Out of Hell

Book One of The Devane Files

Denyse Bridger

 

Chapter 1

London 1892

Whitechapel was disturbingly quiet as newly appointed Inspector, Michael Charles Devane walked the streets in contemplative solitude. His eyes missed nothing as he strolled, absorbed with the turmoil inside his head, yet acutely aware of all that was around him. It was instinctive, like so much else about his nature. His promotion had come at a difficult time in his career, his friend and mentor, Chief Inspector Fred Abberline had only retired weeks earlier, and Michael frequently wondered if it was Abberline’s influence that had tipped the scales in his favor when it came time for his Superintendent to consider this promotion. His career before Abberline’s friendship had certainly not indicated he would rise in the ranks to this level. He shivered against the sudden chill of memory, drawn inexorably back to the evening a few years ago when he had been recruited into Abberline’s elite H Division unit of investigators hunting the notorious killer who would become known as Jack The Ripper.

Devane had been a mediocre police officer, but several small cases that had baffled other investigators had been solved by his unorthodox and admittedly questionable methods. Like Fred Abberline, Michael Devane knew the district intimately, and he spent long periods of time actually living in Whitechapel. The locals trusted him. The prostitutes had laughingly befriended him in the first years of his adult life, and subsequently, the early days of his career with the police force. He had contacts that even Abberline didn’t have access to, and the then Inspector in charge of the ground forces, wanted Michael on his team. Strings had been pulled, and his transfer had been made in the space of days. If he’d known then what the events of the coming months would bring to his life, Devane might have chosen a more peaceful method for destruction of his mind, his emotional balance, and his life in general.

Mist curled around his feet; the thick, cottony clouds of fog that were uniquely London clinging to his pants with cloying wetness. His footsteps, lost in the swirl of sickly white on the cobble-stoned ground, sounded vaguely muffled. He pulled the collar of his overcoat a little higher and glanced around. There were still people brave enough to walk the streets, but fear lingered behind the boldness of the gazes that met his stare, then slid away too quickly. He shuddered as he spotted The Ten Bells tavern, and the chill of the night sank deeper into his being. Almost four years since the Ripper murders, but it might have been yesterday to many. It felt like yesterday to him. Every time there was a particularly messy murder, it was attributed to the infamous Ripper; and there had been several that did, indeed, look like the madman’s work. After all, the police had never caught the notorious Jack the Ripper. Had they? A great number of people blamed Chief Inspector Fred Abberline. Others were not so specific and targeted anybody who was even remotely associated with the nightmarish case. Few people knew the truth. It would always be that way, too, he knew, truth being subjective, and loyalties as eternally ambiguous as the evidence. Conspiracy theories had abounded at the time of the killings, and many more had been formulated and put forth since those grisly days in the latter half of 1888.

Devane’s sergeant, David Goodwin, chided him often for his penchant for inviting death, whether it was walking the Whitechapel streets, or caught in the limbo dream-world created by his continued use of opium. ‘Chasing the dragon’, as Goodwin, (and a few others), noted with his worry-tainted contempt of the practice. Devane knew the bursts of anger were born in concern, and he frequently ignored what another police inspector would have disciplined in his “junior”. That irony never ceased to bring a flicker of wry amusement to the younger man’s handsome features, and it did so now; Devane felt the telltale twitch of movement at his mouth—just beyond his conscious control.

A hand touched his arm, tugged less than gently, and he turned to look into the lascivious smile of a local whore. He saw a multitude of things in her pale eyes as they looked at each other, among them was the ever-present fear. Her gaze dropped for an instant as she took stock of him, a potential customer. His expression remained passive, and when her head rose to meet his stare a second time, she was apologetic.

“Beggin’ your pardon, sir,” she mumbled, and ran off before he could utter a word.

Inspector Devane was not typical of her customary clientele, in any way. He was young, exceptionally handsome, and dressed like a gentleman. His eyes were dark, intelligent, and if anyone peered too closely, the shadows of perpetual pain and deeply-rooted loss would become visible. Few people were permitted that privilege, of course.

Devane continued his interrupted walk, and eventually the worn sign of Mitre Street caught his attention. Again, the icy breath of past death caressed his insides. Just beyond the Street was Mitre Square and the ghost of Catharine Eddowes, Jack The Ripper’s fourth victim. He turned away, unwilling to go further in that direction. Abberline had been quick to see the value of his gift of near-clairvoyant insight, and had quickly given him the rare opportunity to be among his men on the streets. It had been a mixed blessing, indeed. He’d gained invaluable experience working with Abberline’s team, but the horrors he’d seen had never quite faded safely into vague oblivion.

