Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

Inspector Depta – Contrapasso

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“Is e dead?”

“Has hell frozen over? Pour that Claret down iz throat! Gently, gently! He’ll come round soon enough!”

“Oh am I glad you iz ere! What a to do!”

“Iz he often like this?” asked the inspector looking down at the semi-conscious politician, Master Fluttock favoured the inspector with a grim look.

“E’s bin like this ever since Hemphill-Skinner died, he weren’t too bothered about the death of that chimney sweep, the one what burn’t to death up that chimney, but when Master Hemphill-Skinner croaked it, well, its a fine day when he ain’t reeling rown’ the workhouse reekin’ of Claret!”

“What he die of?” Master Fluttock scratched his head,

“Well that’s the puzzle of it, he was put on the Cholera ward but that t’aint wot he died orff”

“What did he die orff?”

“They said it was an Opium overdose, but iz neck woz broke!”

“You sayin t’were neglect?”

Master Fluttock glanced slyly at the politician who now ran the workhouse, “Something’s amiss that’s wot I’m tellin ye! Though there’s no provin of it! ”

“Ere ere! He’s come round!”

When on a case there’s nothing the inspector likes better than a compliant suspect, for when a predicator is thoroughly themselves they are disinclined to say what they ought. Let a little vulnerability, a little weakness, creep in and the tale unfolds altogether different. And so like a tender-hearted nursing mother the inspector delicately helps the workhouse guardian into his armchair, whilst Gerty Fluttock administers little sips of Claret. The inspector notes the intermittent shuddering and the tremulous lip, the occasional tear (a form of suppressed repentance for something though he didn’t know what as yet), and the death-like clamminess. Now what form of crime (as yet unconfessed) could e’ ave committed to make him take on so?

“Come, come” says The inspector, “You’ve had a fright that’s clear”

“A terrible fright” the workhouse guardian confesses, “A most terrible fright! I thought he was alive you see, but he can’t be, he’s dead! I should know”

“Who’s dead?” asks the inspector

“Hemphill Skinner! Hemphill!”

“Be calm sir, be calm, ere, take another nip of Claret” the Right Honourable politician takes several, whilst the inspector tries desperately to recall Master Hemphill-Skinner. He recalls a man with a fondness for Madame Ah-Tak’s Opium Den, a pallid looking man with tiny pallid hands but what had he to do with the guardian of the workhouse?

“Hemphill-Skinner…..” the inspector mused, he knew of some scandal linked to that name, but in what capacity he couldn’t fathom, but t’was too late to enquire further of Ethelbert-Smythe, for he had recovered his composure sufficiently enough to rise from his seat. The inspector noticed how Fluttock quickly donned his customary subservience, noticed how he stooped over and shuffled to and fro seeming much older than his forty or so years. He took a powerful bit of notice too, of the well fed gentleman who, whilst others starved and died of cold, sat in his well heated study having nightmares about a man of no social standing, t’was most curious.

“You must forgive me for incommoding you inspector”

“T’is nothing, I am glad to see you are yourself once more and yet I fear that I must add to your griefs, by bringing to your remembrance one whom you consigned to Bethelem Asylum over a year ago, a Master Doyle”

“What of him?”

“T’would seem he has been released”

“Highly unlikely, he has been in the medical care of Dr Garrick for much of the time”

“Nevertheless one fitting his description has been seen in certain parts hereabouts”

“Whereabouts?”

Inspector Depta smiled the smile of a disinterested cynic, one who was ever used to the rich poring over the deeds of the predicatorial, only as they pertained to their own safety and well-being. Why the same murderer that would be wrestled to the ground and near strangled for ambling along Downing Street, could drag his prey into the back streets of any impoverished neighbourhood (save St Giles or Bow Street) and have near murdered his victim ere help would arrive.

“T’would appear Master Doyle az bin seen in certain quarters of the rookery…St Giles Rookery”

“Impossible!” the master of the workhouse declared none too convincingly. Oi oi! Thought the Inspector though he darest not exclaim it, so all was not well at the Bethlehem either? Small wonder since it was clear that the gent had other distinctly criminal matters on iz mind, matters which the inspector doubted not he would need to look into, very closely.

“Well, if you say the mad miniaturist is still confined, then still confined e must be”

God help you if he ain’t, he thought but didn’t say, god help you and the rest of us! The inspector recollected the last occasion he’d been called on to attend one of Doyle’s murders, the putrid stench and all them body parts, whose idea was it to put the idle rich in charge of asylums and such? He’d have a word with him if he could! He could list a dozen murders his men needn’t have investigated save someone had forgotten to lock a ward door, and out a murderer ‘ad wandered! And always the same polite enquiry.

