November 9th 1888
If it hadn’t been for the scrawled note from Sherlock Holmes, Inspector G. Lestrade doubted he would have ever been allowed past the myrmidon at the door of the Diogenes Club, the authority of Scotland Yard be damned. As it was, he could feel resentment wafting off the back of the elderly servant who had informed him that the rule of the club was “Silence” before condescending to escort him within.
And silent it was; even the servant’s footfalls were muted by overshoes of thick felt. On another day Inspector Lestrade might have found such silence unnerving. Tonight, it was comforting, an island of tranquillity in the raucous sea of London. Despite the urgency of his errand he found himself trying to walk more quietly, to set his policemen’s boots down with that fraction more of care, so as to leave undisturbed the scattering of men in high-backed chairs reading their newspapers with nary a crackle of shifting pages nor gasp of dismay at the grisly news therein.
A few eyes flickered up to meet his, measuring his features against the illustrations in the Gazette and Chronicle, but they fell away again politely; and while he could not help but wonder what might have happened had he raised the ruckus his errand deserved, Lestrade found himself glad that he had exercised discretion. Exhaustion, grief, and triumph were all warring in his breast; he no longer knew which emotion a more attentive scrutiny might betray.
The servant led the way up stairs carpeted in red, through one door and then another, through blind passages leading to a door discreetly labelled as the “Strangers Room.” A murmur of voices came from beyond it, no more than tone and rhythm, so faint that taking a deeper breath might ensure a listener would lose the thread. Distance and the precautionary corridors would work together, Lestrade realized, protecting the readers in the main floor from any whisper of disturbance, and the same protections would serve in reverse. No conversation beyond that door would be easily overheard.
The servant did not knock to announce their presence, but delicately tugged at a cord beside the door. A moment later a small circular panel set above the doorframe shifted to white. Upon the signal the servant unlocked the door and motioned imperiously for to Lestrade to stay where he was before stepping inside the chamber beyond. “Inspector Lestrade to see you, sir. A matter of some urgency.” It was almost a question, as if the man expected to be told to haul Lestrade out of the club by his collar.
“Thank you, Randolph, please send him in. And fetch another service, please.” The voice was deep and cultured -- a gentleman’s voice, shaped by public school and university, no doubt, and accustomed to authority. Lestrade found himself resisting the urge to polish his toes against his trouserlegs, like some errant schoolboy, as he waited for the servant to come back out again.
“Would you prefer tea, or coffee, Inspector?” the man murmured, his previous disdain banished as if it had never been.
“Coffee,” Lestrade said, his normal voice all too loud in this shrine to silence. And if it made the servant flinch, it did not matter, for Lestrade had already been granted permission to do what he had come to do, and he no longer cared whether or not he was flouting custom. He stepped past the servant, holding his head high.
It was a small chamber, lined with books on two sides and a large ornate fireplace topped by a marble mantel on the third. The floor was covered by Turkish carpets, the furniture sturdy and comfortable, and every lamp was lit, as if to dismiss the early November gloom pressing black as midnight above a row of stained glass panels lining the bottom of the great bay window which looked out onto Pall Mall. The two men already in occupation sat at a table near the fire, papers, pens, and inkwells pushed to one side to make way for the dinners which Lestrade was interrupting. One of them he knew, for Stephen Dunlevy had hunted fruitlessly alongside him all the previous night. The other gave him pause, for Mycroft Holmes, large in bulk and body, was nothing like his spare-limbed brother. Only the eyes were the same, sharp and grey and knowing. With the clarity of exhaustion, Lestrade saw the elder Holmes turn his glance on his own boots and knees, at his bare hands, and the cuffs of his sleeves, and hoped that there were words of explanation he might never need to voice.
Above the familiar smoke of the coal fire, above the scents of death and destruction which clung to his hair and clothing, Lestrade suddenly found his nose full of the aroma of beef and broth. He turned to nod to his host, but his eye could not help but be drawn by the two dinners now half-eaten on the table. Beefsteak and gravy that must have filled half of each plate, potatoes mashed to a white froth, and braised carrots on the side. Lestrade swallowed to ease the sudden surge of saliva in his mouth. When had he last eaten? And what? For a moment he couldn’t understand the sounds that anyone was making, and then suddenly he was seated too, and someone was pressing a glass into his hand. He pulled it to his lips and let his head fall back; a waste of good brandy to gulp it like this, he knew, but lighting a fire in his belly took precedence. A deep breath, and then another, and he was able to open his eyes and acknowledge Mycroft Holmes’s worried expression with something approaching a professional mien. “Mr. Holmes,” he said, and then had to stop and clear his throat, for the two words had come out as a croak. “Mr. Holmes,” he tried again, “I bring you news of your brother.”
“Sherlock?” Consternation flickered across Mycroft Holmes’s mobile features for a moment, longer, but then his posture eased. “He is not too badly hurt,” the elder Holmes deduced. “But someone else was. Doctor Watson?”
“Out of his head, and frantic to escape the hospital. He thinks himself back in India.” Lestrade turned his head to Dunlevy. “They rescued Miss Monk, but she is in as bad a case as the doctor. Unconscious from the drugs which Bennett gave her.”
All the colour drained from Dunlevy’s face, and he started to his feet, his hands working as if to wrest some other, better truth from the air. “Mary Ann? But she was safe! I left her at her lodgings, safe!”
Lestrade shook his head. “I don’t know how, but somehow Bennett got to her.”
“And Bennett himself?” Mycroft asked.
“Dead. Jack the Ripper is no more.” There was more to be said of that, but it could wait. For all that Lestrade had come to like the young journalist who had wormed himself into Sherlock Holmes’s good graces, Dunlevy was true to his breed. Best to let him follow his nose to the young lady.