The Ripper had been haunting him anew recently. Devane’s dream-vision had once again been filled with gore and terror. Not entirely unique in his experience, but the horror of the attacks, and the violence in the residue that remained with him throughout the day, was vividly reminiscent of the Ripper murders that had occurred over a period of several months. He knew that it was not the work of Jack The Ripper, yet something was drawing him back into that macabre nightmare world that had cost him a piece of his soul, as well as his faltering marriage, and then threatened his very sanity in ways about which he tried to avoid thinking.

His footsteps quickened slightly, and it took only a single heartbeat for him to recognize the reason for it; behind him, the sound of a carriage approaching, moving fast and with purpose. Pulling his thoughts inward, cloaking himself in cultivated control, Devane turned to face the nearing vehicle. Repressing his annoyance, he went to join Goodwin when the sergeant’s broad face appeared in the window and he beckoned.

“Good-evening, sir,” Goodwin said quietly, once Devane was seated next to him and he’d told the driver to continue onward to their destination.

“What is it this time, Sergeant?” Devane enquired, gazing outward, seeing nothing.

Goodwin winced at the resignation in the younger man’s strong, quiet voice. He didn’t really know what to say to Devane a great deal of the time now. Goodwin had worked with Devane for a number of years, and they’d become friends. But things had changed after the Ripper case. Not in overt ways, but the more subtle undercurrents had shifted into a murky grey area where he was no longer always certain of Devane’s dark genius. Fred Abberline had hinted it might happen, but Goodwin hadn’t believed it; he’d known Devane for such a long time, and his faith had been unshakable, until that terrible case. And, this new one was going to put more pressure on a personality that was fraught with edginess on the best of days.

“Sergeant Goodwin?”

Goodwin started visibly and tried to look away from the intensity of Devane’s expectant gaze. It was impossible. It always had been.

“There’s been a murder,” he imparted cautiously. Devane released him by turning to look out the window again, drinking in the night and its secrets.

“What of it?”

“It was messy, Inspector. They’re already whispering about The Ripper being back at work. Though that makes little enough sense in this case, since the victim is a man, not a Whitechapel bang-tail.”

Devane closed his eyes and leaned back in the safe confines of the jostling carriage. He was suddenly drifting into lethargy, tired beyond weariness. His head fell back and a hiss of breath escaped from between clenched teeth. Before he could hold back the images, blood spattered his mind’s eye and held him in the semi-consciousness of familiar dream-scapes. A scream, deafening yet soundless, split the silence inside his head. He turned, and a graceful, eerily beautiful arc of liquid fire sprayed upward, glistening drops of crimson life held suspended against the stark glow of gaslights. A sliver of silver glimmered, vanished, then returned again, covered in scarlet gloss. Then the screaming amplified and enveloped him for timeless seconds, until it slowly pulsed to a soft, steady heartbeat. Through the haze of red, a face tried to take form, and failed. Devane inwardly twisted away, eager to escape the marred beauty that pleaded with his tortured soul…

“Inspector?”

Goodwin’s concerned shout penetrated the fog, and banished the siren and her song. Devane nodded, opened his eyes, and peered out to look at the pale grandeur of a Kensington townhouse. Two uniformed constables flanked the massive double doors that were the entrance to the place, and Devane knew Goodwin would have two others positioned at the rear of the house as well. As he descended the steps and felt solid ground under his feet again, his equilibrium reasserted itself. Goodwin waited until he led the way, and they approached the house in resolute silence.

Before they had reached the landing at the top of the stairs, the huge doors swung open and an immaculately dressed, somber butler awaited them. They presented an incongruous pair, and the butler’s flickering gaze did a quick inventory of the two policemen. Goodwin was a big man, half a head taller than his companion, and twice his bulk. He was older, with a friendly, broad face that was deceptive about its owner’s perceptiveness. Sharp eyes belied the illusion of a cheerful bear of a man, and his stance was faintly protective as he stood next to the smaller man. Goodwin’s clothes were less stylishly cut and less expensive, as well. But there was no denying his imposing presence.

“This is Inspector Devane, Mr. Carstaires,” Goodwin said, apparently having already met the typically haughty servant.

The Inspector was a slender man, dressed in a deep midnight blue suit and pristine white shirt with black tie, the knot very slightly askew. He was pale, features fine and angular, very striking in quiet demeanor and possessed of a forceful personality that wasn’t evident until you met his startlingly dark eyes. He wasn’t six feet tall, yet this was the stronger and more dangerous of the two men, the butler realized instantly. Whatever Devane lacked in physical strength was more than compensated for by his quick, agile mind.

