I had left Grimes to his own devices after our return from the asylum and then spent the afternoon in bed recovering my strength. I took some supper up to him that evening – a corned-beef hash cooked by Mrs Derricks, the wife of the lodging house manager – which, once he’d been roused, he’d consumed greedily, but, otherwise, I left him to himself. Frankly, I needed a little time for my mind to cogitate on all I’d seen and learned.
As darkness fell, I sat on my bed reading and reflecting on the fact that I was a prisoner of this house – at least until Grimes equipped me to look after myself on the streets. Fortunately, Mr Derricks had a ready supply of porter that he was willing to sell at a profit, and I had a little change from the sovereign Grimes had given me earlier in the day, so I sat and felt sorry for myself as I worked my way through my supply of alcohol.
I awoke with a heavy head the following morning, having fallen asleep fully clothed. My lips had stuck to the pillow and my throat was sore – caused, no doubt, by a combination of a stodgy supper followed by too much beer. With a grunt, I pulled myself up and swayed for a moment before groping for a matchbox to light the candle by my bed. This achieved, I found and used the chamberpot. I was a professional drinker and I’d only had four (or was it five?) bottles the previous night, so I didn’t fear a hangover, but I decided to tidy myself up a little and go in search of some coffee to bring my mind into focus.
I shaved, brushed down my shirt and sniffed my armpits. I’d forgotten to have my other shirt washed so there was no possibility of changing and I resorted to a sprinkle of cheap cologne to mask the smells of yesterday’s exertions. Someone knocked on the door just as I was about to leave to seek nourishment and I opened it to find Grimes standing there. He was his usual dishevelled self but radiated an energy that had been entirely absent since the night I rescued him.
“Ah, you’re up,” he said. “Good, let’s go grab a coffee and some grub. I’m starving.”
Grimes didn’t follow the other inmates towards the pantry when we reached the bottom of the stairs, but headed for the front door. “Come on,” he said, “we’ll have a bit of a treat.”
We stepped out into a typically dreary winter’s morning in London. I almost suggested we nip back upstairs for our coats, but Grimes ploughed off along Bow Road showing no signs he’d even noticed the wet cold. Fortunately, our destination was less than a hundred yards away and I sighed with relief as we shut the door of Micawber’s Coffee Shop and the fetid mist of the outside was replaced by a warm, welcoming and bitter aroma.
“Ah, Mr Grimes, welcome, welcome to my humble establishment.”
A tall man with a red face and outrageous cravat bustled towards us as soon as we were inside.
“Hello Micawber,” Grimes said. “This is my friend Mr Makepeace.”
The man shook my hand warmly and gestured towards a table that faced a brick-lined hearth. “Welcome to you also, Mr Makepeace. Any friend of Mr Grimes is a friend of mine. His enemies, however, well they would do well to avoid this place, for they would not wish to face the wrath of Micawber.”
We sat and I held my hands out to the fire, delighting as warmth spread through my palms. “Micawber?” I said as soon as he’d disappeared with our order. “As in …”
“Dickens? Yes indeed. Totally obsessed with the character. Fortunately for him, he has more business sense than his fictional model.”
“Isn’t that a bit …”
“Eccentric?” Grimes interrupted. “Sure, but, for all that, I trust him.”
The little shop was busy enough for there to be a general hubbub to shield our conversation and it became obvious that Micawber had placed us here, near the fire, so its crackling would give us further privacy.
Grimes sat back in his chair, enjoying the fire’s glow and, it seemed, relaxing to a degree I hadn’t seen before. His tight features loosened and he seemed to go from a man who was all hard edges and tension to a gentler, more approachable person.
Micawber returned carrying a tray that he deposited with a flourish on the table.
“That smells delicious!” I said as Micawber poured two cups of steaming liquid into white porcelain cups.
The shopkeeper smiled. “Ah, thank you Mr Makepeace. There is no finer coffee served in London, though I say it myself.”
“And no finings, neither,” Grimes added with a chuckle.
Micawber patting him on the shoulder as if they were sharing a private joke. “Neither is my coffee intimately associated with the herbaceous chicory or, heaven forbid, the humble carrot. And now, gentlemen, I shall attend to your provender.”
“So here’s the thing,” Grimes said, as Micawber retreated, “what happened to the other inmates?”
It took me a moment to understand what Grimes was saying, so sudden was the shift in his countenance. “Inmates?”
“The ones who didn’t get transferred to a new lock-up. The ones Valentina missed.”
“I’m sorry, Grimes, I don’t follow you. What makes you think they weren’t all transferred?”
Grimes reached into his dark blue jacket, pulled out the London Echo and laid it across the table, pushing our cups aside. The headline read,
Ripper strikes again.
I quickly scanned the story beneath. “This is dreadful, Grimes, but what has this to do with the asylum? ”
“That crime was no committed by Jack the Ripper, my dear Makepeace, of that you can be certain.”
I looked up from the paper. “Why do you say that?”
“Because the Ripper is dead.”
“What? How do you know?”
A grim smile spread across Grimes’ face. “Because I killed him.”
I sat in silence as the wheels in my mind turned frantically.
“We don’t have time for that story,” Grimes said as he leaned in close. “But, take it from me that Jack was not responsible for that crime and, in any case, the details are not right.”
“Then why do the papers say it was him?” I asked.
“Because they sell more copies that way. It suits them to pin it on the Ripper because any headline with his name in it is a licence to print money.”
I sipped on my coffee, barely aware that it was, indeed, excellent. “And you think one of the inmates did this?”
“I think it very likely. This has all the hallmarks of a vampire killing – the most obvious being the amount of blood.”