“I must go to Miss Monk,” Dunlevy said, already reaching for coat and hat. “If you’ll excuse me, sir.”
Mycroft Holmes nodded regally. “Of course you must go, Mr. Dunlevy. And please be so kind as to send word back concerning Miss Monk, my brother, and Dr. Watson. But be discreet.”
Dunlevy drew himself up in affronted dignity. “If I was not damn fool enough to entrust a London telegraph operator with word of what we found this morning at Miller’s Court, then I think I may be trusted not to have lost the discretion I exercised then.”
“You had not yet gone through half a bottle of claret this morning,” Mycroft pointed out with a small smile. “Nor whatever fortification you took before you returned to me this afternoon. And Sherlock’s reputation is still in tatters; I do not think it yet safe for him to walk openly in Whitechapel. Not even in the halls of the hospital. Moreover, it is incumbent upon me to ensure that you understand your position. You have been entrusted with knowledge which might, if divulged, both make your career and break the nation.”
“And well I know it,” Dunlevy said. “But I have seen what a mob can do, sir, and I have no desire to unleash one, neither upon your brother nor upon the constables in whom the public would lose all trust were the truth to be revealed. Bennett was an aberration. I would not complete his work for him.”
Lestrade shuddered. He had not been involved in the debacle at Trafalgar Square*, thank God, but he had seen the damage done. Another such riot would break the Metropolitan force entirely. “Bennett hated the Yard and everyone in it. And it galls me more than you can know that we must allow his monstrous shadow to fall over Whitechapel a moment longer. But what else can be done?”
“That we shall see.” Mycroft picked up a pen, drew a sheet of paper over and began to write. “Inspector, did you leave your cab waiting?”
“I did, Mr. Holmes. I was hoping you could refer me to someone who could authorize the coroner to see Bennett into the ground without further ado.” Lestrade started to push himself up. “I can drop Mr. Dunlevy at the hospital on my way back to the morgue.”
Mycroft waved him back to his seat and took up a fresh sheet of paper. “That will take time, Inspector, and the burial cannot happen before morning regardless. You may stop to rest and eat while I make arrangements. Mr. Dunlevy, take the Inspector’s cab and drop this note in at Mr. Matthews’ door on your way to London Hospital. The first note is for my brother.” Mycroft heaved himself upright and escorted Dunlevy to the door. “I shall be back momentarily, Inspector. Do take another glass of brandy if you like.”
Lestrade nodded and sat back in his chair, closing his eyes to give them a rest. He had not slept in far too long -- and then it had only been a nap, taken in anticipation of a night spent chasing a shadow. There were disadvantages to being the man at Scotland Yard most trusted by Sherlock Holmes! If only that trust extended to the Home Office he might have been able to keep his men in Whitechapel. Might have been able to prevent the murder of the poor wretch whose mangled corpse was sure to haunt his dreams for years to come. Four o’clock, Dr. Watson had estimated the murder had taken place, and so had the police surgeon. The Ripper (he didn’t want to think of the maniac as Constable Bennett, even now) must have been waiting his chance, knowing that the Yard would have to cover the Lord Mayor’s procession come morning. He’d had Mary Kelly dead within minutes of the moment when Lestrade had lost half his force to the necessity of taking a scant rest before the new day’s work.
Damn and blast all politicians and bureaucrats anyway. Including Mr. Mycroft Holmes, whose presence might have made a difference in those discussions with the Home Secretary yesterday. (Yesterday, was it only yesterday?) And damn and blast his own imagination as well, which kept trying to insist that Sherlock Holmes had known too much about where to find the body; that Watson, faithful to a fault, was a man who knew his way around a knife.
Bennett had resigned, Lestrade reminded himself. Had vanished, too, which a man with a clear conscience had no reason to do, and that was none of Sherlock Holmes’s doing. And more, he’d seen both Holmes and Watson at four and at five and at six of the clock in the smoky confines of the Ten Bells and there’d been no sign that they were taking their time mutilating a corpse between hurried attempts to establish an alibi.
Memory painted a picture on the backs of his eyelids. Holmes, paler than usual, his arm set out for Watson to take as the veteran navigated the step inside. Watson finding a nod and a smile which didn’t reach eyes distracted by pain before limping across to stand near the fire. Both of them soaked to the skin, struggling to remove gloves, to fumble free cigarettes and matches.
“He had them in a toffee tin,” Lestrade gasped aloud with relief, as the caricature of supposition and coincidence collapsed into the more familiar lineaments of the Sherlock Holmes he knew and trusted.
A touch on his shoulder startled him into opening his eyes. Somehow a covered plate and a coffee service had appeared upon the table. Mycroft Holmes was just resuming his seat. Reflected in the silver of the coffee pot, Lestrade could see the servant, Randolph, just making his way out the door.
“Only when in his persona as Escott,” Mycroft said, once the soft snick of the lock announced that they two were alone once more. “Sherlock has been carrying his cigarettes in a small wooden case from India when it was safe to be abroad as himself. I believe Dr. Watson lent it to him.”
“No doubt,” Lestrade said, sitting up properly and running a hand across his eyes to remind them to stay open. If that had been a taste of the dreams which awaited him on the night he might never sleep again.
“But you have them all the same,” Mycroft observed, reaching for cup and pot to pour. “Do you take cream and sugar, Inspector?”
“Brandy, by preference,” Lestrade said. He tried not to frown at the covered plate, unsure if the roiling in his gut were hunger or dismay. “I’m not sure I have the time for supper, Mr. Holmes,” he admitted. “There is so much to be done.”