“Lady Bradshaw is waiting for you in the Library. The family physician has been sent for,” he added in explanation. “I will inform you upon his arrival.”

“I’ll need to see the body and the crime site first,” Devane inserted quietly. “Then the family.”

Carstaires digested the request, nodded slowly, then changed the direction they’d been going in and stopped at the foot of the long, curving staircase that dominated the huge foyer of the house.

“I believe Sergeant Goodwin can show you which room,” the butler said with a faintly questioning look at Goodwin. The sergeant smiled and nodded, and the expression turned to a soft chuckle as he indicated the stairs.

“Shall we, sir?”

* * * *

“What do you make of this, Inspector?” Goodwin asked as they stood in the blood-spattered bedroom on the third floor of the Bradshaw mansion. The body was still lying on the gore-encrusted bed, and the windows had been opened to permit some fresh air into the room.

“Whoever did this was angry,” Devane noted in his quiet fashion. “Very angry. And it was personal.” He reached out a hand to touch the sheets, and immediately felt the impact of violence and hatred. In his mind, he also witnessed the scarlet spray of blood that had gushed forth after the first wound was inflicted. Whether it was a lucky blow, or careful aim, he couldn’t readily discern, but the fact remained that Bradshaw had barely had time to realize he was in danger before a knife slashed his throat and hit the very vulnerable carotid artery. The pattern of spray dotted the wall above the bed and across it, telling Devane that Robert Bradshaw had been flung back by the force of the second attack, a series of hacking stabs that had ended with the knife being driven into his heart once he was prone on the bed. Devane drew his hand back and stepped away, breaking the physical and mental contact with the murder.

“Several of the servants have seen this, Inspector,” Goodwin apprised, moving aside to permit the photographers the room they needed to take pictures of the scene. Another constable was noting the precise details of the position of the body, occasionally glancing at Devane to confirm that he was listening, and approving of the notations being made.

“What do we know about Robert Bradshaw?” Devane asked.

“Very little at this stage, sir,” Goodwin answered.

“Excuse me, are you Inspector Devane?”

Devane nodded at the man who came into the room, black medical bag in hand.

“You’re the family physician?” He looked to be about fifty years old, had graying hair that brushed his collar, with moustache and beard of a similarly graying nature. His face was plain, but dark eyes were alert and clear with quick intelligence. He was level in height to Devane, and almost as slender in build. His clothes, once elegant and fashionable were now worn and showing signs of frayed edges.

“Yes. Carstaires sent me right up. Phillip Holmes,” the newcomer nodded and shook hands with Devane, then turned his attention to the body on the bed. “Messy, wasn’t it?” he commented in an undertone.

“How well did you know the victim, Doctor Holmes?” Devane questioned as the physician examined the various wounds.

“Not at all, really,” he answered when he stepped away and went to the washstand to rinse his hands of the residue of blood. “I’ve looked after Bethany, Mrs. Bradshaw, most of her life,” he explained quietly. “I was barely acquainted with Robert Bradshaw.”

“Will Mrs. Bradshaw be well enough to speak with us?” Devane wondered.

“Bethany Anne Bradshaw is a strong, willful young woman, gentlemen,” he smiled. “If she says she wants to talk to you, she is more than capable of doing so. It’s her father who’ll fight you on that point.”

“I’ll take that into consideration, Doctor,” Devane nodded, his smile very slight.

“Well, if that’s everything, gentlemen, I have living patients who need me.”

“When was he killed?” Devane asked as the doctor was leaving.

“I’d guess less than two hours ago, Inspector,” he replied.

“Thank you,” Devane said, and turned to his sergeant.

“Are you through, Inspector?”

Devane turned, and after a final, long look at the room, in which he memorized every detail of the scene, he nodded and left the bedchamber to allow them space to remove the corpse.

“Was the murder weapon found with the body?” Devane asked as they watched the body being taken from the room, wrapped in blankets.

“No, sir,” Goodwin replied. “There’s no sign of it, and I’ve had men searching the entire house since before you arrived. Davenshire was outraged, of course, but Mrs. Bradshaw gave us permission to look anywhere we deemed necessary.”

“She’s being very cooperative,” Devane noted with a tiny smile. It wasn’t often the case, especially among people to whom appearances were of paramount importance. A murder in the house was horrible enough, but to have the police coming and going was unthinkable. Devane had encountered the attitude and the disdain on numerous occasions before, the absence of it in this case was exceedingly welcome.

