Edith bolted to the door when Thomas’ carriage pulled up. She took his coat and had a fresh pot of tea ready for him. Her hands trembled when she poured.
“Was it bad?” she asked.
Thomas looked at his wife and brushed an errant hair out of her face. His hard features softened.
“Do you remember the children’s murders?”
She nodded. Everyone had heard of the children’s murders. Twelve children left dead in the streets over the last four months.
“There were three more tonight.”
Edith covered her mouth with both hands and sunk into her chair. “Oh, what a cruel thing. God keep us all safe.”
“God,” Thomas repeated, and he took a sip of the piping hot tea. “God had no hand in this. This is the work of a man.”
“Yes, a man. Who else could do it? A very cunning man, too.”
“A cunning man?” she asked. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Yes. Certainly, he must be a devious fellow, but so too is he clever. He has left no traces of his crime, and nobody has ever seen him coming or going.”
A second tear rolled down her cheek.
“Go to bed, woman,” said Thomas. “You’re tired.”
Edith nodded and returned to her room, upstairs and across the hall from his.
Thomas finished his tea and poured another cup. He liked it when it was this hot, especially on such a chill winter’s night. Yet when he had finished the second cup as well, he still didn’t return to his bedroom. The excitement of the night had banished all thoughts of sleep and he turned the details of the case over and over in his mind. Tonight made fifteen victims; fifteen in four months.
After his third cup, now lukewarm, he went to see Alice.
Alice Burrows was a pretty child of seven, with full pink lips and curly auburn hair, and her room was filled with the best things a little girl might need. Thomas had spared no expense for his princess; she had the most fashionable dresses in her wardrobe, the most pleasing toys in her chest, and the most enlightening books in her library. The most sought after tutor in the county educated her exclusively, and even her nanny, Claudette, taught her the French language.
Thomas stood over his sleeping daughter for a while, just listening to her breathe. Her tiny hands were wrapped around a well worn stuffed rabbit whom she had called Willy. Thomas leaned in and pressed his lips to her forehead. He could feel her soft skin upon his, an errant hair trapped between them. Unbidden tears rolled down his cheeks and fell upon hers.
“Sleep well, my princess,” he whispered, and he left her, taking great care in closing her bedroom door.
He considered putting another pot on but decided against it. There was such a thing as too much tea. Instead, Thomas lit a candle and went down to the cellar. Part of it was for storage, but he had walled off another part and claimed it as his office. A chief inspector was a busy man and Thomas did not like working in the house, finding it too distracting.
He lit his lamp and set the candle down.
He moved his papers from his desk, and wiped it clean with a rag.
He pulled his chest out from his closet, and unlocked it with the key he wore around his neck.
He pulled his black leather boots out of the chest, and set them on the table.
He began cleaning the blood off his boots, taking special care around the spiral toes.