Chapter 1 – The Disappearance
“Bloody ‘ell Jones” roared the Inspector “Can’t you get rid of those two old crones? They seemed to have camped here. Don’t they realise how many unsolved serious crimes we have on our books at the moment and that I do just not have the men to look for a man, who may or may not be missing?” Sergeant Jones, standing at the door of the inspectors office held his ground “Well sir,” he began “They are very worried that some evil has befallen their brother, and they say they are totally dependent on him for all their needs. They have no resources of their own.”
“Don’t give me the sob stuff.” the Inspector shouted “I’ve told you to get rid of them. I don’t want to have to tell you again. Do what you have to do, but get rid.”
Jones left the office and made his way back to the interview room, where Woman Constable Wilks was listening sympathetically to the woes of the two spinster sisters, swathed in black and both sniffling into handkerchiefs. Wilks was the only woman on the Scotland Yard force, and Jones knew that Inspector Knott wanted rid of her, because he saw her as a disruptive influence in the office, but in this situation, it was clear to Jones that PJ was employing a very gentle feminine touch in a very difficult situation. He sat down next to Wilks and listened to the conversation, one which was boringly the same conversation they had had with the sisters, every day since they first came in 5 days ago, saying that their brother had disappeared and demanding that the police find him. Jones heaved a sigh. Much as he sympathised with their plight, he knew that Knott was right. They had 4 murders on their hands, the newspapers were demanding action, and his gut feeling that at least one of the murderers would murder again, the only question was when. But sitting back and watching Wilks, gave him an idea. There was no way that he could put PJ on the case by herself; she just lacked the experience, but with help – – – and his mind turned to a lady detective who did have some experience, but she was not with the police force. She called herself a ‘private consulting detective’. He left Wilks still listening to tales of woe and went back to the Inspector’s office. He put his head round the door, but before he had chance to say anything at all Knott roared at him “There has been another incident in Baker Street and it sounds serious. Get round there quick and see what’s happening.”
“Yes Sir. About those Spinsters.” He waited for Knott to explode again, then went on “I have an idea to get them off our hands. Why don’t we pass them on to Amelia Ecclestone? She has some experience in detection. We could second PJ to her, so it looked official, but it would not take up any of our resources on these murders.
” Brilliant, do what you want, but get over to Baker Street asap.”
Sergeant Jones returned to the interview room where Wilks was still listening patiently to the sisters droning on. He strode in and said in his best policeman’s voice. “I’m sorry, but you will have to leave. There has been an incident in Baker Street, possibly another murder and we have to go their straight away. Please don’t come tomorrow, wait at home and Woman Constable Wilks will call at your house to report progress. Stanley” he called over his shoulder to the desk sergeant, “See these ladies to their carriage. PJ get your hat you’re coming with me. I’ll tell you the plan on the way to Baker Street.” Once they were underway, Jones explained to Wilks his idea about using Amelia Ecclestone to deal with the spinsters and seconding her to give the investigation a semi-formal activity. This would release some of Scotland Yard’s resources to deal with more serious crimes. When they reached a point on their journey closest to Amelia’s home at No 1, Conaught Mews, Jones told Wilks to get out and go and explain to Ecclestone what they had in mind and whether she was willing to get involved. Jones last words were “Of course we will not be able to pay her fees. Please make sure she understands that.”
Wilks was doomed to failure in her quest to meet Amelia. The lady in question was not in. She was in the park pushing a pram, walking alongside her best friend Alice Winchester with a rather disgruntled nurse, whose job it usually was to push the pram and pander to the needs of its contents, a healthy Julian Winchester, trailing in the rear. It was a lovely day and Amelia was very pleased with being allowed to push the precious infant, even if only for a short while. They walked leisurely along the path beneath the trees and alongside the lake and it brought back some lovely memories for Amelia. She turned to Alice “Do you remember that when this baby was a just a lump in your stomach, and you were so desperate to get out of the house, we discarded our corsets and walked through the park at dusk swathed in huge opera capes?”
Alice laughed “We must have frightened to death anyone who saw us. If we had been three not two, we could have been taken for the Three Witches.”
“When shall we three meet again?” quoted Amelia “in thunder, lightening or in jail?”
“Oh you silly goose.” said Alice and gave Amelia a punch on the arm. “Hey that hurt,” retorted Amelia and aimed a punch at Alice, who easily eluded the blow. Alarmed, the nurse rushed up and took charge of the pram, while the two women aimed more blows at each other and collapsed into giggles. Under the stern eye of the nurse, who was harrumping away, (‘grown women fighting in a park, what unseemly behaviour and what an example to a young child, she was thinking to herself) They recovered their composure and continued their walk. however the altercation had awakened young Julian, who first began to grizzle, then to start crying. “Feeding time. We will have to go.” said Alice and after a loving hug between the two friends they made their separate ways home.