“Her husband’s just been murdered,” Goodwin remarked dryly, drawing his attention outward again. “Perhaps she liked him enough to want to know who might have done it?” he added with a kind of macabre irony.

Devane’s lips twitched into a quick smile, though he made no response to the observation.

* * * *

Devane cast a faintly amused glance at Goodwin as they were again led by the imperious butler, this time down a long, shadowed corridor, and into a spacious, yet cozy room. Books lined the walls in dark-stained wooden shelves. A massive desk dominated the corner closest to the room’s large, twin windows. A short distance from the desk there was a huge, ornate fireplace, with a crackling blaze warming the room and banishing the late-night chill. Two big, well-stuffed armchairs were positioned on either side of the hearth, and a small settee faced the great fireplace directly. It gave the illusion of being a room set within the library itself. Beside each chair was a small table and a lamp. At the moment, a tea cart stood between the two seats.

“Lady Bradshaw?”

Goodwin’s voice held such genuine deference, Devane’s attention flickered to him for an instant before he turned to look at the woman who rose from one of the two armchairs. She was little more than five feet tall, had light brown hair that held a tint of fire in the present lighting, and her eyes were the color of Chinese jade. Her features were soft and delicate, a face filled with gentleness, but also intelligence. Her mouth curved into a weak smile and she inclined her head in greeting before she spoke.

“Sergeant Goodwin,” she murmured, voice roughened with emotion, and contained tears. “Won’t you sit down, gentlemen?” She indicated the settee and the chair with a graceful motion of her hand.

“This is Inspector Devane, Mrs. Bradshaw,” Goodwin made the pronouncement by way of introduction this time, and Devane stepped forward to take Lady Bradshaw’s hand. He brought the shaking limb to his lips and kissed her chilled fingers gallantly, using the gesture and the opportunity to gauge her emotional control and response to what had happened in her home. The backlash of grief he’d expected was absent, all that resonated through the brief touch of their limbs was confusion and, oddly, relief.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lady Bradshaw,” he said quietly.

“Thank you, Inspector,” she sat and smiled again very slightly when he chose the seat across from her. “Would you care for some tea?” she asked a moment later, flustered for a moment by the perceived lapse in manners.

“No,” Devane declined with a shake of his head. “I’d like you to tell me what’s happened.” Her eyes widened, and she darted a glance at Goodwin, before facing Devane’s dark gaze again.

“You’ve not been told?” she asked the question with soft incredulity.

“I know your husband has been killed, madam,” Devane answered evenly. “I’d like you to tell me whatever you can about the circumstances.”

“My husband’s just been murdered, Mr. Devane. Quite brutally.” She twisted away, hid her reaction to voicing the words, then swung back to meet his expectant expression. “In our bed, Inspector!” She rose, suddenly unable to contain the tempest of feelings that wracked her body. She wrung her hands, willing composure that she, and no doubt they, knew was purely false. Her distress was tangible, and she appeared determined to retain some control over herself.

Devane watched her agitated pacing for a few contemplative minutes, sensing the constant rise and fall of the tidal waves of her confusion and despair. Her face was a mirror to every thought she had, though he doubted she’d ever been fully aware of it. He wondered, for a fleeting second, if her husband had seen her as clearly as he did just then. As clearly as he’d never been able to see his own wife, oddly enough.

“I am sorry, madam,” he finally offered it as a way to resume some form of speech, the silence having grown unbearably heavy and laden with tension.

She turned again, her eyes wide as she stared at him, attempting to focus and remain calm. The effort to direct her attention made her truly look at him for the first time since he’d entered the room, and the empathy that glimmered in his dark brown eyes suddenly offered her a lifeline in the sea of conflict that was threatening to drown her sanity. She took in his presence without conscious thought; seeing the fine clothes, the fashionably long sideburns, his neatly trimmed moustache and goatee, the slightly unruly waves of hair that matched his eyes so perfectly. He was pale, and there was a tiredness in his spirit, but his kindness and sharp mind were equally evident. Devane was a shockingly handsome man, she realized as the entire appraisal coalesced into a single thought.

“I’m afraid, Inspector,” she whispered, unable to prevent the words from escaping.

“Understandably so, Lady Bradshaw.”

She frowned at the name, irritated by his use of it.

“My name is Bethany Bradshaw, Inspector Devane,” she said firmly. “I am not ‘Lady’ anything, that affectation was my husband’s vanity. Like so much else in this house. My father is Albert Davenshire, and he is not a Lord or nobility of any kind, either.”

