I was at our secret hide-away when it happened. Now when I say 'hide-away', it sounds grand, but it really is not. It's just a tiny room above a fish monger's close to the Docks. It's draughty, it's damp and it stinks of fish but it's the only sanctuary we've got. I was trying to tidy the place up a bit, running back and forth, when without warning pain exploded in my groin and belly. The air was knocked from my lungs and my knees gave in. I crashed to the floor. I was on my hands and knees, coughing and spitting as the taste of blood filled my mouth. Something hard, an iron bar most likely, shattered my kneecaps, then my shins. I howled in pain, rolling on the floor on my back. More blows followed. More kicks and slaps, too. Breathing took all the strength I had. Blood was everywhere; it filled my mouth, ran from my broken nose, my split lip, gurgled in my lungs. The blows of the iron bar had surely ruptured my inner organs; the pain was as intense as hell fire. But that was only the beginning. Yes, I was granted a short moment of respite during which questions I didn't understand were asked, but when the answers were not to the liking of he who was asking them, new pain exploded in my chest as bullet after bullet entered my flesh. This was one of those new machine guns my old friend Gregori Volkov had hailed as the greatest invention since the printing press. If it was, I didn't want to live in the world which condoned such things. That machine surely had been made in hell, so awful was its power of destruction. The noise, which it made while being operated, alone was truly horrific.
I lost count of how many bullets hit my body. The world receded; it dimmed and faded. My vision blurred, turned to crimson, then black. The noise rose to a terrible crescendo, then ebbed away. Then there was only silence. Silence and darkness. Time passed. How much I don't know. It seemed like an eternity, like hours at the least but it might only have been minutes.
Surprisingly enough I was still breathing and my heart still beat a steady tattoo against my ribs. My eyesight returned and so did the sounds of the East End – the shouting of the traders outside, the rattle of the carriages, the clatter of hooves on the cobblestones and the occasional screech of a gull. I was still on the floor, curled into a tight ball, my arms shielding my head. My body hurt all over but when I reluctantly opened my eyes, I saw that no blood had been spilled. I dared to move my fingers, my toes, then my arms and legs. No bones were broken. I was able to get up and I could stretch and turn as well without my innards screaming in agony. Understanding dawned on me. It was not my own pain I had felt, it was that of another man. And not only that. His pain, his agony and desperation had called on me so that I might be witness to his death. His murder. I forced a few deep breaths and sat down on the lumpy little mattress that served as our bed. I might not be hurt but I was exhausted. My legs were shaky and a dull headache spread behind my eyeballs. I stared into the space before me, but I did not see the shabby little room. I saw a dark space, vast and empty save for the rubble that piled up in far away corners. An old warehouse or maybe a decaying factory. I saw a single chair. A man had been chained to it and it was the heavy iron bands that kept his broken body upright. Blood was smeared across his gaunt face, oozed from countless bullet wounds and had soaked his once colourful clothes. A pair of glasses, to which an ear prosthetic was attached, had fallen to the floor and lay abandoned between his feet. The pain that stabbed my heart then was real and very much my own. I stifled a sob and squeezed my eyes shut.
Oh Freddie, what have you done?
A moment later, I heard footsteps running up the staircase, then the door opened and Callum, the boy with whom I shared this room and much more besides, came rushing in. He was pale and wide-eyed, out of breath and clearly in distress.
“Raoul, you must help,” he said in between gasps for breath. “It's Fred. He'd gone missing. His office has been totally destroyed. Not even our guy at the H division branch knows where he could be!”
I could only look at Callum. I had no words to express what I knew to be true. That Freddie was not only missing, he was dead. Had breathed his last breath all alone in that horrible place while Callum had been running through the streets of Limehouse. While I had crouched on the floor.
Callum fell silent as he caught my vacant stare. He took a hesitant step closer to the mattress, then another.
“Raoul?” His voice was hoarse, pleading and already full of pain. I tried to look away but couldn't. Hot tears leaked from my eyes and ran unchecked down my face. Callum stumbled backwards but caught his balance. He pressed a hand to his mouth to suppress a scream.
