A Minor Misdemeanor

Chapter 14

Clara hurried up the road, having spotted the telegraph office earlier, before darting inside.

Inside, there were several workmen writing on pads, along with a better-off client, judging by his coat and hat, who was directly dictating his longer message to a harassed looking clerk.

"Look, I said 'Aldengate council meeting on the fifth of March, stop. You are hereby requested to attend by the chairman, stop. We will be discussing your proposal, stop.' You've persistently mis-copied my statements."

"Excuse me, sir." Clara asked. "Why don't you write it down yourself?"

"Excuse me?" He gobbled. "Who are you to ask such a question as that?"

"I'm the person behind you in the queue." She replied, politely.

"And I'm the leader of Aldengate borough council." He replied.

"Who are you sending your message to?" She replied, in an extremely dangerously meek tone of voice, as if overawed by the personage she was addressing.

"I'm sending an important message to Sir John Edwards, about an excellent proposal for a modern workhouse in the borough."

In response, she dipped into a pocket, and simply produced a small square of cardboard.

It read ' Admiral the Lord Camperdown, Admiralty House, London."

"I, ah. I apologise." He said, suddenly realising exactly how much power he was potentially crossing.

"Don't worry about it." She replied, with a flick of her head towards the pads.

He took the hint, and moved across.

"Thanks." The clerk whispered. "He thinks being a senior council official makes him a big-shot, and he has just enough actual influence to make himself a nuisance."

"I guessed." Clara said with a wink. "I need you to send an urgent message to the Admiralty."

"Certainly, miss...?"

"Oswald. Clara Oswald." She replied, grinning slightly at one of the things most people wanted to say in the 21st century.

"Message to read: Attention of Admiral the Lord Camperdown. Was Arthur West employed on the matter upon which you consulted with M. Vastra today?"

"How urgent?" The clerk asked.

"If you can get it on his desk within five minutes, it'd be worth half a guinea to you, and half a guinea to the messenger boy."

"Aye aye." The man said, before turning to the back of the shop, and rapidly tapping out the message in Morse code.

A perhaps three minutes later, the tickertape machine in the corner of the office suddenly sprang into life.

"A.W. employed on A.D. News?"

"Send back; 'A.W. found on underground, deceased.'" Clara instructed, before leaving two half crowns and three shillings in payment. "Send a further telegram to X police station: "A.W. employed on A.D. confirmed." Clara smiled. "Hopefully, you can arrange prompt delivery." She said, before politely nodding, and exiting the shop.

Any journey through central London was a minor penance for Vastra. The sheer variety and number of smells, most of them disgusting to anyone with a working nose, never mind one as sensitive as hers. For Vastra, a ride in an open cab was like being repeatedly hit in the mouth and nose with a club, only less pleasant. She could smell old pools of vomit a week old, along with traces of blood from dozens of fights, as the cab rapidly trotted through the streets to reach the Thames. At that point, smells such as tar and hemp became present, along with other aromas, such as raw sewage, the occasional rotting corpse, and a certain amount of rotting fish. There was also a smell of seaweed.

It didn't take the cab long to arrive at New Scotland Yard, once it had reached the Thames. The building was one of the most modern in government use, having been built specifically by and for the use of the metropolitan police service, and included a state of the art morgue, complete with a working refrigerator for the storage of bodies recovered from crime scenes and awaiting a post-mortem.

The officer on the door recognised Vastra, and saluted, receiving a nod in return. Inside, Lestrade led the way straight to the morgue, both his workmanlike patent leather boots, which were both glossy and able to withstand kicking down a door, and Vastra's high heeled boots, rattling on the wooden floors, and trailing salutes from various officers.

When they reached the morgue, Vastra was more than slightly surprised by the temperature, which wasn't much below room temperature in the rest of the building. She stood well away from the fridge as the door was opened, as refrigeration and ectotherms do not mix, and the last thing she wanted to door was collapse from the cold, particularly since she hadn't had access to her human hot-water bottle for two nights in a row.

"Arthur West, aged twenty-four." Lestrade said, filling in for the pathologist, who had had a falling out with Vastra over 'perks', which she had not approved of, leading them to avoid one another. "Cause of death; massive blow to the head. Everything in his pockets is on the table over there."

Carefully, Vastra examined the body, carefully examining the head injury, which had crushed the frontal cortex, presumably sending shards of bone deep into the brain. It appeared to have been delivered by a weapon no more than five inches in diameter.

"His clothes are in disarray." Lestrade observed, as she moved her careful examination down the body. "There must have been a struggle."

"There is what looks like clay on the sole of his right boot." Vastra observed.

"Any use?" Lestrade asked.

"It narrows down the area he boarded the train." Vastra replied. "He must have boarded it at elephant and castle."