“And here I thought you a more sensible man than my brother,” Mycroft said dryly. “Eat, Inspector. Once you’ve begun, your body will remember what it needs.”
With a deep breath, Lestrade reached for his fork. “It’s worth a try.”
Mycroft was right.
Of course he was right. Anyone from that family was bound to be right, no matter how irksome it might be to lesser mortals. But as Lestrade worked his way through potatoes and carrots and meat, he could hardly argue with the results. His hands were steadier, and the headache which had haunted him was beginning to fade. The tension holding his spine upright was easing too, although that might be due to the brandy, which Mycroft had added to his coffee with a generous hand. And it was the definitely the brandy to blame for the words that slipped out of Lestrade’s mouth before he realized he was saying them aloud.
“It’s that he keeps his cards so close to the vest, I think. Almost the first I heard of the letter which Blackstone wrote was that your brother had posted it and I must take the contents on trust.”
Mycroft nodded, unperturbed. “Better posted than burnt, which it most certainly would have been if he’d allowed it to stay in the hands of certain high officials. At least Blackstone’s sister could testify and be believed were Bennett brought to trial.”
Lestrade shuddered and put down his fork. “Ah,” he said, when he could breathe once more. “Was that the way of it?”
“Yes.” Mycroft steepled his fingers and tapped them against his lips before continuing. “It galls him that the families of those wretched women might never see justice done. But the conflagration which threatened should Bennett be given a platform for his views might well have left half London grieving. And without more than circumstantial evidence there was no surety that a trial would have the desired outcome.”
All of a sudden it was too much to be borne. Lestrade flung himself out of his chair and began to pace, willing his supper to stay where it belonged. “And is that the reason -- the desire for more evidence -- that no attempt to hunt down Bennett was made before he struck again? Surely once you knew who he was...”
“By the time we knew who he was, he had already quit the Yard and vanished from his lodgings.” Mycroft leaned forward ponderously. “His neighbors knew him for a constable, but could name neither friends, nor relatives, who might know his whereabouts. His fellows at the Leman Street station were similarly uninformed. And the holiday was coming. Sherlock was certain, and I concurred, that Bennett could not resist striking at least once more, but would keep to his pattern, if for no other reason than to besmirch the Lord Mayor’s festivities with news of a fresh killing.”
“If I could have told the constables who knew his face who we were looking for, it might have saved us a murder!” Lestrade growled. “Fifty men pulled into Whitechapel, and all those patrols changed for nothing.”
“That decision was made at the highest levels.” Mycroft said, far too calmly.
Lestrade would have spat, if it weren’t for the carpets. “I know it was.” He’d talked himself blue in the face, for all the good it had done. “But it wasn’t Mr. Matthews who started his day by finding a woman dismantled like a watch in the hands of an undisciplined child.” Eating had been a mistake. The brandy had been a mistake. Now he had both the strength to lose his temper and the heat of the liquor encouraging him to do so. But Mycroft Holmes was just sitting there. Listening.
Lestrade shook his finger at the man. “And then there was tonight. I’d scarce begun writing my reports for the day when a runner comes, telling me I’m needed at the fire on Thrawl Street. No sooner do I get there than your brother sends me round behind the house to find Bennett’s corpse.” He knew he was waving his hands in the air and couldn’t stop himself. “How the hell did Sherlock Holmes find Bennett tonight when we had no idea where the man was this morning?”
The corner of Mycroft’s mouth twisted upwards. “Leslie Tavistock.”
“Tavistock?” Lestrade was so startled he stopped pacing. “The newspaperman who’s been publishing all those stories implicating Sherlock Holmes in the murders?”
“Yes. He showed up at Baker Street, wanting protection. As it turned out, Bennett had come to his office, wanting his letters back, and when he left Tavistock followed him to Whitechapel, and discovered the house where he was keeping his gruesome souvenirs. Sherlock was able to pry sufficient detail out of the man to identify the exact location.”
“There was evidence? Actual, solid evidence?” Lestrade sank into the nearest chair. “For god’s sake, why didn’t anyone notify the Yard? I’d have had him arrested in a heartbeat!”
“The decision was made... at the highest levels... to,” Mycroft paused, as if he found the words he was about to use distasteful, “extend my brother full ‘discretion’.”
“No one wanted a trial, Inspector.”
Lestrade put his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands before sliding his fingers up to tug at his hair. “God save me from bureaucrats and politicians,” he said, far too angry to shout. “The fools.”
Lestrade looked up. “Do you know,” he said very carefully. “Do you understand what would have happened if any other officer than myself had been the first to carefully examine Bennett’s body? Do you know what the rumors would have been, spreading like coal oil across London? That your brother, in fear of being exposed as the Ripper, had murdered the man who had been hounded out of Scotland Yard for daring to speak up and tell the truth. One witness -- just one -- and you’d have had no hope of containing it. Can you imagine the trial? Your brother in the dock for murder?”
“There would have been no trial. Sherlock was pardoned before he ever set out from Baker Street.”
“Was he now?” It was no use. Lestrade could not help his voice climbing the octave. “Then it’s a damn shame that I didn’t jam a shard of glass through the bullet holes in Bennett’s heart to save your brother!” He knew he was gesturing wildly, but he could not help that either.
Mycroft blanched, his gaze flying to Lestrade’s gloveless hands. “You...” He licked at his lips and began again. “You...obscured the bullet wounds?”
“Yes.” God, yes, and he could feel the parting of flesh and bone beneath his hands still. He clenched them into fists, hoping to keep them from trembling as his anger drained away, leaving nausea in its wake. “I didn’t want to testify against John Watson, you see. And I didn’t think the coroner would believe the death an accident if I used the blade I’d just pried out of Bennett’s cold, dead hand.” Lestrade swallowed hard, closed his eyes against whatever condemnation might be on Mycroft’s face. “It’s in my pocket still,” he said. “I don’t know what to do with it.”