“No,” the word was a whisper but it was also a plea.
I did not have to respond as Callum could read the answer only too clearly on my face. He swayed on his feet and sat down heavily next to me. We stared at one another for a long moment. Then Callum began to cry as well. He threw his arms around me and pulled me close. I let it happen but I was too numb to care. Too hollow to feel anything but his pain.
It took them two days to find him, to bring Freddie's corpse back to Whitechapel. If it yielded any of its secrets, I don't know. No-one was ever charged with Freddie's murder, no-one had to swing for it. And yet, I suspected that some kind of justice had been been dealt when I read in the papers that a shooting had taken place not far from the spot where Freddie's body had been found, dumped between the rubble of an abandoned building site. The article was matter-of-factly, which was so unlike Fred's style of writing, I felt tears burn in my eyes as I read on. It stated that Inspector Reid and his men had aimed for an arrest of a vicious gang of thugs from America. Apparently the criminals had opened fire and Reid's men had no choice but to shoot them. So all the villains lay dead, with no-one left to testify. No-one to spill some dirty secrets. The paper fell from my hands. I closed my eyes and swallowed down a sudden lump in my throat. At least Freddie's secrets were safe like that. If Reid and his detectives had ever learned them, they would not capitalize on their knowledge. I had never met Edmund Reid but people took him for an honest man. A man, who might take to bending the law it he saw fit, but an honest man nonetheless.
I picked up the paper from the floor and scanned the pages for a note on when Freddie's funeral would be. I found nothing. Either they did not want to communicate the details to the general public for fear it might become a target for another assault, or there was no-one to attend it.
“Did Fred ever speak of his family?” I asked Callum, who sat on the mattress next to me, smoking cigarette after cigarette.
He shook his head. “No. He never really spoke about his private life. Of anyone he truly cared for. He...,” Cal's voice faltered and he had to swallow hard before he was able to speak again.
“All we talked about was gossip, news on Gregori and other boys. Whom he saw who with at the music halls, the opium dens or the molly houses. Who dinned with panthers and who dared to wear a green carnation in public.”
I nodded slowly. Yes, that had been Freddie's style. All flippancy and superficial talk. He'd never been one to show real depths, he'd been far too careful, too much on guard for that.
“I know,” I sighed out of frustration. “With that knowledge he could've destroyed dozens of lives, ended careers. Or made himself a rich man.”
Callum shook his head. “He could have but he never would have.” He held up his hand to still my protest. “I know he was cunning, that he valued a good story above everything else but he was not without honour. He would've never hurt one of us.”
One of us.... Those, for whom love dared not speak its name. The Uranians, inverts, sodomites, benders and mandrakes. The panthers and punters. Renters and clients. The acolytes of Plato, admirers of Shakespeare's sonnets and theatre folk. The lovers, who had to hide their affection for one another for fear of blackmail and jail.
My mouth had gone dry and I reached for one of the bottles of cheap gin I had bought three days ago to numb the pain of Freddie's passing. Heat burned its way down my throat, pooled in my stomach and settled there. For a fleeting moment, I felt better. Callum took the bottle from my hand and took a deep drink a well. We were both so shattered by this, we had no clue how to cope.
“Damn it,” I muttered as I let myself fall back onto the mattress. “The bastard could've been married for all we know! He could have been a father!”
Cal placed a hand onto my brow. It was so cold it send a small shiver down my spine.
“It's a shame we cannot attend his funeral,” he said.
I stared up at him. The wheels at the back of my head began to turn. I managed a half-smile.
“No, we can't. Not if we want to save his reputation. But we can hold our own wake. We can gather all the boys Freddie favoured and say our regards. He wouldn't have wanted any prayers anyway.”
Edmund Reid was a haunted man. Had been from the start, ever since he had joined the police force. First it had been the images of needless and cruel violence he had encountered at every turn when he patrolled the streets of the East End, which had found their way into his dreams, then the sight of grotesquely mutilated bodies as the Ripper's reign of terror held Whitechapel in its grip. In the end, all of it had been overshadowed by something which would haunt him forever, until his dying day: the sight of his girl, his beloved Matilda, slipping away in front of his eyes as the deck of the boat they were on, tilted. How she had screamed for his help, had reached out her hand in vain. How she had finally disappeared, shrouded in smoke and fire, into the cruel waves of the river.
