The fog was thick in Blackwell that evening, but did not seem to impede the two men as they approached the sputtering gas lamp on the corner. As they drew closer to the warm circle of light spilling from the mantle, it revealed the blue serge and silver buttons of two members of the Metropolitan Police Force.
The elder of the pair, sergeant’s stripes evident upon his sleeve, paused beneath the lamp post and reached for his pocket watch, flipping the cover and angling the face so he could discern the hour.
“It’s just shy of eleven o’clock, Constable Rowan.” He said.
“And all’s well, Sarge?” queried the younger officer.
“That remains to be seen , Constable…” Sergeant Webb glanced about the empty streets, their details obscured by the all-enveloping fog. “Remind me of the purpose of our evening’s constitutional, Constable,” he said.
Constable Rowan withdrew his notebook, never far from his reach, and rustled through the pages until he found the entry he needed. “There have been several reports,” he stated, ” of a young woman, in a state of undress, roaming the streets around the Chapel of St. Gilbert’s.”
“And the rest, young Stanley.”
Constable Rowan, paused, licking his lips.
“I’m waiting, Constable…”
“It is also reported,” continued Rowan, “that the young lady is question is…um…blue…”
“Blue, you say?”
Sergeant Webb harrumphed and sucked on his moustache. “Now, young Stanley,” he said, “it is my considered opinion, me being somewhat more experienced in these matters than yourself, that what we have here is a dollymop, so addled with drink, that she’s taken to a-roaming the streets in her undergarments – which would explain the perceived hue of her skin, what with the weather being somewhat inclement of late. However,” he paused significantly, “Inspector Neame is of the opinion that whilst my theory does have merit, there exists the possibility that these reports may be of something…Other. So, as duly appointed members of Her Majesty’s (God bless her) Metropolitan Police Force attached to the Black Museum, it behooves us to keep our eyes peeled.”
“Very witty, Sarge.” said Constable Rowan.
“Well, what with us being ‘Peelers’…keeping ’em peeled…”
Sergeant Webb gave Constable Rowan the eye. “Have you been reading them books again, Stanley?”
“Yes, Sarge…sorry, Sarge.”
Sergeant Webb looked up at the looming bulk of St. Gilbert’s, its spire pointing heavenwards like an admonishing finger, then felt his gaze being drawn inexorably to the lambent light spilling from the The Red Lion public house, just across the road. His eyes narrowed speculatively and, reaching a decision, he turned to his young subordinate.
“It occurs to me, Constable, that as all the reports have come from this area, the landlord of The Red Lion may be able to furnish me with some additional details…”
Me…, thought Constable Rowan, here it comes…
“So,” continued Sergeant Webb, “as the superior officer currently on the scene, it is my duty to put him to the question.” He straightened his jacket. “You, Constable Rowan, will continue to patrol the streets hereabouts, keeping your eyes open for anything that my be considered…unusual. Got your truncheon?” Rowan nodded, “Lamp? Whistle?” A further two nods. “Good lad. Now, should anything untoward occur, give a couple of blasts of your whistle and I shall come a-running.”
Constable Rowan sighed heavily as he watched the Sergeant stride purposefully across the street, to be greeted by a brief blast of light and laughter, before The Red Lion welcomed him into its warm and malty embrace. Silence once more reigned in the streets of Blackwell.
Well, not quite silence, as Rowan was certain he could hear, very faintly, the sound of sobbing. Opening the cover of his regulation issue lamp, he cast about until he could pinpoint where he believed the sound was coming from – beyond the railings surrounding St. Gilbert’s, somewhere within its grounds. He approached the gates and cautiously pushed one open, wincing as the creak of un-oiled hinges echoed in the still night air.
Stepping forward into the churchyard, Rowan cast his lamp about, trying to discern if the sobbing was still occurring or whether his entry to the grounds had stilled it. Furtive movement near the gnarled Oak drew his eye and he shone his lamp in that direction, taken out his whistle in his free hand, just in case. There appeared to be someone or something hiding in the darkest shadows cast by both the brooding Oak and the moss covered wall. Rowan approached cautiously, trying to catch the figure in the beam of his lamp.
“Hello?” he called, his voice shaking slightly, “This is the Police. Are you alright back there?”
He edged nervously forward, the light from his lamp preceding him across the ground, until it caught the now still feet of the figure standing in the shadows.
Rowan played the light upwards, his hand shaking ever so slightly, noting as he did so that this was definitely a woman, she was definitely not wearing very much in the way of outer garments and she was most definitely…blue. The warm yellow light of his lamp followed the curves upwards, dispelling the shadows that clung wisp-like around the young woman’s form until they fell upon her face. Her face was downcast, but as the light played across her delicate features, her face slowly rose and she locked gazes with the young Constable…
And in that moment, he was lost.