There was a long silence. At last Lestrade heard the scrape of Mycroft’s chair, felt the man come to stand at his shoulder. “Give it to me,” the official said. “And your gloves.”
“My gloves?” Lestrade asked, startled into looking up into grey eyes that held no malice.
“You cannot possibly wish to wear them again,” Mycroft observed. “And while I am arranging for dispensation for Dr. Watson in the matter of Bennett’s death, I can just as well arrange the same for you for tampering with the evidence.” He held out a large hand. “Not to mention myself, for losing it.”
“Lose the evidence?” For all that Lestrade wished that the package weighing down his pocket had never come into existence, he hadn’t imagined the possibility of losing it. “What, do you mean to throw it in the Thames?”
“Something rather more permanent, I think,” Mycroft said. “I’d prefer not to take the chance that some stray anchor or fishing line might bring it back to light. No,” he added, when Lestrade opened his mouth to protest. “You do not wish to know.”
“But,” Lestrade tried to think through the consequences. “I have to write a report.” And if he did not have the evidence to back his report, would it be believed?
“You will write two,” Mycroft said. “One here, now, with the truth as you observed it. And another, carefully edited, to be found in the official files.”
Lestrade began to reach into his coat and found himself hesitating again. “I’ve only just met you.”
Mycroft smiled. “You caution is admirable, Inspector. I begin to see why my brother insisted that you alone of all the men at Scotland Yard should be taken into our confidence.” The elder Holmes turned away and went to stand beside the window, looking out into the night.
Lestrade felt his face begin to heat. “He could have come to any of us,” he demurred.
“Could he?” Even in the colorless reflection in the window he could see Mycroft’s eyebrow rise. “And would Tobias Gregson have been content to let someone else be given the credit for finding Mary Kelly? Would MacDonald or Jones have believed Sherlock’s conclusions about Bennett with such tenuous evidence? Would Bradstreet, quick as he is to make an arrest, be quick enough to understand that not only the coroner, but also the fire brigade and the ambulance men, must believe that Bennett was killed by something other than a bullet? And would any of them have acted on that understanding except you, Inspector?”
“They might,” Lestrade said, although he was certain he would not be believed. He pushed himself upright and went to stand beside the elder Holmes brother, taking two steps up the library ladder by the window so that he could look out and down to the street below. There were still people strolling along Pall Mall, still cabs and carriages in the street. Hard to believe it was not yet eight o’clock at night.**** “They’re good men.”
“And you are an extraordinary one.”
And now he knew his face was aflame, but there was something in the sincerity of the words which was better than brandy at warming the cold at the core of his breast. “I’m not,” he breathed, wishing he had the right words to force out past throat and tongue and teeth. “I just... it was... anyone...” He stopped. Tried again. “I’m ordinary. It is the circumstances which are...” he didn’t want to say extraordinary. That sounded too much like a compliment. “...wrong.”
“And you have risen to meet them. You have seen a murderer dispatched, and ensured that the city’s thirst for revenge will not claim the innocent. Once this morning, when you removed the silver cigarette case that was meant to condemn Sherlock, and again this evening when you obscured the evidence that might have caused the world to call for the prosecution of John Watson. I think, in time, you might find cause to remember both of those acts kindly. I certainly laud them now.”
Lestrade shook his head, wishing he had shame to spare for the tears which were tracing cool paths down his face. “Whatever happened today, it wasn’t justice.” Lestrade knew that was the crux of it, knew that was what had him tossing from wild emotion to icy desolation like a skiff in a storm. “It wasn’t what I swore an oath to do. No one should be above the law, most especially not a policeman.” And yet he’d acted as if he were, as if he had the arrogance of a Sherlock Holmes or an Edward Bennett, forestalling the work of coroner and jury and judge. He pretended that he could see the passersby below and tried not to remember the fierce joy he’d felt as he slid the blade of glass into Bennett’s chest. For a moment he’d come close to understanding why the Ripper chose to mangle after he’d murdered. But there was nothing sweet about revenge now. All he could taste was bitterness.
He startled when Mycroft laid a hand on his sleeve. “You swore an oath to uphold the law, Inspector.” The silver eyes were kind. “And equally so, to keep the Queen’s peace. Today to do the one was to abandon the other. You had to make a choice; and while I believe you chose correctly, I am not the one who can grant you absolution.”
Was there such a thing? He no longer knew. Lestrade felt himself being drawn away from the window, pulled along in Mycroft’s wake like a chaff of paper caught in the wind of a passing train. He made no protest, not even when Mycroft retrieved the overcoat he didn’t remember shedding, and helped him don it. It seemed he must feel everything or nothing, and nothing was so much more likely to keep his supper where it belonged.
Down they went; down the carpeted stairs, past the silent men and the silent servants. Mycroft paused only once, to accept a telegram from Randolph, before turning aside through a baize-covered door and leading the way down still more stairs to the kitchen passage. Even here the floor was covered with drugget, the walls muffled by ancient tapestries, the doors to pantry and kitchen thick with more baize. The soft clink and clatter of pots and pans announced the scullery, but the young boy who was scrubbing them did no more than nod to Mycroft as he and Lestrade passed through.
The cool of the night would have disturbed the sanctity of apathy had Lestrade allowed himself to feel anything more than the hand still on his arm. A small shadow of himself noticed that they were passing through Carlton Gardens, going down the stairs to the Mall, crossing to St. James Park. Heading for Downing Street, he thought, and closed his eyes, trusting his feet while he tried to think of what to tell Lord Salisbury. Or his secretary, more like. Not even a Holmes would disturb the Prime Minister so late of an evening.