Reid opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. The sight was so familiar, it was hard for him to imagine he would soon see another view upon waking.
The image lingered on in his mind, like so many others: his late wife Emily as she walked the streets of Whitechapel, drunk and desolate; as lost in her grief and the inability to forgive him, as he was in his guilt and shame. Ms Goren, as she told him she could not be the sounding board of his grief. Long Susan's face, tear-stained and deathly pale as she sat in one of the cells below, awaiting her execution. Faces of the dead, too many of them: those of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, Mary Jane Kelley, even poor Hobbs. Reid still heard the noise of a skull breaking like an eggshell in his dreams.
Yes, he had blood on his hands but it didn't matter. The insane hope that his daughter might still be alive, despite of all the evidence, despite of Emily's conviction of the opposite, had finally proved to be correct. A smile lit up Reid's face. His girl was not only alive, she had been miraculously returned to him and waited upon his return with baited breath and unconditional love. It had only been exhaustion that had led Reid to put his head down one last time on the old canvass bed, which had been his home for so many nights during recent years. Exhaustion and the need to come to terms with the fact it had truly ended. That there was no more need for him to patrol the sordid streets of Whitechapel. Sergeant – no, Inspector, he corrected himself, it was Inspector Drake now – Inspector Drake would take over that responsibility from him and frankly, Reid could think of no better man for the job. Come morning, Reid would rise, clean out his desk. Pack a few things, file away important papers, burn a few others. Then he would leave, never to return. It was all he could do to make it up to Matilda. To spent however many remaining years might be granted to him with his dear girl. Damn the bullet in his brain, the headaches, the dizziness and lapses of memory. Yes, damn it all! He would take his girl, move to the seaside and they would be happy. Free. Finally unchained from all their toil and strive.
Reid smiled as he lay there on his small bed, every muscle in his body aching, his eyes itching with tiredness. A whispered conversation a few feet down the corridor from his office caught his attention. What was the new boy, this Bobby Grace, up to at this hour? With a sigh, Reid pushed back his thin blanket and rose to his feet. Habit made him quick in finding his shoes and jacket and he was out of he door, looking as prim and proper as the circumstances allowed, before the conversation had ended.
“What requires your attention so urgently?” He demanded, as he fixed first Grace, then Sgt. Atherton with a steely gaze. Both men had fallen silent. Grace stared fixedly at his boots but the whiskered man tried a small smile. A quick glance told Reid that the gout was bothering the man again. One of his feet was bare and he leaned heavily against the wall, a small flask half-hidden behind his back.
“Well?” Reid added when he did not get an answer. The two men exchanged glances, then Atherton tilted his head slightly and nodded. “Better tell the Inspector, lad.”
When Grace failed to deliver, Reid stepped closer to the boy and glared down at him. The lad swallowed hard but did not flinch away.
“I was only telling Sgt. Atherton about the wake, Sir.”
Reid frowned. “Why would a wake be of interested to the good Sgt.?”
“Because...” Grace started again. “Because it's Freddie Best's wake. That's why I thought it might be of interest to him. Best has been a frequent visitor to this premisses and considering the way he died, I thought it apt...”
Reid's eyes flickered close. He ran a hand across his face to chase away images that had joined the long line of his night-time terrors. Fred Best's lifeless, broken body, stretched out on the slap in the American's mortuary. True, Reid had despised the man. But even a calculating mudraker such as Best deserved better than to die alone in a hailstorm of bullets and brutality.
“You thought it apt to inform Sgt. Atherton so that he might pass on the word,” Reid finished Grace' sentence for him. He studied the P.C. in silence, then gave a curt nod.
