I check the bushes while the constable talks. It doesn’t take long to find Ted. He lies beneath an elder, half hidden by dense branches, red hair muted by the brown leaf litter.
Nurse Bruton bustles forward with professional speed. She puts a hand either side of Ted’s head. “Help me.”
We lift him from his covert.
Ted groans. “For the love of God, have mercy.”
Nurse Bruton unscrews the thermos. “Drink this. Slowly.”
Water dribbles from Ted’s mouth and runs down the fiery beard beginning on his chin. “Jane.” He takes my hand. “I should’ve guessed.”
Constable Paradise takes out his notebook. “Mr. Levelle. Tell me what you were doing between six-thirty and midnight on March 24.”
"The 24th." Ted frowns. "See, I’m having trouble remembering. What’s special about that date, officer? Your birthday?"
Constable Paradise compresses his lips. “Connor O’Brien died that night. Where were you and what were you doing?”
"I told you before, idle chat gives work to the devil."
"Mr. Levelle. I will have to take your silence as obstruction of justice."
Ted pulls my hand to his cracked lips. Kisses my fingers.
Constable Paradise shifts uncomfortably, eyes fixed on his pad.
A faint smile appears on Ted’s face. “There’s a lady’s reputation at stake. Are you sure you want the details, sir, of where and what?”
The lead breaks on Constable Paradise’s pencil.
Ted chuckles and coughs up blood.
Lord preserve us from his wicked ways.
Constable Paradise moors the boat at the riverside garden of number 14. By the river lawn with its cement mixers is hidden by clumps of overgrown bushes.
Constable Paradise jumps ashore. He ties the boat to a tree and helps Nurse Bruton out. Then he holds out a hand to me. “If Ted Levelle is here, why didn’t you smoke him out earlier?”
"I wasn’t sure what Albert would do."
"You think Albert is the murderer?"
"I have a hunch Ted can tell us."
Constable Paradise releases my hand. “You can’t take a man to court on a hunch. I need cold, hard, evidence. Ted will tell us whatever he wants. As long as it gets him off the hook.”
Mr White’s Missing Wife
The name’s Jane. Jane Tenderloin. Don’t get chummy because of my name. My father was a butcher.
People say nothing happens in Bath. Quietest part of England. People are wrong. War’s just over. Boys coming home. The trouble they bring is my bread and butter.
Case in point: soldier comes home, finds his wife gone. Hires me to find her. I take the case and deposit. Then sit back and wait. I know this game. When the pubs chuck out in about two hours he’ll be back, he’ll be mad and he’ll want to give me the beating he thinks his wife deserves.
Why? She was splashed all over the papers.
So I fix a gin, not too much tonic, and wait. If he thinks us ladies sat on our backsides knitting and digging potatoes all war he’s about to find out he’s mistaken. I’ll make sure he finds out the hard way.
People decide who you are by your name. Tenderloin. It’s a tough one. If I had a shilling for every advance a fella made on my name, I’d be living in Landsdown getting a butler to fix me a gin. My client’s name is White. Shame his wife didn’t like it that way.
But that’s enough thinking. The door bell is jangling. My client is coming to serve me three courses: curses, threats, fists. I’ll take the first two but he’ll keep the dessert to himself. You’ll see.
Read the rest at: eNoir, Volume 01. No 06, May 2013
Cleveland Bridge, Bathwick, Bath, England - 1829
The bridge built to give greater access to the then new Bathwick estate. The little buildings either side are toll booths. The toll to cross the bridge was lifted in 1930.
Rising on the hill above the bridge you can see Camden Crescent, setting of part of Jane’s Austen’s Persuasion. The toll booth masks the fact that the crescent is incomplete, with more houses to the left than the right. The builders were forced to stop when the end house began to slip down the hill.
In the end I submit.
I meet Nurse Bruton outside the police station on Orange Grove.
Constable Paradise is in a high state of excitement. “Why didn’t you say anything, Jane, when we were at the house?”
“I was worried about Albert.”
“Well. He can’t get in the way. Obstruction of justice and all that. The DC is very excited. If I crack this case, it might be promotion.” He runs his hand through his thinning hair.
Nurse Bruton smiles. “I’ve brought my needle and thread, some sterilizer and bandages. And a bottle of water. If he’s been losing blood, he’ll be thirsty. And a nip of this.” She shows us a quarter bottle of brandy.
“Girl after my own heart.” Constable Paradise rubs his hands together. “We should be able to get a key to open up the house.”
