The morning was cold and the fog was barely burning off as the wan sun struggled to push through a blanket of clouds. A middle-aged man, bowler hat, inexpensive suit, was walking across a patch of wasteland. In one hand he held a piece of paper and in the other a pipe from which he took deep drags. He came to a halt just before a younger looking man, also wearing a suit.
“Another one, Symonds?” said the older man.
“Yes, Inspector Dawlish,” said the Symonds, “just like the others.”
“The same…” started Dawlish, pointing to his neck.
“Indeed, let me show you,” said Symonds and indicated ahead. They walked off together and shortly came to the body of a young girl. A single constable was standing nearby, guarding the body, although it seemed the area was abandoned. The ground was covered by rubbish and effluence and a pungent, animal odour permeated through the fog. Dawlish looked down at the body and grunted. He bent down to examine it and took a pen from his jacket. The girl was dressed modestly with an attempt at the modern style. Dawlish pulled back the collar and saw what he was expecting. Two puncture marks. He looked at the girl’s face and noted how pale she looked. He stood back up and had to steady himself as the blood rushed to his head.
“Was she… like the others also in… temperament,” said Dawlish.
“I’m making enquiries,” said Symonds. “I believe she worked as a governess. I imagine I’ll know more when I speak to the family.”
“A bloody waste,” said Dawlish, looking down, “and we’re no further to finding the swine. I presume no witnesses again?”
“That at least is different,” said Symonds. “Although I don’t think our witness will be terribly helpful. He’s over here by this building.”
“Well, it’s something,” said Dawlish and the two men walked towards where Symonds had indicated.
“Inspector Dawlish,” said Symonds, “we need help with this. We need someone with specialist skills. It’s one a week now.”
“I’m aware of that,” said Dawlish, “but our best man’s away. In Switzerland, apparently.”
“There is this,” said Symonds, producing a copy of the Times and showing Dawlish a page.
“Washing taken in, enquire Miss Scrote, Cheapside?” said Dawlish.
“No,” said Symonds, “this other one.”
Dawlish read the paper then grunted.
“We don’t know that we need that sort of thing,” he said. “This could just be some fiend of a man. There might be a rational explanation.”
The men came to a pile of rags against the wall. Dawlish looked puzzled and Symonds leant down and spoke slowly to the pile.
“Mr Fringebucket? The inspector is here now. He would like to hear what you told me.”
The rags moved and roiled and a head poked out the top. The aging man’s eyes looked around wildly and he blinked and stared at the men. He cracked something like a smile although most of his teeth were missing. His skin was riven by marks of disease or violence.
“You want to know about the girl?” said Fringebucket.
“Yes,” said Symonds, “please, just as you told me.”
“You forgot already?” asked Fringebucket, looking confused.
“No, Mr Fringebucket, I just want you to explain to the Inspector.”
Fringebucket shrugged then started his tale.
“She come from over there, see, with this other one. That one must be, oh, six foot, maybe taller. So they walks over together and I just think, maybe they’re sweethearts or something. Then I was sure, cos he leans over her. Leans like he’s kissing her. And she leans into him, see… like she likes being kissed. A bit bold in public, I thinks, but then he steps back, and she falls to the ground. Then he turns and walks away. Not runs, walks.”
“His face…” said Dawlish. “Did you see the man’s face?”
“Oh, I seen his face, but he weren’t no man. He weren’t nothing living at all. He were white as milk, white as bone. No he weren’t a man. He were Death! It was Death that walked with her, Death that kissed her and Death that took her life!”
There was a sudden crack of thunder and rain started to fall. The two policemen looked at the newspaper that was rapidly getting sodden. Dawlish looked up at Symonds and nodded.
“Jennings and Jennings it is then.”