“By all means, proceed.” He turned and walked back to his office. Closing the door behind him, he stood in the middle of the room and hung his head. He didn't have to have the truth spelled out to him to understand. There would be a wake for Best because many of those men he'd known, had maybe even cared for, would find themselves unable to attend his funeral. Be they bound by propriety or fear. Or unwilling to expose themselves and their dead friend's secret.
Reid walked over to his desk, found a box of lucifers and lit a lamp. Shifting a few piles of paper, he found the file he had been looking for, a thick manilla envelop with the name Fred Best scrawled upon it in neat capital letters. He turned it in his hands, feeling the weight of it. It contained many of Best's newspaper articles, what little could be saved of his recent research and a whole stack of photographs. Reid had found them admits the rubble of Best's ransacked office. He had picked them up and quietly slipped them into the pockets of his coat. No-one need ever see those photographs. Not when they could do so much damage. For while when Reid looked upon it, he saw carnal lust of a type he could not comprehend but also tenderness, others saw an abomination, a sin for which you would burn in hell, a crime punishable with two years of hard labour. Reid had thought, he'd return the file to its place in his archive, to grant Best a place in history but now he decided against it. He would take it home and keep it safe. He didn't understand the impulse. There had been no love lost between him and the newspaper man and yet... Recalling the obituary Best had penned to be prepared for Reid's untimely demise, had been strangely touching. Almost tender. A shiver passed down Reid's back. Who would have thought it would end like that? With Best dead, murdered in his line of duty and Reid the one to walk away to freedom?
Preparing for Freddie's wake was an awful thing to do, simply because just speaking his name hurt. Callum and I had been running around town all day, spreading the word in careful whispers and little anonymous notes, which were passed from hand to hand without as much as a glance. Many shook their heads and send us away. They could not afford affection to cloud their minds when the last scandal involving bored aristocrats and degraded telegraph boys had not yet been forgotten by public and police alike.
Few grabbed hold of our hands, held them a moment too long, eyes tightly shut against the tears, teeth ground against the anger and nodded. Yes. Yes, they would come. They would spread the word. One telegraph boy knew a clerk, who had worked with Best's special friend, who had died in that horrible train crash, which had turned so much in Whitechapel upside down at the beginning of the year. An Irish bloke, whose freckles stood out in stark contrast on his white skin, knew a piano player at Wilton's, who apparently had been sweet on Best a while ago. On and on it went. By five o'clock we had collected at least two dozens of men, who were willing to join in our gathering. It would be held at the back-room of a notoriously rough pub in Shadwell, which was said to be frequented by cut-throat's and ruffians of any kind. It was a mean place, the booze was as likely to kill you as the company, but I had helped the owner get rid off a particularly nasty spirit, which haunted the property, so he owed me. Plus, we would be save from the pigs, they didn't like to show their faces near a place like The Howling Dog if they didn't have to. I guess you could say, they turned a blind eye to the going-ons in such shady establishments as long as no toff came to harm. Which was fine with me and my friends. While they lived by the wheeling and dealing which went on as the gin was poured and the fists flew, I was more keen on the live and let live aspect of it. No questions asked as long as you had the odd coin to spare.
We hung black rugs on the grimy walls, placed candles all around and lit the fire. It was freezing cold in this hell-hole, or maybe it was the chill of near death which I couldn't get out of my bones. The first men arrived shortly past seven in the evening. A young lad of about 15 years of age lingered by the door for the longest time, then broke into tears when Callum asked him if he was there for the wake. We sat him down by the fire and made him drink some gin. The kid coughed and pulled a face but calmed down a bit.
“I've met Fred only the week before last,” he told us. “I'd just arrived in town from up north and hung around Victoria Station. Fred... he picked me up. Bought me a meal, let me kip in a storage room of his office and even gave me one of his old coats. Paid well, he did. Never hurt me.”
Callum and I exchanged looks. That was one side of Freddie Best, he'd liked to keep secret. The kind soul, who reached out a helping hand to a boy in need. True, he usually slept with them but like the lad said, he never hurt anybody. Better you spent the night with Freddie then with one of the other punters who were out there prowling the streets at night. The Ripper had not been the only lunatic trying to feed his abhorrent appetites. And not all the predators were looking for vulnerable women to take advantage off. Thinking of Gregori and what he liked to do, the pain he loved to afflict, made my skin crawl and I took another deep drink of my gin. The wake had not even fully begun and already I was on the best way of getting well and truly drunk.