"How do you…"

"That is the only area south of the Thames where he could have both picked up that soil and boarded that service, prior to Westminster Bridge Road, where he was thrown from the train." Vastra said, in a matter of fact tone.

"You think we should focus our enquiries in the area?"

"No." Vastra replied. "I think you should focus them at Whitehall. See if there was anyone who had had cross words with the young man, or had been involved in a dispute with him. Check his private life. Were there any rivals for Miss Parker? Was he in debt, and if so to who?"

After issuing those instructions, or at least suggestions that might have sounded like instructions, Vastra moved over to the contents of the man's pockets.

The first thing she picked up was his watch, a silver cased hunter. The glass was smashed when she opened it, and the hands had stopped at 23:10.

"What time did he fall from the carriage?" She asked.

"About half past eight this morning. I wasn't on the scene until ten." Lestrade explained.

"Then either he took a fall the previous night, in the fog, and damaged it then, or he was killed earlier."

"Madame, I know the people on the tube well enough to know that there is no way a body could remain undiscovered in a carriage for more than a short time."

"I can think of one." Vastra replied.

"Wh… Of course." Lestrade replied.

"Check with anyone using the train this morning. Did they see a policeman exiting the end carriage at Waterloo?"

"Aye aye." Lestrade said, before Vastra began checking the other items, before finding a sheaf of papers.

"What do we…? She mused, before recognising the lettering on them.

"Lestrade, I'm going to need you to leave the room." She said, doing her best to smile apologetically at the detective.

"Two minutes, Vastra." He said. "I can justify leaving you alone with the body for that long."

"That'll be all I need." She replied.

Once the detective had left the room, she went through the papers rapidly. Several pages were missing, but the rest were all from the Admiralty and depicted the plans for the submarine codenamed Artful Dodger. Quickly, she swapped them with a pile of bills from a restaurant near his lodgings, admittedly that she'd been the actual benefactor from, and pocketed the actual papers before the Inspector returned.

"I've seen all I need to." She said. I want to see the carriage, now."

Fortunately, Vastra wasn't forced to use the cab again, Lestrade having access to an official, not to mention enclosed, carriage that was used to transport senior officials to and from crime scenes.

The carriage, by the time Vastra arrived, had been backed into an open siding, and several arc lamps had been set up to illuminate the scene, with the able assistance of the winter sun.

"Clear all of your officers out the carriage." Vastra instructed Lestrade, made somewhat more waspish than usual by the combination of cold weather and several days without proper food, given that Strax had never quite mastered the concept of cooking, requiring Vastra to subsist on unaccompanied meat alone, without any of the trimmings that Jenny never let her leave the table without eating.

To be honest, she'd started off disliking things such as roast potato, mint sauce, parsnips and gravy, seeing them as useless vegetation with no reason for her to eat them.

Then, eventually, Jenny had, well, cajoled her, into actually trying the various items that accompanied her meals, and the Silurian had been amazed at the flavours that rolled off of her taste buds and into her pleasure centres. She still preferred her meat raw, however, although Jenny was working on that as well, mostly using spices and herbs that only worked on cooked meat while cooking in order to tempt Vastra.

Once the area was clear, Vastra could very clearly smell blood, and considerable quantities of it. She carefully tracked it toward the carriage, before grimly clambering inside, knowing that another assault was in the offing.

Inside, there was a brutal wall of smells, including stale beer, vomit and blood, which she quickly tracked to a small splattering on the wall of the carriage. Carefully, she examined the other wall, the floor and the ceiling, searching with a magnifying glass coupled with Silurian vision for any other traces of blood. There were a few other stains, all old, and barely detectable without her eyes, even with her nose a few millimetres above the stains themselves, there was only the faintest aroma of blood.

She carefully backed into the centre of the carriage, before looking around for signs of a struggle, or anything else out of place. There were a few scuff marks, but nothing else in any way indicative of a violent killing.

So where was the blood I smelt outside coming from? Vastra wondered.

Carefully, she tracked the scent of blood through the carriage, all of the way to the open door.

"Inspector!" She called. "I require a ladder."

A few moments later, a ladder was produced from a small hut nearby, the door of which had been broken before the sergeant lent against it from five feet away.

Vastra didn't actually need the ladder, but clambering onto the roof of a carriage using her claws would have raised eyebrows, and that might have affected her retainer.

Once she had negotiated the stepladder, the roof flexed slightly as she stepped onto it, and the surface felt sticky underfoot, which keyboard roofing shouldn't have. The smell of blood was overwhelming as she looked down, to find a pool of human blood.

"Inspector!" She called. "Take a look at this."

A moment later, Lestrade nimbly clambered up the ladder, to be confronted with a massive pool of blood.

"How...?" He spluttered. "These carriages don't have a roof hatch."

"I haven't any idea, inspector." She replied.

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