“Excuse us yer lordship, but we az a murder your lordship, what we is certain could nevah ave bin committed your lordship, coz we locked the codger wot normally does it, in your gaffe!”

“Really?” the dimwitted peerage holding asylum trustee would reply,

“So far as I know my insane asylum is reputably run and most humane, he can’t possibly have escaped, it must be some other you seek!” it must be some other you seek. The inspector who had spent so many hours walking across, over and beneath London, that there was no corner of the city his eyes didn’t know. Show him a break-in and the tools used and he could tell you which quarter of London the robber hailed from. Recount to him the manner in which a cove had been robbed and the weapon he was threatened with and he would tell you what rapscallion had done it. It must be some other you seek, these were words you used with one as had never worked the Seven Dials nor Bow Street. If he sought a man he was the man, oh these idle rich who knew the cost of everything and yet the value of nothing!

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Hackgate, Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, The Hearthlands of Darkness

Lupus Est Homo Homini

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There is much to be said for dark, flowing locks and large dark eyes with a hint of the gypsy about them, And what maid will not swoon at the sight of one whose masterly gaze complements their muscular and athletic build?

Alas, then, that this gentleman’s eyes are set far too close together, and though they are a most striking azure blue, their gaze is so eerily transfixing that one might fancy oneself a specimen in some zoo.

Shorn of head, with a powerful muscular build, the gent is impeccably dressed, from the dapper midnight blue suit to the grey kid-skin gloves upon his delicate fingers. So impeccably is he dressed that he has drawn the attention of that estimable inspector of the Bow Street Force who fancies that he recognises that face and the criminal history tied to it. The gent stands out and now the inspector, lurking in a nearby doorway observes him closely as he enters his lodgings.

“T’is im beyond a doubt! The miniature portraitist extraordinaire! Well I nevah! But e’s locked up ain’t e? What calumny is this?!”

The inspector knows not as we do dear reader, that the vicissitudes of life are many. For who in their right mind would entrust the care of lunatics to attendants thriving solely on a diet of gin, rum and porter? Danny Doyle’s attendant at Bethlem Asylum was more sober than most, and with her ‘most pleasing’ physical attributes she soon succumbs to Danny’s charms. Using what few oil pigments he had secreted about his person he readily painted her portrait in miniature, and so striking was his rendering the poor girl burst into tears, and that was her mistake.

“Ain’t no one never thought to have me physical aspect painted save you” she sobbed disconsolately.

Danny was dismayed, streaming tears left her grimy face most disconcertingly streaky looking. He glanced irritably at the maid then back at his rendering of her, now it looked imperfect. He decided there and then that his talents had not yet reached the height of their perfection; a little something extra was needed. And so another fell victim to the dismembering lunacy of Master Doyle. How he escaped, and to what end will become readily apparent as our story unfolds, lupus est homo homini my friends!

“Nah” muttered the inspector watching the lit candle upstairs, “That ain’t right, there’s something very amiss” and strolling across the street he knocked briskly on Mrs Byers front door, she was not long in answering, “Yes?”

“Mrs Byers is it?”

“None other, and you are?”

“Inspector Depta of the Bow Street Force, you az a new lodger az you not? I spied im comin in?”

“Az I? I’m at a loss as to who you mean?”

The inspector grimaced at this for there’s nowt so vague as rookery folk when they’ve a mind to be.

“Az you a gent wot goes by the name of Master Doyle, Master Danny Doyle?”  the inspector watches her reply closely; for there’s many a lodging house lady who has been romantically ‘took’ by a murderer or housebreaker. Even to the point of joining in the crime themselves! He should know, he’d collared his fair share of em!

“Wot? E az painted iz landlady’s portrait, and afore he chopped er to bits?” she replied looking suitably outraged, “ I opes not! So far as I know I’m boardin none like that ere!”

Abundans cautela non nocet dear reader, the finality with which Mrs Byers spoke, the air of innocence she cultivated as she spoke, these things made the hackles on the back of his neck rise and he knew she was lying. 

“My mistake dear lady” he crooned a shark-like smile flitting across his handsome face,

 “You’ll not take it amiss?” he added,

Mrs Byers smiled, her eyes a-glitter with malice,

“ A member of the detective force rolls up on my highly respwectable doorstep, wot ain’t been disgwaced in this way before, and I not to take it amiss? You may find such as that down at the workhouse, but not ere, I cater to a different sort!” and with that she slammed the door. The inspector, stepping back from the front door looked up at a first floor window where he saw the lace curtains faintly twitch, and behind them a shifting shadow. 

