IN THIS EPISODE: …The the police worry; Lady Ashton prepares for the hunt…
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CHAPTER 29 – Waiting for the Moon
Inspector Harry Dennis – Police Headquarters
Monday: A Day of the Waxing Gibbous Moon
Detective Inspector Dennis stared at the pile of papers arrayed across his desk and rubbed his head. He’d been looking through this stack of photos, witness statements, and other evidence for a long while—some of it for nearly a month—but he still couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
Certainly, most of the facts seemed clear enough on the surface—a person or persons unknown had committed a series of grisly murders throughout London over the last month—but the police still had little idea who was committing the killings, or why.
And, much to the chagrin of the Superintendent Dexter (and those ranking above him), the Metropolitan Police Service had not, as yet, arrested one solid suspect.
Dennis and those working with him, both in the Detective Branch and the regular force, were starting to feel the heat.
Sergeant Hoey and the rest of the MPS had done the usual round-up of likely perpetrators, and they’d definitely removed quite a few undesirables from circulation, but they’d brought in no one they could pin any of the key murders to.
Unfortunately, since the slaughter at the docks, just a bit less than a month ago, other gruesome killings had sprung up, too. Some of these copycats the MPS quickly attributed to gangs seizing upon the opportunity to eliminate a few rivals (while hoping the murders would be attributed to the “Bloodbath Butcher,” as the newspapers had dubbed the unknown fiend).
Fiend or fiends, Dennis reminded himself. He, Hoey, and many others still believed that the dockside murders and the throat-cutting ones might not be connected. Yet, how to explain the way this new wave of butchery followed on the heels of that slaughter?
It was as if that initial incident had been some sort of macabre signal to turn London into an abattoir
Gangs weren’t the only perpetrators, either, more than a few disgruntled husbands, wives, and employees seemed to take the headlines as an opportunity settle old scores in the most grisly manner possible.
Luckily, most copycats were easily detected—lack of similarity of the crimes, etc.—and the true suspects were quickly rooted out from among the victim’s family, friends, and known associates. (Victims tended to be murdered by people they knew, rather than complete strangers.)
Some slayings remained unsolved, though including the butchery of Mick and his bully boys and the slaying of at least three women by throat cutting: the whore Piper Miller, model Angela Court, and the most recent unsolved crime, Eve Leon, a simple barmaid.
Eve had been murdered four nights ago, her lifeblood drained into her small apartment’s bathtub. But she’d been stabbed in the eye with something long and narrow (perhaps an ice pick?) before having her throat cut. That was a new twist.
Also, Dennis and Hoey had found indications that her killer might have bathed in the poor girl’s blood before leaving the scene of the crime.
What kind of monster does that? Dennis wondered. And might it be the same kind of monster who tore men limb from limb on a foggy night at the docks?
The inspector shook his head and rubbed his eyes, but it didn’t do any good for the headache he’d been suffering with for nearly a month now. Maybe he should get his doctor to prescribe something. How long could this pain go on?
“Two more days…” Sergeant Hoey said.
“What’s that?” Dennis asked, looking up from his desk. It was almost as though the sergeant had read his thoughts.
Hoey wasn’t looking at his boss, though; he was staring at the image hanging on Dennis’ wall. The picture was a lovely blue and gold piece of a young woman in a flowing gown standing on a windy hillside. The poster had been painted by the American artist Maxfield Parrish, and Dennis’ sister, Ruth, had given it to him this past Christmas. She’d bought it while traveling to the states with her husband.
The print was a lovely thing, but at first Hoey’s comment about it puzzled the inspector—until he realized that his sergeant wasn’t looking at the subject of the painting, but rather at the small calendar affixed to the bottom.
“I said two more days, sir,” Hoey repeated.
“Two more days until what, sergeant?”
“Until the full moon, sir,” Hoey said. “If that Lady Kathryn is right, sir, the full moon should bring us another spate of killings.”
Dennis groaned quietly. “As if we don’t have enough to worry about!”
“Do you think we should do something about it, sir?”
“About what? About a ‘full-moon killer,’ or about Lady Ashton patrolling the city looking to avenge her sister?”
“The former, I meant, sir,” Hoey said. “Is it possible that her theory might be correct?”
Dennis shook his head. “No. It’s nonsense. Superstitious twaddle. Lady Ashton may be a very clever girl, she may have a title and enough money to do anything she likes in Derbyshire…”
“It’s Lancashire she’s from,” Hoey corrected. “It’s me dad from Derbyshire.”
“Yes, sorry sergeant, of course. The point is, wherever she’s from, she’s got a screw loose.”
“Doris out front said Lady Ashton had dropped by several times, while we were off investigating. Said she intimated that we weren’t solving the dockside case fast enough.”
“Yes, well, Superintendent Dexter is of the same opinion.” Dennis’ headache throbbed again.
“Doris suggested that Lady Kathryn seemed determined to do something about it on her own, if we didn’t. Said that she said time was running out.”
“Time’s running out for all of us, sergeant—whether we have an eccentric noblewoman looking over our shoulders or not. In any case, the dockside crimes still appear unrelated to the other three we’ve linked together—aside from the fact that original slaughter seemed to kick off all the rest of this madness.”
“Madness is right, sir. Sheer lunacy.”
“Yes. But none of it connected to the cycles of the moon. That is just coincidence.”
“Or so we hope, sir.”
Hoey walked to Dennis’ desk and leaned against the edge. “I know you’re not going to want to hear this, sir,” the sergeant confided, “but Doris said that—two days from now, on the night of the full moon—her ladyship might take things into her own hands.”