The clang of iron beneath his boots demanded Lestrade’s presence a few minutes later. He opened his eyes to discover that they were crossing the Blue Bridge, the lights of Buckingham Palace reflected in the waters of the lake below. A terrible suspicion began to bloom, flowering when they reached Birdcage Walk and Mycroft turned west, toward those lights.
Lestrade stopped. “You can’t mean to take me there,” he hissed, alive to trepidation once more. “I’m filthy.” He’d washed the blood from his hands and the dirt from his face with water from one of the fire hoses at Thrawl Street, but he hadn’t been home to change so much as his collar since supper the night before.
Mycroft held up a warning hand. “Careful, Inspector,” he murmured. “The men who walk this street at night are careful not to notice their neighbors, but even they will take note of an argument. You must come with me, and now. There will be no better chance for discretion.”
“Discretion?” Lestrade’s voice cracked with disbelief, but at least the word wasn’t a shout.
“If I wished to announce our errand we would have promenaded down Pall Mall,” Mycroft said, impatience underlying his calm. “You have evidence to turn over to the proper authority, and a report to make, and so do I. Now come.” He set off again, still holding Lestrade’s arm, rather more firmly now, as if he expected resistance.
Lestrade, having no wish to be dragged like a recalcitrant toddler, stepped out properly. “I hope you know what we’re doing.”
They went in the tradesman’s entrance.
Even that was little comfort, but when the guard turned them over to the porter, he led them to a small room that was nearly plain enough to make Lestrade feel as if he could breathe. A servant turned up a moment later to light the fire, and the porter waited until the man had gone again before addressing Mycroft, who was taking advantage of the better to light to read the telegram he’d received at the Diogenes Club.
“It’s late for it, Mr. Holmes.”
“Indeed,” Mycroft said absently. “But kindly pass the word that I have come to report on significant developments in the matter which was discussed earlier today.”
“And the gentleman?” The porter was much better at hiding his disdain than the servant at the Diogenes, but Lestrade hadn’t missed the sniff as he’d passed. He’d give a week’s pay for a bottle of cologne just now,
“Gideon Lestrade, Scotland Yard,” he said making a short bow in lieu of offering a hand.
“Inspector Lestrade has possession of salient facts, and must also report,” Mycroft put in smoothly.
The porter nodded. “Very well, then. Please make yourselves comfortable and I will pass the word. It may take some time, as everyone is still at supper.”
“Excellent,” Mycroft said. “That affords us an opportunity to clean up before we go upstairs. This way, Inspector.” He went to a door in the panelling and opened it, revealing porcelain fixtures.
Lestrade retreated into the smaller room and eyed the plumbing while he took measure of his stomach. Yes, he was probably nervous enough to give up his supper, but that seemed a dreadful waste of good food, and it would only add to the miasma that soap and water might overcome. He decided against it, doffing overcoat and coat so that he could roll up his sleeves and have a proper wash.
By the time he emerged, he’d managed to flatten his hair, rinse the soot off his collar, and achieve something resembling a state of calm, even though there was nothing he could do about his reddened eyes, or the unshaven chin. He’d emptied the pockets of his overcoat into the inner pockets of his suit, so that he could set the worst of his smoke-scented attire aside in some antechamber. It made for some very odd bulges in his clothes, but that had to be borne.
Mycroft nodded approval at his improved appearance, and then took a turn in the washroom, leaving Lestrade to be startled when the porter appeared at the door, unexpectedly flustered. “You’re to come up straight away.”
A frisson of uncertainty set the hairs on Lestrade’s neck upright. He reached back to tap on the panel. “We’re wanted, Mr. Holmes.”
Mycroft came out, still resetting his cufflinks, his coat folded over one arm. “That was quick,” he said, shooting a look of enquiry at the porter.
“His Royal Highness insisted.”
“Ah. Inspector, if you would be so kind.” Lestrade took Mycroft’s coat and held it for him, as the other man hastily completed his toilet. “I thought the Prince went to Sandringham for his natal day celebrations.”
“He plans to return tonight,” the porter said. “The tracks are cleared for his private car in two hours time.”
As they followed the porter up a flight of stairs and down a long corridor, Lestrade wondered just what position Mycroft Holmes held in the British government. According to his brother, the man was a “minor official”, but what minor official could command the attention of the Royal family on a what to all intents and purposes was a sudden whim? The porter certainly knew Mycroft well enough to vouchsafe the details of the Prince of Wales’s itinerary, which spoke volumes. Lestrade wished that he’d just given over the evidence when he’d had the chance, but it was too late now.
They reached a door where a tall manservant waited to take their hats and outerwear. As they negotiated the exchange, Mycroft leaned close enough to mutter into Lestrade’s ear. “Just follow my lead.”
The porter went first, announcing them only as “visitors”, out of some sense of discretion. Mycroft went next and Lestrade followed, wondering whether anyone had ever had the good sense to turn and run at this juncture. The room they entered was large enough to house a good five Whitechapel families, with portraits on the walls of long dead royalty looking down their noses at the corner where a small table and a cluster of chairs were lit only by a single candelabra on the table, although Lestrade observed the gas fixtures above the wainscotting. The fire in the fireplace had not been burning long, the coal only just now taking up the flames from the kindling, and the air was still and cold.
There were only two people in the room, neither of whom could be mistaken, despite the poor lighting. The Prince of Wales was standing behind the chair where his mother sat, her mourning dress blending with the shadows, leaving her hands and face highlighted.