“I see’s you my lad, I see’s you and in time I’ll nab you!” he mutters as though each word Inspector Depta mutters can’t be heard by one and all as if he had spoke it aloud. A murdering miniaturist in the Seven Dials? Just down the road from Saffron Hill? Ain’t e suppose to be in Bethlem Asylum? I’ll wager Master Ethelbert-Smythe don’t know e’s gawn!

“E’s there! Upon my honour t’is im! What the devil’s e’ doin owt? Does Ethelbert-Smythe know e’s owt?” but the truth of it was that what with the death of Donny Woodbine on his consciense, and the scandal of Mother Birtherugge’s trial and hanging, would he have noted his escape? For beyond doubt this was an escape.

“Master Doyle weren’t expected to be owt this soon, he weren’t expected to be owt ever! Well nah ere’s a to do! But I’ll ave you my lad” he declared quietly and firmly looking up at the chamber window once more. “I’ll ave you eventually, the ole Bailey ain’t nevah bin cheated yet and neither ave I!” and with that he sauntered off.

Inspector Depta of the Bow Street Police traversed cobbled street upon cobbled street and all of them were quiet. Folks intent upon gonophing slunk back into the dark of the alleyways, girls plying their trade and mingling it with a bit of badgering, scuttled off to the Sapphire of Jhansi for a dram. The partakers of Tom Gin wiped their mouths carefully and reluctantly travelled back to the tottering tenements they were obliged to call home.

“What a gent! What a handsome gent!T’is the courageous Inspector Depta is it not? Detective par excellence of the Bow Street Constabulary!”

Some might be heard to whisper as the inspector’s muscular physique swaggers its way along Martyrs Lane and up Saffron Hill, or mayhap not, t’were all one to him. This was his kingdom,these were his streets.

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice

A Fortuitous Convergence of Natures

Gin-Lane-by-William-Hogarth

“Is this not truly moving my dear? Perceive how they help each other climb over the overturned wagon, that they may equally partake of the spilt gin!

T’is a bright, sunlit day in London and some of that light and euphoric bliss has lit upon St Gile’s Rookery. For a much inebriated Master Scroggins has upturned his wagon in the rookery’s cobbled streets, smashing several barrels of gin and creating much unintended cheer as a consequence.

“What a debauch!” declares The Headmaster, “ Why they sup as if their very existence depended on it!”

Abilene Montaperti is not so quick to condemn, she has visited the Salvation Army outpost here and has seen first hand the abject miseries of the rookery.

“As well they might my love, observe those gaunt and sallow faces! The docks have placed all their workers on short hours and there’s little enough work to be had at the mole trouser stretching plant on Saffron Hill! Let them sup to their hearts content!”

“T’is both a shame and a disgrace nonetheless! Are there no workhouses? Drinking in the streets is a most regrettable past-time, are there no prisons for them?” enquired The Headmaster, who, but for the efficacious intervention of Master LeFevre would have wound up burnt to a cinder during the Tooley Street Warehouse fire.

“Oh there is a workhouse and there are also prisons, though I’ve frequented neither meself” replied Master LeFevre nonchalantly, “I’m told the Spitalsfield Workhouse services all who live here, though the place is barely filled. They ain’t letting no one in.”

“A workhouse failing in its duty towards the poor? What nonsense!”

But Boodoo merely smiled, “There’s but a hundred souls rattling around on them wards! The rest his lordship packs into the stables in their underwear, like cattle!”

Abilene Montaperti paled at the mention of the workhouse whose infamy had spread through the rookery like cholera.

“They gets given their clothes the following morning! Master LeFevre continued, “So as they can look for work!”

“But there is no work!” Abilene wailed,

Boodoo shrugged, so long as he could remember the ways of the exacting rich had ever been thus, imperiously demanding the impossible, whilst the poor, deeply mired in the gutter, strove to meet the exacting commands of their masters.

“If there’s no work they spends the following night in the stables, not the workhouse”

“Outrageous! Who, pray tell, is the workhouse guardian?”

“The most honourable Ethelbert-Smythe” Master LeFevre sneered “They do say he is most loved by the workhouse patrons, he has saved them so much money”

“Ethelbert-Smythe say you?”

“You have heard of him sir?”

“I have buried nigh on a dozen persons whose relatives blamed him for their deaths! There is talk of dark goings-on, of things most sinister in that place!”

“In that place?”

“The Cholera ward of Spitalsfields they say takes many in, though few come out”

“Few say you?”