“Well, she bloody well better not!” Dennis said, slamming his fist on the desktop. “If Lady Ashton wants to skulk about, patrolling Hyde Park—or wherever—on the night of the full moon armed with her rifle and any other weapons she thinks appropriate… Then heaven help her! We’ll arrest her just as quick as we would any other scoundrel!”
“As should be, sir.”
“And if she actually does anything stupid while walking around heavily armed… Then heaven help us all!”
Lady Kathryn Ashton – That Same Night
Kathryn Ashton crouched by the bed in her rented room at the Kensington Regent in central London and lovingly ran her hand over the stock and barrel of her Lee-Enfield Mark V rifle. It was a thing of beauty, power, and terror. But then, so was Lady Ashton herself, and she knew it.
Somehow, it seemed as if she’d been training for the upcoming confrontation all her life—though, of course, that was absurd, as her sister had only been murdered a few months ago.
Lady Kathryn had not lied to the police about her firearms prowess. She had first shot a rifle at age four, and brought down her first deer at six. That conquest had made her older sibling, George Thomas (often called “Tom” to avoid confusion with their father), more than a bit envious. The feat also left their younger brother, Henry, with competitive issues that Kathryn thought persisted to this day.
Of course, neither of them had wanted her to hunt at all—“A woman’s place…” and similar rot. But, despite prodigious efforts on her brothers’ parts, neither of them could match her outdoorsman skills, even to this day. Kathryn just seemed to possess the knack, and eventually, the rest of the family gave up as useless all efforts to dissuade her.
Only Nina, God rest her soul, had steadfastly admired her big sister’s guts and determination. She’d listened to all of Kathryn’s hunting tales with rapt attention and had even spoken of learning some of the fighting skills that Kathy (only her family called her that; and only Nina had actual permission to do so) had picked up during her hunting safaris and other adventurous trips abroad.
Kathryn could drink, swear, and bare-knuckle it with the best of them whenever she was of a mind to. If only she’d ignored their father and taken Nina with her on some of those expeditions!
If she’d learned to fight, she might still be alive today, Kathryn mused darkly.
But such flights of fancy were useless. Nina had always been a more delicate flower, a “real lady,” the kind of girl the rest of the family, and society in general, expected a female to be. Kathryn suspected that she had been the only one to notice her sister’s little rebellions. And unfortunately, one of those defiances—sneaking out at night—had gotten Nina killed.
The memory of it formed a knot in the pit of Kathryn’s stomach.
She checked the sight of her gun. It looked good. And looks would have to do, as she had no place to test-fire it in the city. The sound of gunshots would surely make the police take notice, and Kathryn had done far too much to make the MPS take notice already.
I was a fool to go to them, to try to convince them. A fool to think they’d take me seriously.
And yet, she’d felt she had to make an effort—make it more than once. She’d been raised with enough respect for the British government and authorities that doing what she was about to do seemed almost unthinkable.
As unthinkable as a werewolf killing my little sister…
Maybe I should drive the Rolls to the suburbs… Find a quiet place to take a few shots and calibrate my sights again…
Would Hampstead Heath be far enough? Would those big woodland hills be deserted enough that she could risk a shot or two without attracting attention?
Maybe if I went at night…
She wouldn’t do it tonight, though. Perhaps tomorrow—the night before the full moon.
She had to be ready. And though she’d honed her sights before she left home in Lancashire, and checked them as often as possible on the road since, it had still been too long.
She laid down her Lee-Enfield and picked up the Remington. The 1894 repeating rifle had served her well over the years, and had a more rough-and-ready feel than the Lee. The Remington had taken down its share of deer and other game, but this werewolf wasn’t a deer; it was a fiend from hell.
So, while she might keep the 1894 hidden in the Rolls as backup, what she needed for the night after next was a hellish weapon of war.
Of course, the Lee in and of itself wouldn’t do the trick. If legends were to be believed (and Kathryn had good reason to think they were accurate), only a silver bullet could bring down a werewolf. Good thing she’d brought a pair of silvered five-round charger clips with her, as well as the usual ammo.
Those specially made bullets had cost her more than a few pounds, but they were well worth it. So were her other precautions: a silver-plated hunting knife big enough to gut a lion; twin silver throwing daggers for her boots; a two-shot derringer up her sleeve, and an eight-round Luger at her hip—both smaller guns with silver ammo, of course.
None of this traipsing about heavily armed was strictly legal, according to English law—and certainly not cricket in the crowded streets of London.
But Kathryn was willing to do whatever it took—even risk arrest—to accomplish her goal.
I hope it rains two nights from now.
In the rain, the hood and cloak she intended to wear to conceal her armaments wouldn’t be as conspicuous; people seldom wore such accoutrements nowadays, save perhaps to the opera.
But she wasn’t attending the opera. She was going to patrolling the city—Hyde Park probably—trying to look like an attractive victim to a werewolf.
Of course, she didn’t know that the beast would be in Hyde Park come moonrise, but from what she knew, lycanthropes, like normal animals, preferred natural settings and greenery to crowded city streets.
It killed my sister in the woods…
How fitting if she could finish the damned thing in a similar environment.
Rain would knock down her scent, too—let her stalk it undetected. Unless, of course, it found her first…
Rain would be perfect.
Rain might keep the police at bay, as well. No flabby, underpaid bobby liked to go dashing about in downpour.
Kathryn didn’t mind the rain, though.
The damp and dark suited her mood. The drumbeat of the drops reminded her of the racing heart of her prey, trying in vain to escape.
She picked up the Lee-Enfield again, her weapon of choice for this hunt—this particular war.
She sighted down the barrel and slowly squeezed the trigger.
Lady Kathryn Ashton grinned.
In just two more days, she would confront the fiend who killed her sister… and unleash Hell.
TO BE CONTINUED…!
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