Another hour later and the room was full to bursting. The last time I had counted, 20 boys and men were gathered in the small space. You could hardly see the hand before your eyes. Blue-ish smoke form countless cigarettes and pipes rose in thick plums and hung underneath the ceiling. Voices were raised but not in fight. Some were singing while Blue Peter played music hall tunes on his fiddle. Best had loved the halls, the gaudy entertainment, the rowdy songs, the painted actors. There on the stages of the East end, he had found a world of cheap thrills and easy affection. A glittery fairytale world where boys could be girls and girls could be men and still were loved and adored. Some couples had formed and were dancing close together in a corner. I found an empty chair and sat down. The room was spinning around me but that was just as well. I closed my eyes and tried to clear my mind. When it went blank, I sent out my thoughts, parts of my spirit, to look for Freddie. For what was left of him. His soul or his ghost or whatever you might like to call it. I found a vague presence, which hung by a thread. I felt a weak echo of the pain I had shared only days before. A pale shadow of the agony which Freddie had endured. I felt anger. And the fear that his death had been in vain, that his killer had got away scot-free. I wanted to approach him, to let him know we were all there because of him, to make sure that as long as we lived Fred Best would not be forgotten but someone stumbled and knocked me off my chair. My concentration was broken and then I did not get a quiet moment in ages as we were swapping tales of how we had met Freddie. The hours ticked by and the bottle passed round and round. Laughter and tears came and went and we all were as good as delirious. Intoxicated as much by alcohol as grief. And then, just when the midnight hour approached, the evening took an unexpected turn.
The day had flown by. Despite of Reid's resolve to be out of the door of the Leman street station by noon, he had lingered far longer. There had been so many papers to file and more to carefully dispose off. Chief Inspector Abberline had come to talk to him and they had shook hands. Reid had walked the corridors of his station one last time, nodding to the policemen he passed. He stopped briefly to talk to Atherton and wished him well. He only shook the hand of the American whose real name was Matthew. So much had happened between them, too much for words. He stood in front of the cell which held the American's wife and said a silent good-bye to the woman who had lied to him, kept his daughter from him and had nearly killed him. And yet the same woman had cared for his Matilda and nursed her back to health. The same woman had delivered her own father to him, had fulfilled his need for revenge.
“May Swift rot below the streets of Whitechapel,” he thought as he turned on his heel and left the cells of the condemned behind him for good. “May he rot and may his remains never be found.”
It was as much of a curse as Reid was able to muster. Now that everything was over and he had his little girl by his side once more, he felt all the anger and rage drain away from him, like poison from a freshly cleaned wound. He had caused enough hurt, he didn't have the stomach for more.
When he passed Atherton's desk on his way to his office, he caught sight of a little note. It had been written in Grace's messy hand, in bold, big letters, black ink on white. Even from the distance Reid was able to read it. It said: “Wake. 7 in the evening. The Howling Dog.” There was no address, no name but to Reid's mind it was pretty self-explanatory. He knew The Howling Dog both by reputation and experience. He hesitated for a moment, then reached out his hand and took the note. He glanced at it, then put it in his pocket. Now he only had to talk to Drake. To hand over his badge and then he would not longer be Inspector Reid but only Mr Reid, father of Matilda, widower of Emily.
When he called for Drake to join him in his office one last time, he felt strangely apprehensive. His former sergeant seemed to share the sentiment, for he avoided his eyes and both man stood facing each other without speaking for a long, uneasy moment. Then Reid cleared his throat and held out his hand. Drake took it and they shook hands.
“It has been an honour serving with you, Inspector,” Drake said. His voice sounded gruff but heavy with emotion.
Reid nodded curtly. His lips curved into the ghost of a smile. “The honour has been all mine,” he made the briefest pause and then added: “Inspector.”