“Actually, I thought we’d come at it from the river. That’s where he’ll be.”
We walk to the Edwardian boat house in Bathwick. Constable Paradise is on first name terms with the owner. The police have been commandeering boats for rescue in the flood. Nurse Bruton and I sit on the ornate bench while Constable Paradise rows away from Bathwick towards Cleveland Bridge.
“Bettie. Will you help me?”
We’re back outside the Mineral Hospital again.
“Help you with what?”
“I thought as much. I’m not a police woman. I’m a nurse.”
“That’s what I need. I think I know where Ted Levelle is—”
Nurse Bruton gasps.
“He’s injured. Needs patching up.”
Her face goes hard. “You hiding him?”
“No.” I tell her again what happened with Albert, the way he cut Ted. Ted begging. Albert knocking me down. “He’s still there, at the house. Hiding. But he needs help. And I think he’s the only one who can say what happened to Connor.”
“Of course he can. He did it.”
“I don’t think so. I think it’s—“ It seems so ridiculous I don’t want to say until Ted can confirm.
Nurse Bruton crosses her arms. “If there’s a confession to be made, the constable should be there to hear it.
I don’t want to get Constable Paradise involved. I know what he’s like when he’s made up his mind. “I don’t think Ted will talk with the constable around.”
“Bad luck to him, then. I won’t go without the constable.”
I give Elsie Johnny’s jar of sweets. His brother and sisters are all eyes. She hold the jar up high. “Not until the chores are done. And only if you’re good.”
The children silently walk indoors. Even the baby crawls without being asked.
“Ta, my lovely,” says Elsie. She closes the door with her foot.
Nurse Bruton smiles kindly at me. “You look done in, Jane. Let’s get you home.”
She doesn’t talk as we walk.
I wonder if she will help me. Well. Here’s hoping.
Elsie leans indoors. “Owen. It’s wash day.”
There is a general grumbling, then the men clump out.
Johnny’s dad traces his finger along Elsie’s chin. “Did the boy get back to school?”
"Maybe. He’ll be alright. You run along now."
He tiptoes over her big belly and plants a kiss on her lips before following his mates down the road.
Elsie shoos her children back into the house. “You helping today, Sylvia?”
"Course I am. Can’t have you lifting the tubs in your condition."
Sylvia is so small and slight I can’t imagine her helping. It looks as if Nurse Bruton thinks so too. “Can you manage?”
"Course I can." Sylvia rolls up her sleeves. Her brown arms are strong. She’s carried her fair share of babies and bathtubs and buckets throughout her life. "You take care of her.” She points her chin at me. “She’s the type what falls to pieces at the drop of a hat. Me, I’m a worker. A fixer."
Sylvia’s right. I am ready to drop. But what she’s said got me thinking. There was a problem on this street. Maybe it was Sylvia, not Ted, who fixed it.
There’s only one person who can say for certain: Ted Levelle. And I think I know where I can find him.
The children on Elsie’s skirt start to pester. I reckon at least one of them should be at school. Like Johnny. But with five to get out in the morning, something is bound to slip.
Elsie is what my mother wants for me. Just thinking about it makes me hurt inside.
The sound of Johnny’s front door reverberates down Sylvia’s hall. Johnny goes by with the stiff legged walk a beating gives you. His eyes are glassy. Face determined. The shouting starts again next door. Johnny bolts down the hill, not looking back.
Johnny’s mother comes through the door and stands on the step, two children holding her skirt, the baby in her arms. A fourth child crawls through her legs.
"Not so fast," chuckles Sylvia, catching the child before he scoops a palmfull of dirty water from the gutter. Sylvia puts the child to her hip. "She walking yet, Elsie?"
"Trying to." Johnny’s mother Elsie takes a cigarette from behind her ear and lights it up, craning her neck away from the baby grabbing after the match. She gives me a hard look. "Ain’t you the copper’s girl?"
"Huh," says Sylvia before I can answer. "She’s mixed up with Levelle."
That brings a smile out on Elsie’s tired face. She must have been pretty once. “At least it shows she got taste.”
Sylvia shakes her head. “You always had it for the bad boys, Elsie.”
"At least he’s a looker. You think your Connor was better?" There’s a stab in her voice.
"Connor was a good boy. He’s paid for his sins. God rest him." Sylvia’s eyelids quiver.
Elsie pats Sylvia’s arm. “I know, my lovely. I know.”