Victorian Lapidary: Chapter 2-1

Feeling a little under the weather, so here’s another snippet.

Fleet_Street._By_James_Valentine_c.1890.

The omnibus was crowded full of young clerks and other business people off to an early morning’s start. The low din of chatter was almost soothing as we passed carriages and cabs and the odd bicycle amongst the streets. There weren’t many who stopped at my destination. Fleet Street was hardly renown for its offices. I have no clue exactly what I would be finding here, but I kept my eyes peeled for anything. Soon, I hear the commotion of Something Happening. A large crowd gathers around a corner. I hear the whistles of police as they try to control the gathering. Drawing closer, there are whispers of, ‘‘Nother body’ ‘Jus’ like the last one’ ‘Boy, eh?’ ‘Slit along the throat’. Excitement pounded in my veins.

I used my height to the advantage and peered over the mass of heads. The bobble hats of the flustered police constables were clearly visible, and among them, I recognized the head of rust brown hair on a shorter, solid-looking man. He was not wearing the royal blue uniform but a rumpled suit made of cheap material that was nonetheless well-tailored. He chewed obsessively on an unlit pipe, a sure sign of concentration. Kenneth Armstrong was not the picture of intimidation, but of all the bumbling police, I considered him to be the least…bumbling.

Kenneth had been a childhood companion, I might even go so far as to say friend, the son of the tailor a few doors down who’d forgone his father’s trade to stand for justice and the law. I believe his mother had fainted upon hearing the news.

Though there had been a period of time when we’d lost touch for which Kenneth showed remarkably sharp fortitude in not inquiring after, he had greeted me with delight and gushed over my new shop. I had been happy to see a familiar face in such a conveniently useful position of police inspector of the Metropolitan Police Force and quite a bit gratified that Kenneth had lost little of his considerable naivete when it came to me. He developed a habit of stopping by my shop and spilling his woes to me, using me as a sounding board for any frustrating cases. I had the habit of prompting him along the way until the case unraveled itself and in the process, taking what I needed.

As long as he headed the case, I would be privy to its details later on. I turned to leave, and caught sight of a few urchins hiding behind some crates. They ducked when I turned, except for one. His face was covered in dirt and grime and his cap was barely holding together, but a pair of bright blue eyes watched me sharply, not even flinching when I met them. They would be pickpockets, using the draw of a murder scene to relieve the masses of a few coins, an enterprising lot. I paid them no more mind as I walked away, twirling my cane in anticipation of what I would learn.

In Fleet Street, death was an Event. It was the one certainty people had, and they watched it all with ill-concealed excitement, especially when the circumstances were suspicious, then it became the subject of eager speculation. And for some, death was also an opportunity.

 

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