“Indeed, and the tales they bring with them…most terrible so they say”

“That would follow” replied Master LeFevre looking curiously at the Headmaster and then at the Spitalsfield’s Workhouse whose rooftop loomed over every other tottering  edifice in St Giles,

“They do say he runs a tight ship, but he has of late taken on Dr Garrick and iz reputation, is devilish, I wouldn’t trust that one administering a dose of Laudanum!”

The Headmaster, who had of late taken up grave digging as a means of earning his keep, looked on at the Bacchanalian liquid feast. A healthy flush and expressions of radiant joy could be seen upon the faces of all. Mothers stooped down to douse their linen handkerchiefs in the clear liquid and squeeze the potent droplets into the toothless maws of the elderly. Children little older than ten soaked their scarves in vaporous pools of gin sucking on them as they staggered off in search of work. The dusty, dirty streets reeked of it , the cobbled streets glistened with it, parents wafted the vapour into the nostrils of their infants. For the earlier the introduction of gin, the happier their working lives would be.

“Shocking my dear!”

Disgraceful, yet wholly understandable!” replied Abilene

“Never did agree with lazy thieving!” was Master LeFevre’s reply

“Anansi! Anansi my son! Where is you! We’ve a load on!”

and off he wandered in search of the child he had of late adopted. Observe, dear reader, the starvation and want  seeping from the very pores of the gin sodden poor! Why, the rats scurrying about their streets, the cockroaches nestled in their slums, indeed the tics buried in their mattresses, ate more palatially than their owners the residents of Saffron Hill in the rookery of St Giles!

“Where is you my boy? Anansi!”

“Here papa! I is here! Over by the Saffron stall!”

The child pondered wonderingly over the presence of such wondrously scented flowers, perched in abundant profusion, upon a rickety stall outside his home, the Sapphire of Jhansi Pub. The deep purple flowers reminded him of the African Violets his mother had kept and tended at home, before the dispersal of retribution.  Her flowers had oozed an almost suffocating scent, these smelt more like lush hay. 

“Six pence a bunch”

“Why six pence and not a shilling”

“The rich use Saffron to flavour what they eat. Down ere they use it to keep down the stench of the sewers, and the rotting plaster as it peels away from the walls. I do better trade down ere than I do in Covent Garden!”

“Anansi hook it! Them beer barrels can’t wait all day and I ain’t liftin em by meself! ”

“I’se comin papa!”

T’is a wonder to all as inhabit London, that one such as Boodoo LeFevre, at one time the very devil incarnate when it pertained to setting unwanted and unwarranted fires, should now be pater-familia and of such a child! Hazel of eye, walnut skinned, and ferociously protective of his doe eyed father whose intense love of fire in all its forms, made him the terror of half of London (the other half kept themselves most diligently insured against unsolicited fires as a consequence). But our attention dwells not unduly upon them as yet, but upon the shaven, bow legged and well turned out gentleman who has lately taken up residence at Mrs Byers guest-house.

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Hypocritical Cant, Politics, Satire, Social Justice, Transported, Uncategorized

The Forsaken Brother

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T’was a long, wearisome night, dear reader and a fraught one. For had not Montaperti abandoned his ward in the midst of a raging fire, which he himself had set? And so, half-dragged to the docks, and then hauled aboard a longboat, the venerable Headmaster and Abilene Montaperti make their escape. Lying prone in the longboat they drift along, steering wide of the burning wax and tallow floating in patches upon the waters of the River Thames.

Oi oi! Look sharp Anansie! Peelers overhead! Sink low! Sink low all!“. The Headmaster does as he is bid, covering Abilene with his damp linen dressing gown and wrapping his arms around her to keep her warm. Little Anansie sliding as low as his little height (and seaman’s jacket) permits continues to helm the boat, steering it as near to the shore as he dares, given the burning wharves and the tallow. Anansie isn’t afraid of the little white men on the bridge, in their serge-blue uniforms with their shiny brass buttons, Anansie is afraid of no one. But he appreciates that his newly adopted father might not appreciate their interest in either him or their strange cargo.

“Helm left! Helm left mah boy! We’re almost home!”

“Yes’m Pa!”

Overhead, the London Bridge gleams almost as brightly as the waters below, in this hellish light it is possible to make out tiny figures running about and swinging their tiny beacons to and fro. Fire! They scream as infernal clouds of it blossom and bloom along the river banks. Fire! The likes of which has never been seen by Boodoo, let alone dreamt of by this sombre arsonist! Fire! And he perceives it not, yearns for it not! “Helm left Anansie! Left I said! That’s it my cove! Just so! Just there!” the boat slips quietly under the bridge and into the inky black darkness of the waters, travelling up towards Vauxhall.

