascinating to observe the effect in another.
"Are you feeling up to showing Doctor Watson the crime scene Inspector?"
"You're not coming along yourself Mr. H?"
"I have some matters I need to attend too in Whitehall. Might concern this case, might be totally unrelated. I will join you and John at the Seven bells as soon as."
I saw Watson and the Inspector off in a cab then hailing my own set out to see dear brother Mycroft. The question of the teenage boys was weighing heavily. The fact that Dawson had acknowledged the occurrences meant that Moriarty was not in control and Lui Pi's acquiescence pointed to deeper and darker waters. Brother dear would know something, or if not have the where with all to start looking under the right stones.