The Hidden Battle for London Town

Ada prologue. Turn and turn about.

Ada Carson flailed and thrashed as she was carried out the backdoor of the Brittania Theatre.  It was doubtful she would have been much an imposition to Bob Crachit; he was built like an ox and was strong enough to move a prop carriage on his own.  The fact that Masters Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge were helping was pure overkill.  The trio flung her into the alley floor like a bag of trash.

“Are you lot daft!”  She screeched at the theatre’s masters whose crony now flanked them, “You can’t replace me with that sow Selina.  I’m the best actress you have!  She can’t remember the simplest lines and she reads them like a stuttering moron!”

“Oh, you’re a fine hand at memorizing lines and spitting them out on stage.  You even put real feeling into it.”  The elderly miser Ebenezer Scrooge sneered down at her as she lay sprawled on the alley floor.  He thrust his cane at her pointing to emphasize his speech.  “But that isn’t what theatres do you stupid twit.  A play, the stage, is merely a glorified advertisement.  Showing off a product for a hungry crowd.  Ticket sales are a mere pittance of the money I make pimping out my ‘actors’.  You my dear just don’t have a face to whet the appetite.  Selina now, she stutters her lines and is barely smart enough to dress herself in the morning, but her ass nets me fifteen pounds a night.  I’m not certain you made that in the last month.  Goodbye Miss Carson, go find a street corner to hawk what few wares you have.” 

She wanted to snarl, to scream, to hurl every vile word she knew, to stab him with the knife she kept hidden beneath her skirts.  But none of those would let her keep working in the theatre, and acting was her life.  So she changed tactics.  She crawled forward like a wretch before some ancient king and donned a mask of desperation.  She grasped the edges of his long coat and kissed his boots “Please, mercy Masters!  Don’t cast me out.  I’ll mop the floors, do the books, sew the costumes, take tickets, anything!  The theatre is my life Master Scrooge.”  She made tears stream down her cheeks and turned her voice to a warbling wail.    

Bob Crachit was at his heart a kind soul and he looked away from her display.  His worn hands twisting his old hat near to breaking, but he kept his silence.  Jacob Marley wasn’t so merciful.  He had a heart colder than a dead man and the only thing he gave her was a boot to the head.  Planting her face firmly in the cold cobblestone street. 

“Begone.”  Scrooge said with an air of finality.  Lots of finality.  The kind of finality that could be spread to those who doubted the finality of it.  With a twirl of his long coat, which he probably thought looked dramatic but Ada mentally critiqued as pointless theatrics, the trio departed into the theatre, slamming the door in her face and leaving her to pick herself up and exit the alley with what little dignity she could muster.

London’s east side was a strange place.  The boil on the arse of the world’s greatest city.  The cancer gnawing at the empire…home.  Still, walk down the right back alley and you could find anything here.  Strange and exotic goods from the very corners of the empire.  People from the distant Ming courts, hindu and muslim savages, American barabarians from their ferocious western frontier, occultists and archaeologists fresh from the tombs of ancient Egypt, wild eyed men hawking the latest gadgets and doo hickeys, explorers on respite from the unknown Moorish lands of the African interior.  Here, the highest lords of England interacted with the lowest of the low and the strangest of the strange.  Anything, anyone, could be found with enough searching.  But for all the bizarre and wondrous things, the most common ware was the ancient vocation of flesh.  Every corner from the Thames to the river Lea boasted a girl or two in their scarlet uniforms.  Tonight, if one could find the right alley, it was even possible to find an unknowing daughter of ancient Jove peddling that most primeval trade.

“Show you a good time?” She asked a man striding down the street.  Tall with a clean shaven beard.  He had the hard, judging eyes of a high born who knew how to be ruthless when he had to be.  A soldier maybe?  “Show you a good time?” She asked again as he kept walking, a quiet whore would never get any takers.  Not in Whitechapel.  The competition was just too fierce.  The man looked her up and down and their seemed to be some flair of recognition in his eyes… then he looked away and kept walking.  “1/2 price!  A pair of shillings!”  She called after him, “I’ll bang your mash better than any of those Irish sluts up in Shepard’s Bush for ½ the price.  1/3 the price!”  He kept walking.  “Fucking queer!  I bite my thumb at you!”  She taunted hoping he would double back to prove his manhood.  No such luck.

She gave a sigh, some evening this was turning out to be.  Fired again.  Not that Scrooge or Marley really meant it.  She just had to earn her keep is all.  If she could get a few pounds together quick enough they’d forget about her…underwhelming… after curtain profits.  They’d re-hire her so fast it would be like she never left.  

She jerked back as a hand grabbed her, pulling her roughly into a cramped alley and slammed her against a wall.  She fumbled for her knife and sucked in air for a scream.  Only to stifle it when she recognized the rat faced man who grappled her.  “Bloody hell Inspector, I thought you was the Ripper come for me.”  She played up the accent of an uneducated East Ender and sagged against the wall as the dark eyed member of the Yard loosed his grip on her. 