“My mother bore me in the southern wild” whispers the Headmaster uneasily, observing the Negro child who in turn is observing him intently through glittering green eyes. He is not a little perturbed by the little black boy steering the boat. Given the circumstances, he ought not to give voice to his concern, and yet he can’t contain himself from asking,

“Where is its mother?”

“It matters not” replied Boodoo, keeping a lookout for river-rats, the water borne thieves littering the muddy shores of the River Thames, “e iz my son! Had it not bin for him you would have fallen foul of greater evil than ‘e is capable of! Steer rightwards mah boy!

“Yes’m Pa!”

“Quite so dear Boodoo, quite so” it has grown quiet on the river, so quiet that the esteemed Headmaster can hear only his own breath, mingled with the quiet sobbing of his sweet Abilene. The Scovell Warehouse fire is soon behind them and as Boodoo reaches down into the inky waters, pulling the longboat towards the shore and tying it to a private quay below, the Headmaster utters an audible sigh of relief.

“Anansie! Get them ashore!”

“Yes’m Papa!”

Clambering ashore, the strangely garbed child extends a hand to first one and then the other of the passengers flipping them dextrously ashore. “Follow me!” he cackles as he trails off the wharf and up the wooden staircase at a run. They follow, permitting him to lead them past a cluster of crumbing, tottering buildings, former silk mills brought to ruin by their owners abject refusal to agree terms with their workers. Down narrow begrimed alleyways they sidle, Anansie in front and Boodoo behind. And all the while around them, in the pitch dark, the industrious to-ing and fro-ing of Gonophs and Badgers; creeping in and out of the abandoned mills, and down to the river at speed. Carrying bundles of wax and tallow, brass and linen goods ‘purloined’ from the Thames.

“Tooley Street is a-flame!” they whisper excitedly, ”Tooley Street a-flame! Look to it my coves! Move fast!”

Picking their way amongst the silent, bustling crowds (who part like the red sea for Boodoo and his party), they find themselves standing in front of a lodging house.

“Where are we pray tell?”

“The Sapphire of Jhansi, Anansie lead on!

“Yes’m Papa!”

Down a wooden staircase they climb, and into a warm, brightly lit cellar, a freshly lit fire is burning at the rear of the room and in front of it, to an angle, lies a love-seat. The Headmaster and Abilene stagger towards it collapsing wordlessly into its plush embrace.

“Boodoo! Boodoo mah boy you’re back!” Bert is at once grateful for Boodoo’s reappearance. For news has reached him of the Tooley Street fire and he wondering if Boodoo has gone back to his old ways, knows by the look of him that this is not so. Bert notes the mingled look of concern and of rage on his face, as he glances towards the mucky looking gent and lady on the love-seat.

“Sinister goings-on?” he asks with misgiving, Boodoo nods glancing towards Abilene Montaperti and her beau,”The Scovell Warehouse is a-flame and Tooley Street with it!”

“T’was it you az set the fire?” Boodoo shook his head,

“Iz Lordship!”

“Iz lordship?! What Lord Montaperti?!” at the mention of that sinister nom de plume a moan arises from the love-seat, and such as threatens to evolve into a hysterical shriek. “There, there, my love” murmurs the Headmaster throwing a warning look toward Bert and Boodoo. “The Scovell Warehouse?” Bert whispers, “But the whole of Tooley Street is a-flame!” Boodoo shook his head sorrowfully, “Never seen a fire so badly set and with iz ward smack in the middle of it!”

“His ward? So its attempted murder then? ” Bert chuckled, “We need to pay him a visit!”

Boodoo grimaced; he had hoped that that part of his life was over,

”Anansie! Orf to bed with ye!”

“Yes’m Pa! Nite Mr Raddle-man!”

“Nite nite Anansie!” replies Bert watching the departing child with something akin to horror mingled with a growing fascination. For e knew not from whence the child had sprung, nor from whom. Save that one day he had gone out gonophing, and had returned to the lodging house to find Boodoo dandling a Negro child on his knee whom he declared to all and sundry was his son.

“Drawn from the fires of hell?” remarked someone and a good laugh would have been had all round, had not that ‘someone’ suddenly choked to death on a remnant of Turkey Twizzler. Similar accidents were had from time to time (the occasional heart attack and in one case instantaneous lock-jaw), as the residents of St-Martins-in-the-Fields acclimatized themselves to the fact that Boodoo had borne a Negro child. From thereon in the occupants of the lodging house took that as a marker, Boodoo the infernal arsonist had a son and nobody valuing their-selves dare say otherwise. But come dear reader, let us row ever backwards against the streams of time and pause to reflect upon that world which birthed such a child as Anansie LeFevre….

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