She did not look pleased. Nevertheless she turned her gaze on Mycroft with something like familiarity. “Mr. Holmes, what brings you here twice in one day? Has there been another death?”
Mycroft stepped up and bowed, as naturally as if he did so every day. And perhaps he did for all Lestrade knew. “Yes, Your Majesty,” he said. “Jack the Ripper is no more.”
The Queen sat back ever so slightly. Her son, standing behind her, leaned forward. “Your brother works quickly,” she said with approval. “But surely that news could wait?”
“There are potential complications, ma’am,” Mycroft said. “Among them being that it appears that my brother is not the one who will need a pardon. He took his friend, Dr. Watson with him when he went to Whitechapel, and according to Inspector Lestrade here, it was Dr. Watson who fired the fatal shot.”
And now the Queen’s attention was on him. “Inspector?” she said.
Lestrade took a step forward into the light and bowed. “Your Majesty.” He made a second bow to the prince. “Your Royal Highness.” Neither royal offered him a hand, which was a relief. He brought himself to attention, hoping that the deficiencies of his appearance would be treated kindly by the candlelight.
“We have heard of you, Inspector Lestrade,” the Queen said thoughtfully. “Mr. Matthews tells us that you are obstinate and opinionated.”
The chill in the room and the clammy cold of his damp hair and collar did little to prevent Lestrade’s face from growing hot. He had not thought that his vehement discussion with the Home Secretary about the disposition of men between the Ripper hunt and the Lord Mayor’s procession would be reported to so lofty an audience. “Mr. Matthews is not a policeman, ma’am,” he said, stiffly. “It was incumbent upon me to argue for the Yard’s priorities.” For all the good it had done. Mary Kelly was still so much meat upon a mortuary slab.
The Prince made a noise that Lestrade carefully did not think of as undignified. “Not a fan of the Lord Mayor, Inspector?”
How to answer that without getting into a tangle? “The peril was greater in Whitechapel, sir,” Lestrade said, after waiting a breath to see if Mycroft Holmes had any intention of keeping him out of the swamp. “As was proven when the additional men were withdrawn.”
“And that must be on Mr. Matthews’s conscience,” the Queen said sharply, bringing Lestrade’s eyes back to meet her own. “Not yours, Inspector.” It was on hers as well, he realized, recognizing the determination and dismay behind the carefully controlled expression. He swallowed back a protest and nodded acquiescence.
“Had it been possible to hunt Edward Bennett openly, without risking the rumor that the Ripper was a policeman, and thereby exposing every constable upon his beat to the peril of mob justice, we would have done so,” she said.
“It would have shown us to be impartial, even to those who misuse the uniform,” Lestrade made the argument once more. “That our service, as police, is dedicated to the law, not to politicians or the opinions of the press. We know the dangers, Ma’am, but it does not keep us from our duty.”
“And the peril to the public?” she countered. “The peril to every woman who must hesitate to ask for a constable’s aid, fearing that a madman’s heart might lie behind the badge? To the children, whose games and chants reflect their fears, and would preserve the memory of untrustworthiness and death to be passed along to children yet unborn?”
“I have kept my silence,” Lestrade admitted, his eyes falling. “And worse,” he added, because he couldn’t keep that silence anymore, not with Bennett’s knife pressing against his chest, reminding him of how far he had strayed from the principles which had guided all his working life.******
“We all know the factors which have shaped our decisions,” Mycroft stepped in at last. “And we have been informed of this morning’s discoveries. What we do not yet know are the details of what happened this evening. Inspector Lestrade recognized, quite rightly, that as my brother has been implicated in the case, my objectivity must come into question. And as we had not met before tonight, I chose to establish my bona fides. He has not yet given me his full report.”
“And so you thought to have him come here and save you the trouble of revising it for our delicate sensibilities?” The Prince’s voice was rich with antagonism, and Lestrade kept his head down, but looked up through his lashes, measuring the two men’s stances and faces the way he might do the same of two bruisers looking for a brawl in a crowded pub.
“Hush, Bertie,” the Queen chided her son. “You know perfectly well that we value Mr. Mycroft Holmes for his complete disregard of our sensibilities when it comes to matters of importance. Ring for the tea tray and sit down, if you mean to stay. I’m tired of craning my neck, and neither of our guests can sit until you do.”
For a moment Lestrade thought the Prince would protest, but then the man deflated. “Yes, Mother,” he said, and moved to pull a bellrope near the mantle.
“I’d as soon stand,” Lestrade whispered to Mycroft under the scrape of chairs as servants came and went and the Prince took his place at his mother’s side. “I’m used to standing.”
“Never argue with a lady,” Mycroft countered. But he was kind enough to let Lestrade take the chair on the side of the table farthest from the Queen.
Once the tea was poured and the servants were dismissed, Lestrade found himself again the center of attention. “And so, Inspector,” said the Queen, taking a sip of tea. “How did you come to learn of the Ripper’s death? Did Mr. Sherlock Holmes take you into his confidence as well as Dr. Watson?”
Lestrade put his tea down. It was too milky and sweet and he couldn’t keep the cup from shaking if he tried to keep on drinking. “No, ma’am,” he said. “The first I knew of it was after the explosion.”
“Explosion?” The Prince interjected.
“Yes, sir. On Thrawl Street shortly after five p.m.” Lestrade couldn’t stand and clasp his hands behind his back, so he clasped them in his lap instead. “I was at the Commercial Street Station at the time, not half a mile away.”
“That is not your usual office,” Mycroft said. “What brought you there?”
“I was going through every case Bennett had touched,” Lestrade said. “Hoping to find something incomplete, which I could use as a pretext for having the constables who knew him on sight inform me if they discovered his whereabouts.”
