By J. T. Seate


Ellis was a man capable of murder and mutilation Basham had little doubt. Further investigation confirmed his suspicions about a connection between the slain men and Mrs. Ellis's paramour. None other than the late Mr. Bowes had been subsidizing the Chief Inspector's estranged wife. Basham speculated the killing of several husbands would divert attention from the indiscreet actions of Jonathan Bowes. Although it all fit together, a presumption was not a certainty. The halls of justice seemed little interested in the connection between Ellis's wife and the recently deceased Mr. Bowes. Such an approach to the murders would not have been politically astute. Basham's accusations were called preposterous. Understandably, they didn't go over very well with Ellis either.

Nell Fitzwilly received only a short sentence by the judicial body presiding over her guilt or innocence. Nell may have been a trollop, but she was provided competent, well-paid representation. Her attorney managed to provide an alibi on the nights of the two murders and turn the incident with Mr. Pippin into no more than an empty-headed woman's attempt to scare a man into contemplation of his wayward behavior.

Had Jack the Ripper's gruesome savagery not reached a crescendo with his fifth killing the week Basham interceded on Mr. Pippin's behalf, a Times headline might have read, Jill the Ripper believed to be apprehended.

With the lack of evidence against Nell or anyone else, the case remained open but unsolved as did that of The Ripper murders. Basham carried on until tendering his retirement the following year. He moved to the countryside, away from upper-end polite society as well as lower-end squalor. During rare returns to the city, he never visited the lads at The Yard because he felt a bit of a dinosaur amidst the younger corps, and Ellis still presided over the investigative branch.

On one such visit, Basham found himself on Ellis's street, however. He could no longer present a threat and just maybe he could see something in Ellis's unofficial demeanor to confirm or deny his bias. As he was about to cross the street, a cloaked woman intervened. She entered an iron gate leading to Ellis's porch and tapped the doorknocker. Basham watched the woman enter and the door close behind her. Even in Basham's youth, he had never peeped into windows, but he acted upon a hunch. Making sure there wasn't a pair of Bobbies patrolling the street, he stole beyond the gate and up to a window.

The woman and man stood facing each other. He handed her an envelope. She opened it and removed several pound notes. After placing the envelope and its contents into her bag, she removed her cloak. Ellis took the woman by the arm and led her in the direction of a bedroom. The woman paused and glanced over her shoulder as if to make sure the front door was securely fastened. The brief glance gave Basham another chance to assess her appearance.

"By Jove," he breathed. The face surrounded by the fashionably cut frock belonged to a lady who appeared to be slumming — Patricia Bowes. Basham's original take on the case had been both right and wrong; wrong about how no one in the Knitting Society was capable of plotting a husband's death, and right on the idea that the cuckolded Mr. Ellis was behind it. Ellis, Nell, and Patricia, a trifecta of parlance.

Basham's head spun as he digested the puzzle pieces: Patricia Bowes might have gone to Ellis with the crushing news about his wife and her husband. A bargain was struck with a chief inspector to direct the investigation of dead men as he chose. Ellis would see to it that Bowes was murdered along with the other husbands at a time when The Yard has its hands full with The Ripper. "I'll place the old dog on it," Basham could almost hear Ellis saying. Mr. Bowes had once taken Ellis's wife, and now Ellis had taken Mr. Bowes's.

Turn about.

But what of the money exchange? There was something different about Mrs. Bowes since he had been in her home. She had the look and shape of a woman with more than herself to concern her, a woman who was within a few months of giving birth. The couple entered the bedroom and out of Basham's sight which was just as well. He had no desire to view the intimacies of a man and a woman. Whether Ellis was paying Patricia for her silence and her situation, or Patricia was providing a service to keep the Chief Inspector quiet was of little consequence. The partners-in-crime needed each other for reasons known only to themselves.

Bringing new allegations against Ellis would have proved as fruitless as the first attempt, so Basham returned to the country carrying a knowledge that would follow him to his grave. Like The Ripper case, Basham's would officially remain in perpetuity, but with little chance of arrests short of a quilt-ridden confession.