“My apology, Mrs. Bradshaw,” he replied softly, bowing his head to punctuate the statement.

Before she could speak a second time, the door to the library burst inward and an older man of approximately sixty, though he might be older, entered the room. A brief glance gave Devane the impression of perfect grooming, tall, thin, military bearing, and thick, grey hair that matched steel grey eyes. He wore a moustache, but no beard. Presently, his expression was thunderous, and he immediately fixed that anger on Devane.

“What in God’s name are you doing, sir?” he practically shouted the demand in his ire, and Devane had a brief glimpse of responding anger in Bethany Bradshaw. Both detectives rose automatically.

“Asking questions, Father,” she interjected instantly. “This is Inspector Devane, and Sergeant Goodwin.”

“Carstaires informed me of their arrival, Bethany,” he snapped. “I hardly expected to have them arrive at the front door, and sit down to tea.”

Goodwin’s annoyance was quickly masqued when Devane’s dark eyes shot a look of caution in his direction.

“I asked that they be shown into the library, Father,” she continued, casting a flickering gaze of apology toward Devane. “This is my house, I felt it only proper that I speak with them myself.”

“This is highly improper!” her father decreed vehemently.

“Gentlemen,” Bethany Bradshaw turned to face the policemen, her expression now carefully composed, one of perfect cordiality. “This is my father, Albert Davenshire.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” Devane stepped forward and proffered his hand, which Davenshire shook somewhat reluctantly. It was another of his deliberate breaches of protocol, and committed for the same reason as his previous action had, he wanted to get close enough to read something of Davenshire’s reactions that would be hidden from visible sight. Anger was the most dominant of the older man’s emotions, though the cause of it was not so easily read.

“Sir,” Goodwin inclined his head.

“The servants have been assembled in the dining room,” Davenshire informed them, tone cold and still clearly edged with irritation. “I assume you will be requiring them?”

Devane ignored the sarcasm.

“Mrs. Bradshaw,” he went to stand before her again, and lifted her hand to his lips briefly. “I hope to speak with you later.”

“I hardly think that will be necessary, Inspector,” Davenshire stated. “My daughter has just received a great shock. I would rather she not be put through further upset.”

“If you have any questions to ask of me, Inspector Devane,” Bethany said quietly, “please have Carstaires inform me. Good-night, gentlemen,” she swept from the room without further comment, but Devane felt the backlash of her anger as she passed her father.

Davenshire glowered at them for another instant, then left the room, shouting for Carstaires as he went. The butler arrived almost immediately and waited for the two policemen.

“Shall we see what the servants have to say?”

“Aye,” Goodwin sighed, “why not?” The big sergeant was at his heels and they were quickly shown to the dining room and its uneasy occupants.

After several hours with the household staff, individually and as a group, Devane was no more enlightened about the reason for the killing.

* * * *

“Do you think we have any likely suspects in that lot, Inspector?” Goodwin asked as they walked from the house.

Devane’s smile was wry, and he considered the query for several moments before shaking his head.

“The footman was a real piece of work,” Goodwin commented, his annoyance layering the gruff tone of his voice. “As well as a couple of the maids.”

Devane’s eyes lit with amusement. “Do you think one of the maids could have put a knife through Robert Bradshaw’s heart, Sergeant?” He wondered with a twitch of smile hovering on his lips.

“Not really, sir,” Goodwin smiled in response.

“What about Mr. Percival Vaughan?” Devane challenged speculatively.

“Arrogant and belligerent,” Goodwin agreed, “but he wasn’t the only one who was angry about having to answer our questions.”

“Which brings us back to a distinct shortage of suspects,” Devane mused. “I want you to do some research, Sergeant,” Devane requested when their hansom began to move away from the Bradshaw estate. “Find out everything you can about Bradshaw and Albert Davenshire.”

“And where will you be, Inspector,” Goodwin wondered aloud. “Or is that something I don’t really want to know?”

The allusion to the opium dens he frequented wasn’t missed, and Devane’s amused smile was also faintly ironic.

“I’m going home, Sergeant,” he replied, voice quiet. “I’m tired.”

“Yes sir,” Goodwin nodded, his relief eliciting a genuinely sweet smile from the younger Inspector. The rest of the journey was made in silence.

“I’ll see you later in the morning, David,” Devane said by way of leaving, and climbed from the cab when it jostled to a halt outside his flat. He glanced upward at the sky, saw the first faint traces of the grey dawn approaching, then looked at Goodwin again. “Meet me at the morgue, ten o’clock.”

 

 

To continue reading, close this window, click the ADD TO CART button, and checkout.