I cast my eyes over the copy again. “I see no mention of blood here. It seems the poor woman was opened up as if a surgeon had operated on her.”
“Oh, I wasn’t referring to the blood on the body, but rather its lack.”
“He had fed on her?”
Grimes nodded. “Precisely.”
Micawber chose that moment to return, sliding a plate under my nose. I leant away as the aroma of the black pudding and eggs turned my stomach.
“There is a problem?” Micawber asked, his face full of concern. “That’s the finest black pudding in London, that is.”
“I am sorry,” I said, downing a mouthful of coffee to bring me back to my senses. “I felt unwell for a moment but it has passed. I have been revived by your most excellent beverage.”
“I suppose you think that was funny,” I hissed at the chuckling Grimes as Micawber retreated again. “It was your idea to order black pudding and you timed your story about blood-sucking vampires perfectly.”
He tucked into his own black pudding with relish. “I’m sorry, old chap. There’s not much humour to be had in this job, not even of the, if you’ll forgive me, black variety.”
I tried the pudding and found that my appetite returned instantly, making it easy to concentrate on that rather than having any sort of conversation with Grimes.
“Now,” he said Micawber poured another cup of coffee for us both and removed our empty plates, replacing them with thick sliced buttered bread, “we must decide what to do. This is the only report so far, and it might therefore be that only one of them got away before Valentina’s people arrived to secure the scene.”
Grimes shook his head vigorously. “Oh no, that’s not his style at all. I don’t know for sure yet, but I guess he melted into the night. Maybe he took one or more of the others with him.”
“What do we do?”
A shadow passed across Grimes’ craggy face. “That’s the problem. I times past, I’d have called a meeting of our folk, but it looks as though it’s just you and I now.”
“It’s like I said, we were betrayed and, but for you, all would now be lost. London would be awash with mad vampires intent on ripping out jugulars and our precious peace would go up in smoke. As it is, only a few of them escaped, but they can still cause a lot of trouble. Peace is on the edge of a knife, my friend, and we are the blade.”
I pulled my jacket around me as we emerged from the coffee shop and back onto the streets of London. Grimes darted off into the crowd heading towards our lodgings and I squelched through the mud after him, eager to get back to the relative warmth of 215 Bow Road.
“Ah, Derricks,” Grimes said as I shut the front door on the milling wet crowds, “just the man I wanted to see.”
Derricks was the manager of the lodging house. A thick-set alcoholic who bulbous nose jutted out of an oversized head, Derricks peered nervously back at him from behind a small pair of thickly paned spectacles. His eyes darted between us like a pair of goldfish swimming in particularly greasy bowls.
“How can I help you, Mr Grimes. You are, as I’ve always said, my favourite tenant.”
Grimes grunted and gestured the bobbing man into the little sitting room at the front of the house. It was now half past eight and most of the residents were at work so the only occupant was an old man Derricks shooed away impatiently.
“Would you like some tea? I can get the girl to make it.” Derricks opened his mouth to shout a command but Grimes silenced him.
“We’ve just had breakfast,” he said. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong —”
The man bobbed obsequiously. “Oh, I very much doubt that, Mr Gr—”
Grimes banged his fist on the table. “I don’t have time for this! Now tell me, the upper floor that houses myself and Mr Makepeace —”
“My other best client. Born of a very noble family,” Derricks said, seemingly oblivious to the effect this was having on Grimes. “The black sheep, or so I hear. Me also, Mr Makepeace. We make a nice pair of black —”
A knife appeared at the throat of Derricks whose piggy eyes swivelled as if they could see through his chin. “Now be quiet,” Grimes said with savage restraint. “Your bedroom is also on our floor, is it not? Don’t speak, simply nod.”
Sweat dripped onto Grimes’ hand as Derricks did as he was told.
“I have a task to accomplish, and if I fail in that task it will go badly for the people of London, but especially you. I’m sure you know what I’m referring too.”
“I need more space and more privacy. I can’t have you coming and going at all hours.”
Nod. I suspected, however, that Derricks was thinking the same as I – it seemed a little rich to tell a man he couldn’t go where he pleased in his own house.
“You will move into the back sitting room – that will be your bedroom. You will arrange to have a door built to my specification on our landing – a door to which only I and Mr Makepeace will hold a key.”
The knife disappeared.
“Do you understand me?”
Derricks leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his jugular. “I will do as you say, of course. But I must ask the owners for their permission.”
“Open your hand. Go on, open it.”
The sweating man did as he was told and there, in his palm, sat a green gemstone.
“There,” Grimes said. “Will that pay for the work and leave enough to compensate you for the inconvenience?”
I saw the greed in the man’s face and knew the deal was sealed.
“I am sure I can make the arrangements,” Derricks said. “And I will also deal with the trustees. Dear me. Is this truly an emerald? It must be worth—”
Grimes grabbed Derricks’ arm. “More than the value of this house and everyone in it – measured in money at any rate. You may keep half of what is left once the expense of the changes I request have been met. And take care, my friend. I have exacting standards and will expect the very best.”
“Oh yes, Mr Grimes, I will do that indeed,” Derricks said, rolling the emerald over and over in his sweaty palm. “What do I do with the other half?”
Grimes looked across at me. “Put it to the account of Mr Makepeace. As you say, he is the son of a gentleman, it’s time he looked the part.”
“But why?” I stammered.
“There are places we need to go that only a gentleman can enter and I don’t think I will fit that mould, however well I dress. You, on the other hand, are born to it, so you shall be my eyes and ears when you go where I cannot. For now, however, I believe we must find a lady.”