“A good thought, Inspector. But do go on,” the Queen said. “You told us there was an explosion. Could it be heard at that distance?”
“No, ma’am. The first we knew of it was a runner coming in the door, asking to have word sent for me, and to send the fire brigade before the entire warren went up in smoke. I ran to the scene and found Mr. Holmes -- Mr. Sherlock Holmes -- there, trying, with Constable Collier’s assistance, to keep anyone from stepping on three injured parties as the neighbors tried to save their goods and the stableman tried to save the horses. I went to speak to him and he told me I must go to the passage between the burning house and the stable. I did so, and found Bennett, dead.”
“You said Dr. Watson killed him,” Mycroft prompted. “How did you know?”
“The doctor’s revolver was also in the alleyway. It had been fired, twice. That corresponded with the injuries on the deceased.” Thank God for twenty years of writing reports. He hardly had to hunt for words that would render the raw memory palatable. “I collected the revolver, and Bennett’s weapon, and then altered the scene sufficiently to imply that Bennett had been fatally struck by flying glass. At which point I returned to confer with Mr. Sherlock Holmes and oversaw the loading of all of the casualties into ambulances before accompanying them to London Hospital.” For the life of him, he couldn’t manage to look away from the coals in the fireplace. “From there I saw Bennett’s body to the morgue, and once that was done I went to find Mr. Mycroft Holmes at his brother’s behest. He said if anyone could arrange for Bennett to be buried without an autopsy it would be Mycroft.”
Such bare bones, and so much behind them. The smell of the smoke and the blood, the shouts of the fire brigade, the eyes of the crowd, watching as Sherlock Holmes, his disguises abandoned, staggered after the stretcher which bore his fellow lodger. The weight of the blade that had done so much to so many, tearing slowly through the newspaper Lestrade had used to wrap it, until he could feel the knifepoint trying to work free of his pocket and commit more mayhem.
Distantly, he knew that Mycroft was expanding on his report, explaining just what steps had been taken since Lestrade’s arrival at the Diogenes. The telegram, it seemed, was from Dunlevy at London Hospital. The doctor had a concussion and broken ribs; Miss Monk had been drugged, and was suffering from smoke inhalation; as was Sherlock Holmes, who elsewise had garnered only small burns and scrapes and bruises.
The old blind lady who had been on the ground with the Doctor and Miss Monk was Bennett’s mother. Her injuries were severe -- it would not be long before she joined her son. The tide of Lestrade’s emotions was at low ebb now, but he could still feel relief that no one would have to tell her she had conceived a monster.
When Mycroft ran out of words there was a moment’s silence before the Queen spoke. “The matter of the autopsy is well within your purview, Mr. Holmes. And we shall be pleased to extend the shelter of our pardon to your brother’s friend. But both these matters could have waited for morning. What brought you here tonight?”
“The matter of the evidence, Your Majesty.”
The formal address brought Lestrade’s head up before Mycroft could touch his shoulder. “Here? Now?” he gasped, unable to believe what the elder Holmes was asking of him.
“Yes.” Mycroft held out a hand, waiting, and Lestrade could hear the swift intake of breath from the other two as they realized what was meant. Carefully, Lestrade unbuttoned his coat and reached into his inner pocket. His pair of gloves fell to the floor as he drew out the newspaper bundle, and Mycroft nodded after it. “Those too, please.”
Lestrade bent down to retrieve them, and when he sat up again Mycroft had unrolled the paper, revealing the six-inch blade within. Silently, Lestrade added the bloodstained gloves and Dr. Watson’s revolver. Mycroft, in his turn, brought out the silver cigarette case which Lestrade had last seen at Miller’s Court, and he groaned as he fumbled out the handkerchief he’d used to clean it of Mary Kelly’s blood.
It made a gory pile on the table, proof, all of it, of the lies with which Lestrade had collaborated. “All the other evidence will have burned in the fire on Thrawl Street,” he said, remembering what Mycroft had said about Leslie Tavistock. “If this lot goes, no one will ever be able to prove the truth.” He made himself look at his monarch. “I’m sorry, Ma’am.”
“The evidence. I tampered with it.” Lestrade said. “I’ve broken my oath as a policeman.”
‘You collected the evidence and brought it to court,” she said. “Surely that is what a policeman does?”
He couldn’t tell her that he’d mangled the body. He couldn’t say it in so many words. But he could try to make her understand. “Your Majesty, I have done such things this day, as I did not know my soul could hold. And all of the reasons I did them are reasons that I know, reasons that I must agree with, and yet...” He would have gone to his knees before her had the table not been in the way. “I feel unclean.” He bent his head and waited.
“What would you have me do?” the Queen asked.
“Accept my resignation,” Lestrade whispered.
“No.” She rose and immediately Mycroft and the Prince rose as well. Lestrade followed suit a beat late, and trembled as she came over to inspect him more closely. “Tell me why,” she asked, when she was far too close for him to evade her eyes.
He did not pretend to misunderstand. “Because when Mr. Sherlock Holmes is certain enough of his reasoning to explain, he is generally correct. Because John Watson would never shoot a man in cold blood. Because when I saw Mary Ann Monk lying on the ground at Thrawl Street the light of the flames was the color of the blood that painted the walls at Miller’s Court. Because I wanted to dance on Edward Bennett’s grave and cover it with salt to keep him from rising even when the bells of Judgment toll. Because I wanted revenge, and the next best thing was to let him pass into obscurity, his name forgotten forever.” He caught himself back from shouting. “Because I acted as a man, and not an officer of the law, Your Majesty. And that I should not have done.”
