Thomas Burrows knuckled at the sand in his eyes and yawned. The old stairs of their home creaked beneath even his meagre frame, and in the dead of night the noise was deafening. He rubbed his arms as he descended and thought fondly of fresh, hot tea.

“Who the devil comes calling at this hour?” he asked his wife.

“It’s constable Robertson,” said Edith.

“Oh?” said Thomas, and he tapped his lips with his finger three times. “I see. Have you shown him in?”

“He’s in the study. Is it serious?”

Thomas winced. “I don’t imagine the good constable is in the habit of making social calls at this hour. Put some tea on.” Just the thought of hot tea warmed Thomas up.

Edith left to obey, and her husband glared after her. She hurried to the kitchen and her eyes never left her feet. When she was gone, Thomas cleared his throat, put her out of his mind, and entered the study.

At once constable Robertson sprung to his feet, no small achievement for a man as fat as he. He nodded respectfully.

“Chief inspector,” said Robertson.

“Constable, good evening.”

“Yes, good evening, sir,” the constable nodded again. He ran his sausage fingers through his thinning red hair.

“What do you have for me?” Thomas asked.

“Well sir, there’s been another of the murders. The, um, the children’s murders, sir.”

“Have mercy. Where? Whose? How many this time?”

“Up on Queensgrace, sir. We found three of them,” said Robertson, wringing his hat. “They belonged to George Ashworth.”

“This is just dreadful,” said Thomas. “The third time this month.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well,” Thomas waved his arm, “do have a sit, and tell me all about it. Edith has put on the tea; I trust you’ll have some?”

The constable shook his head. “That’s quite impossible, sir.”

“Why is that?”

“One of the, um, the children, um, survived. The lad is all broken up inside and can’t move, but he could speak. Powell… um… inspector Powell was asking him questions when he sent me to bring you, sir. There’s a carriage waiting for you outside.”

“Oh?” said Thomas, and he tapped his lips with his finger three times. “I see. Then I suppose it best we leave at once.”

“Yes, sir.”

When Edith entered the study with her tray, Thomas again scowled at her.

“We’ll not be needing that, woman. Fetch my coat.”