* * *

A month later, Basham picked up a newspaper possessing a shocking headline that led to one final trip to London that very afternoon. This time he got in touch with another detective he had once worked with.

Jamison Breeding accompanied Basham to a café. They found a booth in the corner where they could talk in relative privacy. The barmaid set two grogs on the table and disappeared.

"Tell me about the murders," Basham said.

"Well, Inspector, The Yard was anxious to get on the case, considering who the victims were. The bodies were found when Chief Inspector Ellis didn't report. One of the Bobbies told me they were coitus morti, meaning — "

"I understand the meaning, Detective."

"The lovers, if that's what they was, were slain in bed, one bullet through each skull."

Understandably, authorities would furiously work to keep the details of a crime involving a chief inspector and the widow of a not-too-distant murder victim under wraps. Having one of The Yard's own involved in such a scandalous tryst didn't qualify as the best of times.

"A small caliber pistol was used," Breeding continued, "a weapon a woman might carry."

Another piece of Basham's puzzle fell into place. "Was the woman —"

"Aye, about six months along she was." Breeding took a healthy sip of ale and watched Basham as he ruminated about the facts.

"A passionate response to an untenable situation."

"You were in charge of the Hatch/Bowes case. Who suffered the most among the survivors?"

Basham thought it through. Mrs. Hatch would remain comfortable enough with her furniture and art from the continuing proceeds of her husband's scribbling. His books were more popular now than when he was alive. The unfortunate Mrs. Bowes had died in the arms of Chief Inspector Ellis. Nell Fitzwilly. She'd served time for minor charges then left London, it seemed. No discernable reason to bite the hand that helped in her flight to freedom.

Killings were usually stark, brutal affairs, but this one had the whiff of propriety. Perhaps Basham felt that way because the scene of the crime was a fashionable lodging rather than a rat-infested tenement. But murder was murder.

Then he understood. It hit him like the light of clarity that shone upon him in the Whitechapel pub. Who had lost not only their benefactor, but also their lover? Someone else may have watched Patricia Bowes traipse to Ellis's home and captured the drama playing out beyond the window as money was exchanged, money she needed more than the woman within who had first shared Jonathan and then her husband. The torment would have been too much.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned indeed, Basham mused.

The flamboyant Mr. Bowes had taken Ellis's place until being neutered, post mortem, for his indulgence. Without comfort or finances, Mrs. Ellis took her revenge. There also could have been a healthy pension. Unfortunately for Mrs. Ellis, she did not possess the shrewd mind of the Knitting Society ladies, or the backing of a high-ranking officer to manage a cover-up.

The insight twinkling in Basham's eyes was as plain as the nose on his face. "Whether saints or sinners, death doesn't discriminate."

"Aye. Everything evens out in the end," Breeding added.

Basham nodded. "Turn about."

Inevitably, the conversation turned to The Ripper murders. "They'll never catch the bloke," Breeding said. "I'll wager he'll find another city and continue to murder his whores, judging by the last one."

"Nothing would surprise me, Detective. I'm an old horse out to pasture and have seen too much carnage for one set of eyes."

"You don't fool me, Basham. Once an inspector, always an inspector. You're here, aren't you?" Breeding chuckled and finished his ale.

"Aye, that I am. Habits of thirty years die hard."

Basham thought about both series of killings. Truth be told, humanity reveled in men that committed macabre atrocities. They were the repositories for all that is taboo in the "civilized" world. Basham lifted his tankard and drank down its contents, anxious to return to the relative peace of rural England and allow society to stagger down its frightening path without his influence.

In Whitechapel, life continued after the spate of parallel murders, but it remained a place where people made harrowing choices. For some, it proved to be their final choice.

From the romantic to the humorous to the macabre, J. T. Seate's publishing credits include six novels/novellas, a dozen one-author anthologies, and more than two hundred short stories and memoirs, but he's always looking for something different at which to try his hand.

Copyright 2012 J. T. Seate. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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