Drake grimaced and that made Reid smile a genuine smile. To change the subject, he fished the note from his pocket and presented it to the new head of H decision. “Have you knowledge of this, Bennett?”
Drake merely glanced at the note and nodded. “Yes, sir. I mean, Mr Reid. Atherton has mentioned it to me. Why? Have you course to suspect any illegal activities at that wake, sir?”
“You mean, apart from the usual? The illicit gambling, the changing hands of stolen goods at the back room, the company of women, which can be bought for less than a glass of gin?” He shook his head. “No, Bennett, I suspect no more that that at The Howling Dog tonight. The thought occurred to me however, that the courage of those unknown men, who have arranged this gathering should inspire a noble heart in us. That we, too, who were not totally innocent in sealing Mr Best's fate, found it inside ourselves to speak a word of kindness about the man who delivered us the final proof of a certain father's guilt.”
Drake stared at Reid in confusion. He frowned. “Are you trying to say, sir, that we – you and me – ought to show our faces at this place?”
Reid gave a quick nod. “Yes. Yes, that is indeed what I am asking, Bennett. Are you with me?”
Half an hour later, not only Reid and Drake were on their way through the labyrinth of Whitechapel but also Grace and Atherton. The American could not be parted from his wife, which was understandable. Had the place of the meeting not been so grim, Reid would have been tempted to ask Ms Cobden to join them.
Night had long since fallen, when the four men stepped out of their hansom cab. The driver could not get his horses to turn around quickly enough and was racing down the narrow cobblestoned street at full gallop before either of them had been able to say Jack Robinson. Reid looked at his companions. It was a strange sight for he had never been in the company of those four men while they were all in plain clothes before. They had even left their heavy boots behind at Leman Street. Grace appeared impossibly young in his simple shirt, neck-tie and jacket. Atherton looked uncomfortable in his checked suit and Drake... Well, Drake was Drake, Reid mused.
“Here we are now,” Bennett said after the moment of silence had stretched too long.
“Yes, here we are, gentlemen,” Reid said. “Let us go and pay our respects.”
They went in one by one as not to attract too much attention but nevertheless whispers soon rose behind their backs as they bought drinks and gathered in a corner. Grace was the first to steal away and moments later, Reid saw him talk to the lad who played the fiddle. Did they have a mandrake on the team in Whitechapel, Reid wondered. Did it matter? He shrugged his shoulders. Not really. Or at least only in so much as the possible inclination of the young P.C. made him easy prey to blackmailers and the likes of Jebdabiah Shine. Reid hoped that Grace had more luck than Flight and would be spared such a fate. Or, even worse, that of poor Hobbs.
Drake and Atherton drank in silence. They both looked as if they'd rather announce a raid on the pub than mingle amongst the mandrakes. To Reid they seemed oddly normal. True, some were a tat effeminate but not more so than some of the sons of the upper-classes, who had been spoiled rotten and had been spared all hardship.
He had seen the tears in Best's eyes as he spoke of justice for the dead and injured of the Whitechapel train crash. He had known that Best's hunger for justice was fuelled by a very personal loss. And who was he to blame the man for his feelings? Loss was loss and heartache was heartache, be it justifiable by other people's standards or not. Jackson had told him how Best's aloof and indifferent veneer had come tumbling down when he had spotted that man named Thomas on a bed labelled 3. Beyond hope. Sure to die. Had told him how the journalist had sat by the dying man's side, had held his hand and whispered soothing little nothings to calm him. How his face had turned to stone when Thomas' chest had stopped to rise and fall and he no longer breathed. How Best had swallowed his tears and had touched the face of the man he had loved one last time to close his eyes forever. Reid understood all about suffering and obsession and so had found a strange kinship with the man he despised.
Reid shook his head when he realized his mind had been wandering. He took a drink from his bottle of beer and glanced at Drake, who stood next to him.
“Do you want to make yourself be known, sir?” Drake asked.
Reid winced. “Do you want to get us all involved in a fight, Bennett? In here I am no sir and neither are you. We have left our work behind and are simply men drinking to the memory of another man.” He let his words hang between them for a moment, then added in a softer voice: “And for heaven's sake, call me Edmund, Bennett!”