She nodded and went back to her seat, nodding to her son to touch the bell once more. He did so, and then came to stand at her shoulder, so that Lestrade was facing both of them, with Mycroft off to one side. When she spoke it was with the clear voice she must use at more formal occasions, the very note setting Lestrade’s spine to attention. “For your crimes we give thee pardon, Gideon Lestrade. For your penance we charge thee with assisting our agent, Mycroft Holmes, in preparing a full account of the truth, a single copy to be held in our records until such time as we or our heirs feel that it is wise to let the tale be told. The revolver will be returned to Dr. Watson, as a token of his pardon. The rest shall go into the custody of our agent, to be disposed of as he thinks best.” Her corsets creaked as she leaned forward. “And lest you think we are too generous in this disposition, I remind you, Inspector, that to preserve our secrecy, no record of this meeting tonight shall ever be made. Your name will be struck from the porter’s book, and it will be left to my son to find an occasion to publicly reward you for your dedication to your duty.” She glanced at the Prince who nodded agreement.
Lestrade blinked. “I need no reward, Ma’am.”
“Obstinate indeed! What you need,” she said wryly, “is a bath and a decent night’s sleep, Inspector. And a reward. See to it, Mr. Holmes.” The Queen rose again, and took the Prince’s arm. “Come Bertie, we must get you started for your train.”
“Good night, gentlemen,” said the Prince.
“Good night, Your Royal Highness. Good night, Your Majesty,” Mycroft said and Lestrade echoed him as the Royal pair swept out of the room.
Mycroft plucked Dr. Watson’s revolver from the pile and passed it to Lestrade before folding the rest up into a large linen napkin from the tea tray. “I think your pardon will encompass a minor bit of theft,” he said, secreting the packet inside his suit coat.
“Yes, yes of course.” Lestrade put the revolver back into his inner pocket absently. “Did she really pardon me? I mean, if there’s no record of it?”
“There were two witnesses, so yes. And there will be a note of it made in her daybook, not that “P apostrophe d g l” will mean anything to anyone but the four of us. Well, it might to Sherlock, but he’ll never hear of it.” Mycroft went to the door and signalled the servant that they were ready for their overcoats. “How does it feel, Inspector, to know that you now are privy to something which my brother will never learn?”
Lestrade snorted. He felt giddy, as if he’d had some enormous weight taken off his back. “Your brother only thinks he knows everything.”
The corners of Mycroft’s mouth tucked in, keeping a smile at bay. “True.”
All the way back through the corridors and down the stairs Lestrade was aware of the nonsensical desire to laugh out loud, worse than the itching nose that always struck on solemn public occasions. Pardoned! Not excused, or consoled. The Queen had as much as said that she agreed that he’d done the unforgivable when she’d forgiven him, and wasn’t that a wonderful joke?
He stumbled on the last step, and Mycroft caught him before he could fall.
“I’m sorry,” Lestrade told him.
“Never you mind,” said the porter, who had been escorting them. “It takes some people that way. Would you like me to send for a cab, Mr. Holmes?”
“Thank you, no,” said Mycroft. “We are only going as far as the Diogenes.”
“I’m not,” protested Lestrade. “I’m going home to have a bath. By Royal command.”
“There are baths at the Diogenes. And rooms for the use of members who require a place to stay upon occasion.”
“I’m not a member.”
“Not yet.” Mycroft took Lestrade’s arm again, and said goodnight to the porter. They went out into the night and Lestrade wondered how the porter would know to take his name out of the gatebook. It wasn’t the only thing to wonder about.
“How do you take a bath when the rule is silence?” he asked.
“By not singing,” Mycroft said. He sounded as if he might be amused.
“But the water splashes.”
“Splashes are allowed.”
“Ah.” Lestrade tipped his head back, wondering how low the clouds must be to reflect back the lights of the city below. “What about snoring?”
“Snoring. Do snorers get...” Lestrade waved his free hand eloquently, “...ushered out the door in their nightshirts? Or do you just wrap them up in felt so no one can hear them?”
“Why do you ask, Inspector?” Mycroft said, and that was definitely amusement. “Do you snore?”
“Probably. I’ve never woken up to find out.”
They’d reached St. James Park, and the bridge, and Lestrade stopped to look back at the palace. “I should really go home,” he said. “I’ve got a bath at home.”
“Oh, no,” said Mycroft. “Not in this state. You’re far too tired for discretion.”
“But I’m not a member of your club,” Lestrade protested. “And the baths and things, they’re for members. Who don’t snore.”
“So long as you don’t snore in the reading room you’d be all right. And it’s a good place to go when you have had a day which you don’t wish to discuss.”
That stung even as it tempted. “I’m still not a member.”
“You could be, if you like.” Mycroft started them moving again. “I would be glad to sponsor you to the committee. And seeing as I am the only member of the committee who bothers to attend committee meetings, I can guarantee you a place.”
Lestrade shook his head. “I couldn’t afford the subscription, whatever it is.”
“It wouldn’t apply in your case.”
“I don’t want charity.”
“Think of it more as a reward. You could read the newspapers there, or the magazines, and have a bite of supper now and then.”
“A reward?” Lestrade could imagine it: a haven from the world when the world was it its worst, and the quality of the food was no small temptation. But then he thought of another other consideration. “I’d go to read a magazine and find your brother at my elbow, just when I didn’t wish to.”
“Oh, no, you wouldn’t,” Mycroft stopped beneath the street lamp on the mall and waited for a carriage to go past. “Sherlock isn’t a member. He can only come when he’s been invited.”
“But he’s your brother!” Lestrade exclaimed in wonder.
“He’s my brother. And he fidgets.” Mycroft shuddered eloquently.
“In that case,” said Lestrade, the knot between his shoulders loosening at last. “I accept.”