“So what was your scheme for that poor fellow?  Going to lure him back here and use that little pecker of yours.”  He scowled at her pointing at her knife.

“Easy,” she said holding up her hands in a non-threatening manner.  “I was doing honest work I was.  Nothin wrong with an honest bit of work.”

“Honest work?  Is that what you call what happened to the Wiggins boy?  Or that American Pharmacist MacGowan?”

She gave him a nasty grin.  “I don’t know nothin about a Wiggins boy, and that MacGowan fellow, I didn’t do nothin he didn’t pay for, but I did hear this nasty rumor that he was tellin young girls that ridding his… uh, pardoning me officer, that his little pork sword would give them abortions.  Got what he had comin if you ask me.”  That orphan boy Wiggins had made the last mistake of his life when he broke into her cramped little flat.  MacGowan well… that had been a professional disagreement she’d resolved for Mister Scrooge.  Honestly if some bint was stupid enough to believe his story then she deserved Doc Mac’s special abortion package.          

“Friendly warning Carson, the Yard is watching you.  You should get home, and enjoy the little time you have left until I throw you in a cell.  I don’t know how, or when, but I’ll find something,” He leaned in, his rank breath was hot on her face and had just a hint of cheap bear, “and then it’s the cells for you.”

“I expect you’ll do what you always do Inspector,” she dropped her lowborn accent and switched to match his own slightly rural one. She moved her face so close to his that their noses nearly touched. “Call Sherlock Holmes” she whispered. 

He jerked back like he’d been punched by a swarthy moor.  She laughed, a wild victorious laugh.  “You’ve got nothing you third rate bobby.  Nothing.  Now-” Pain exploded across her cheek, knocking her spinning to the ground.  She lay on the dank cheaply paved stones, one hand grasping her cheek, looking up in surprise.  Lestrade stood there, his hand slowly dropping to his side from the overwhelming slap he unleashed.  His mustache quivered and his shoulders shook in rage.

“How dare you.” He spat, the glob barely missing her. 

“The, bloody, hell, Inspector,” She stretched each word out, slowly rising to her feet.  “You don’t get to just beat on me.  There are rules.”

“Rules?  What do you care about rules?  You’re a murderer.  A thief.  A whore.  But this, mocking Sherlock Holmes, not a month dead?  How dare you.  How DARE you.”

“What’s the matter?  It’s not like he’s got a grave.  You aren’t even enough of a detective to find his body.”

He raised a hand again and she turned her unblemished cheek toward him. “Please Sir, I want some more.”  For a moment he held his hand raised and she thought he really was going to let fly.  She forced herself not to close her eyes.  His hand lowered.

“Had an orphan say that to me before I put the greedy little prick over my knee and taught him some manners,” She taunted before the raging officer.  “Guess I’m made of sterner stuff than you.  Now get out of my alley and off my corner, I’ve got work to do tonight.”

For a moment he simply shook with a quiet hate.  Then a most unusual expression came over his face, almost smug, like he thought he’d won something.  She didn’t like it.

“Work?” He asked.

“Yeah, work.  Now bugger off.” 

Slowly he reached into his belt and pulled out a shilling.  For a second she was confused.  Then she snorted.  “Ha you think I’d let you have me for money?  It’ll be a cold day in-” three shillings, “hell before that happens,” five shillings, “I wouldn’t,” seven shillings, “if you offered,” nine shillings, “to let me bathe in gold,” a pound, “So bugger off.”  A pound with shillings on top. 

He rolled the money in his hand.  Shuffling the shillings about his palm with a thumb.  The coins gently scraping against each other as the slid about.  She bit her lip.  He had more money in his palm than she’d made in three days. 

“I guess you are made of sterner stuff.”  He said, his hand, his shilling covered hand, moved back toward his wallet. 

“Wait!” She snapped, her pride surrendering to practical concerns.  Lestrade didn’t even grin but his eyes said he knew he’d won this round. 

“Gregson’ll have a laugh when I tell him it’s snowing in hell.  3 shillings,” He said, “I hear that’s the going rate for an English sow.”

“You’ll give me that pound and a half in your hand.”  She demanded.  He rolled his shoulders and turned to walk away.

“1 pound!” she called, seething inside at this humiliation.

“5 shillings.”  He said.

“11.” She countered. 

He hemmed and hawed carefully examine his wallet.

“9 shillings,” she said, “I won’t go lower, try that walk away routine again if you don’t believe me.”

  He meticulously counted out the nine shillings then dropped them onto the ground.  She glared at him.

“Arse.”  She said, bending over to pick them up.  She didn’t get the chance.

“My money!”  She screeched at him as he shoved her against the wall.  Using the building to hold her up he put her legs over his arms, hoisting her completely off the ground.  Her skirts pressed up around her middle leaving her bare legs to dangle behind him in the cold London air.