He could have laughed at the expression on Bennett's face but his attention was diverted to a young man who came striding over to them.
“I have no idea what you think you are doing in here, Inspector,” the young man spat the last word like an insult. “As far as I'm concerned, we are doing nothing wrong and you cannot arrest us for simply talking and drinking.”
Reid made a point of not looking at the men, who were still dancing together, locked in close embraces, or those who stood by the wall on the other side of the room, holding hands and kissing.
He held up his hands in a gesture of peace. “I am not here to arrest anybody. And neither are my friends,” he gestured at Drake and Atherton. “We knew the man you grieve for. We...” his voice faltered and he licked his lips and continued: “We wanted to remember the man, not the mudraker, who caused so much trouble for our men.”
The young man in front of him stood his ground without flinching, even though he was more than a head smaller than the former Inspector and as slender as a young birch tree. He looked straight into Reid's eyes. A sudden dizziness swept over Reid's mind and blurred his vision. He swayed slightly, which caused Drake to grab hold of his elbow. Then the feeling was gone and Reid was able to see again.
“I am quite well,” he said with a small smile and Drake withdrew his hand, even though he looked anything but convinced.
“You are Sinclair, the medium, are you not?” Reid asked.
The young man before him bowed in an exaggerated fashion and grinned. “What, have I made it into you famous archive already?” He teased. “I should be honoured, I guess.”
Reid raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “Were you close to him? To Fred Best?” He asked instead.
Sinclair shrugged his shoulders but looked decidedly miserable. “As close as most of us,” he said in a soft voice. “Not as close as some though.” He fixed his eyes on the former inspector once more. “If you're asking if I loved him, then no. I did not. My heart belongs to another, as did Freddie's. But I cared for him. We all cared for him. He was kind, in his own way. He helped us when nobody else did. Spared a coin or a kind word or a place to sleep.”
Reid nodded. “I see.” He fell silent for a moment and sipped his beer. Then he said: “I remember how Best tried to be a friend to those unfortunate telegraph boys. I may not have approved of his methods but I did approve of his sentiment.”
Drake next to him spat out a mouthful of beer but Reid paid him no mind. He reached inside of his coat and pulled out a small manilla envelop. This one was new and unlabelled.
“Here. I want you to take possession of this. If you know of a closer friend who should have it, I urge you to pass it on. The articles he wrote for The Star and the report of his death are all that should remain in the files, don't you agree?”
Sinclair took the envelop from him. He looked sceptical as he undid the tie that bound the envelop shut. He reached a hand inside and pulled out a photograph. He held it so that neither Reid nor Drake or Atherton could see it properly. His eyes widened and his face lost the last of its colour. He put the photograph back into the envelop and closed it tightly.
“Thank you,” he whispered and held out his hand. Reid took it and was surprised by how firm the young man's handshake was.
“We won't forget you did this,” he said as he turned to walk away. “Drink as much as you like. We are not done here for a while.”
Reid nodded and raised his hand in farewell. “We have no desire to overstay our welcome.”
Sinclair chuckled and waved goodbye. Reid saw him talk to a tall man in his late forties, who stood with a much younger man of Italian complexion by the fireplace.
“Isn't that...?” Drake began but Reid cut him short.
“No. Whoever you think that good gentleman might be, it is not him. None of them are.”
“Of course. Of course,” Drake was quick to mutter. “Think of it, I'm not even on duty. I left my badge at Leman Street, so I'm not a sergeant right now and in Whitechapel I'll only be an inspector come morning.”
Reid nodded his approval and downed the last of his beer.
“But I can not help thinking that now the time for you to go home has come. Go, fetch Matilda. Make peace with Ms Cobden and go back to the seaside. You know it is what you ought to do, Edmund.”
Reid turned, strangely touched to hear Bennett use his given name in his presence. He clasped a hand over the shorter man's shoulder and squeezed it softly.
“You are right. I will go and gladly but first let us have one last drink. And let us toast to the peace of Frederick Best.”