My modest venue in Clerkenwell was located between a milliner and a printing shop. A small bricked block with hundreds upon thousands worth of pounds in gemstones and jewelry behind the casing of glass and drapes. A bell tingled lightly as I pushed the doors open. Through this opening was a world of riches. The glass counter featured some of the more contemporary pieces, brooches, necklaces, rings, cufflinks with scarabs and flowers, pendants and some chokers. I had everything from semi-precious stones at an affordable price and diamonds and fancies for the extravagant.
The key to a successful shop was among others, atmosphere. Customers who came in were whisked away into a lush, perfumed land where money was no object and there was tea besides. I had glass-inlayed closets with raw specimens of gemstones and an oriental rug thick enough to sleep on. The room smelled of smoked cedar and behind the shop was my private lab, the contents alone that could have me sent straight to Bedlam.
I took off my coat, hanging it on the rack in the back, and waited at the counter. Kenneth came in a while later while I was working on a necklace setting. For him, I managed to dredge a smile that felt somewhat genuine. Kenneth was an average man. He had a pleasant, non-descript face, not remarkably tall and slightly on the solid side. He had no talent for subterfuge and moved more on instinct than intellect.
“Hullo, Kenneth. Good day?”
“Horrid.” He said, hanging his hat on the rack. “There are some days when not even a good, cup of strong tea will lift your spirits. I don’t suppose you have some?” He said hopefully.
”I have water. And tea leaves. And a cup and a kettle – somewhere. I could try to brew you a cup.”
“No!” He yelped immediately. “I have yet to recover from your last attempt at brewing tea.”
“It was not as bad as that.”
“You put in curry powder because ‘the colour didn’t look right’.” He snorted heavily.
“It seemed to make sense at the time.”
“And you call yourself an Englishman.”
I chuckled. “I do have a flask of tea. Stafford made it. I believe it’s still warm.” I kept it handy for clients who didn’t know enough to accept my coffee instead.
“That would be fine, thank you.” He sat heavily down on the sofa, flailing a little when the soft cushion sank down. I added a splash of brandy and passed him the cup.
“Is something troubling you?”
“Oh, just…early this morning we found a boy”s body on a corner of Fleet Street. Horrible stuff – drew the crowd like birds to crumbs.” He sighed.
“Tell me about the boy.” I said soothingly, moving back behind the counter. He made himself comfortable, trusting me implicitly. He had horrible judgment in people.
“He looked to be about twelve or so, poor boy, but he’s likely quite a bit older. Lack of nourishment and all that. Whoever did it made a right mess of him. Throat slashed, signs of mutilation and his eyes were gouged out and that writing on the wall – See No Evil – now what does that mean?” He said, frustrated.
“Possibly referring to the boy? You did say his eyes were removed.” I said mildly.
“Yes, yes. But See No Evil – if he wants to prevent the boy from seeing evil, why mutilate the body? And he carved WHORE on the boy”s skin – truly inhumane.”
“So perhaps the Evil is the boy, and the murderer considers this performing a justice?”
“It makes more sense that way.” Kenneth said thoughtfully.
I gave him a lukewarm smile and twisted the gold clasp end. “Were you able to identify the boy?”
“No such luck. He must runs around the streets all day and suddenly, no one”s seen hide nor hair of him. It was the same with the first boy.”
”The first body?” I stilled, struggled to keep my voice carefully mild.
“Yes. Found near the harbor. The same type of mutilation, same cause of death, and the writing. There’s no doubt it was done by the same person.” He sighed heavily. “I bloody well hope this isn’t another Jack on our hands.”