  There was nothing gentle about their coupling.  They didn’t even maintain the cordial disinterest most johns and prostitutes adopted.  He bashed her slender back against the stone wall again and again and again. The tiny alley echoed with the SMACK! SMACK! SMACK!  Of flesh hitting flesh and her ass slapping against the stone.  They screamed vile and hateful things at each other.

“Whore, Tart, Criminal, Wretch! Whitechapel Sow!”  Lestrade screamed into her ear.

“Knave, rascal, eater of broken meats, whoreson!” She screeched back, only slightly altering bits of King Lear, “you one-trunk inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a … beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch!”

But while Lestrade was busy, Ada was hectically scheming.  For all the humiliation this was going to cause her, Lestrade would never let her live this down; it was also a golden opportunity.  Slowly she finagled a hand under his shirt and pulled forth his pocket watch.  Examining it over his shoulder.  A fantastic piece, likely an heirloom.  But old, probably a little imprecise.  She wagered he had to wind it every morning and reset it to keep it on time.  She’d have smiled if she wasn’t busy screaming obscenities about Lestrade’s ancestors’ habit of ill relations with Irish sheep.  Gently she wound the thing forward fifteen minutes.  That would be plenty of time.                  

            After he finished he didn’t set her down gently or give her time to find her feet.  He just dropped her and scrambled to get his pants back on.  She was almost impressed.  She’d seen a lot of men race to put on their pants and Lestrade put most of them to shame.  Ada was made of sterner stuff.  She scrambled for the shillings before worrying about her dignity. 

            He started to leave now that his rage was giving way to a healthy dose of what she liked to call the ‘oh lord I can’t believe I just had sex with a prostitute’ blues. 

            “Lestrade,” She called, deliberately making her voice brusque and all business.  “Do you have the time?”

            He pulled out the watch she’d stuffed back in his pocket and mumbled a gruff “10:30” before beating a hasty retreat.  Ada made her own exit as well.  But not toward home.  Lestrade gave her the opportunity for a very special appointment. 

            She all but sprinted down the Whitechapel streets.  She took a shortcut through the Rabbit Hole, ran past a cockney pub, finally scampering up the side stairs on a stain of a tenement.  She jimmied open a window she knew didn’t lock.  Covered a hallway and picked a door lock in ten short minutes. 

Stealthily crept into the flat. 

“Hello Selina.”  Ada said, smiling wickedly.  Scrooge was right, the girl was lovely.  Very symmetrical features with long curly hair and full lips.  Only her Jewess nose kept her from making her way to a far better stage than Scrooge could offer.

“Ada?  What are you doing in my flat?  Is something…”  She may have been stupid, but it didn’t take a genius to glean that someone breaking into your apartment and holding a knife wasn’t there to give you a cake.

“Hey! Help, help, help!” Selina called scrambling back over her furniture.  Ada chased her, knife gleaming in her hand. 

“How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!” Ada cried stabbing the role stealing bint in the abdomen.  The woman’s eyes were wide, blood spilling from the wound and running slick over Ada’s fingers.

“Oh!  I’ve been killed.”  Selina mumbled in shock, falling over as her legs gave out.

“No!  The line’s ‘Oh, Now I am slain!  God damn it Polonius!”  Ada screamed.  Her satisfaction fleeing as the spirit of vengeance grasped her again.  “You!  Useless!  Twit!”  Ada stabbed again.  And again.  And rather a few more agains before fleeing into the night.

            Lestrade and Gregson stood over the victim.  Several uniformed officers were canvasing the scene, knocking on doors and trying to find a witness.  Pointless of course.  No one ever heard anything in Whitechapel.  They saw even less.  Another man knelt over the body.  Professionally dressed.  Sharp.  A military man.  But also a doctor.

            “I appreciate you coming out Dr. Watson, the Yard wouldn’t send a doctor for hours yet.” Lestrade mumbled. 

            “Do you have a time of death?” Gregson pointedly asked.

            “I need a few minutes.”  The doctor said with the air of a man stoically enduring his grief and making every effort to find something, anything, else to do but sit at home.

            “Her name’s Selina.”  Lestrade said, “She’s a who-.  She was an actress at the Brittania Theatre.  Not a very good one mind.”

             “The Brittania?  Isn’t that Scrooge’s place where the Carson girl works?”  Gregson asked, mentally flipping through his active case files.

            “It is.”

            “Think Scrooge had her get rid of this one for him?”  Gregson asked.

            Lestrade gave a nod.  “Worth asking the old man about at least.” 

            “Based on the blood loss and stiffness of the body,” The doctor said without aplomb, “she died somewhere between ten and ten thirty.”  

            Lestrade stiffened.  “10:30?”  he asked with a cringe.  The doctor nodded, and Gregson gave him a look.

            “It wasn’t Carson.  She has an alibi.”        



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