When Amelia arrived at her house, she learned that she had missed the visit of Woman Constable Wilks, who had left a note to say that she wished to speak to her on a matter of some importance and she would call round again at 2pm. As she took off her coat and hat, Amelia wondered what it was about. She was excited that it could be a case. Following the successful conclusion of the case concerning the deaths of her Guardians she had had only a couple of enquires which had turned out to be trivial, and when she had mentioned her charges, both people had withdrawn their request. She was disappointed because she thought that the large amount of publicity surrounding the case would attract some serious enquires, especially as hopes that Mr Sherlock Holmes would return had totally faded and the newspapers had moved on to other matters. She had some lunch and eagerly awaited the arrival of Wilks.
Woman Constable Wilks arrived promptly at 2 pm. She was clearly nervous and Amelia tried to put her at ease by offering her a glass of Madeira wine, which she gratefully accepted. Amelia sat down and leaned forward expectantly. Wilks cleared her throat and began “I have been asked by the Inspector to come and see if you are prepared to help Scotland Yard with a case. Five days ago two sisters turned up at the Yard to report that their brother had disappeared. He had not returned home the night before and they were anxious about him. I won’t go into too much detail at this stage, but they have come every day since for news, and when they came this morning they said they would come back this afternoon. We have a load of cases at the moment, and even today we were called to a nasty incident in Baker Street, which looks like murder. Knott has got very annoyed with the women and told Sergeant Jones to ‘deal with them’. Jones suggested to the Inspector that we ask you to take on the case on our behalf and he agreed. He asked me to come round and put it to you.”
“So” said Amelia in an irritated tone “Inspector Knott is asking me to take on a case, not because I am a good detective and could solve it, but just to take it off his hands. Well you can tell him from me he can keep his case and I’ll take over one of his juicy murders. I am insulted that he has even asked me.” Wilk’s face dropped and she looked devastated. “I, I never thought of it that way” and a tear formed in the corner of her eye. “You see they offered to second me to the case to work under your direction, and I was so looking forward to learn from you about how a detective works. I so want to be a detective, but every time I raised this, Knott said that it would never happen, that I was lucky to be in the police force at all and I may not last much longer.” Amelia could see that the floodgates of tears were about to open, and she interrupted “Come now, crying is no way for a police woman to act. Dry your tears” and she handed Wilks a handkerchief. Wilks sniffed and noisily blew her nose “I’m sorry miss” was all she could say. Amelia thought quickly. “I’ll tell you what, seeing that the Inspector is so overworked and has asked me to take on one of his cases, albeit what appears to be a rather dull and uninteresting one, I will do it.”
“Oh thank you so much, Miss” responded Wilks
“Say no more. once you have collected yourself, go off and tell the Inspector that I will be only too pleased to help and also that I welcome you support. How do we take the matter forward?”
“Thanks again Miss Ecclestone, you will not regret this. Sergeant Jones told the ladies that I would visit their home tomorrow morning to tell them of progress. He did not specify a time, but I imagine that if I do not get there early, they will turn up at the station again.”
“Well we can’t have that happening can we. I will come with you and we can take it from there. Where do they live?”
“They live in Richmond, so it will take some time.”
“Then let us say you will bring a carriage to pick me up at 9.30 and you can give me all the details of the case on the way.” Wilks agreed and having been fortified with another small glass of Madeira left to report the good news. She was feeling very excited about being involved in her first case as a detective, especially as she would be working for the only lady detective in London.
The next morning Amelia was waiting for the carriage bright and early. She had decided to ‘dress down’ wearing a blouse and skirt with a small jacket on top. Woman Constable Wilks was scrubbed up. Her uniform was smart. She had on hat and gloves and a bag containing her notepad and pencil. She was feeling very pleased with herself, this being her first case as a detective. Amelia began by saying “Perhaps you can put me in the picture as far as you know it. What are the names of the sisters and their brother?”
“The elder sister is called Rachael and the younger one Sarah. Their brother is called Robert and their surname is Garstang. I think the family came down to London from the north when their father got a job in a prestigious legal firm in the City. Following his education, Robert joined his father in the firm. The father reached ripe old age and died about 3 years ago, Robert inherited everything and the sisters were left with very little, which is why they are so worried about his disappearance. If he is dead, the money will be passed on to the nearest living relative, who they appear to think is quite distant, but they don’t know.”
“So the man who inherits could be our first suspect if there has been foul play, but I think our priority should be to find out what has happened to Robert. If he has disappeared of his own free will, we should not waste time trying to find out who abducted him. We have to try and find out who saw him last, so we have to trace his movements and for that we need to know how he spends his time when he goes out.”
“The sisters are exceptionally difficult to interview. Whatever the question, they return to how destitute they will be if he does not return”
“Well we will just have to be patient and smile a lot, because without information from them we are powerless to act.”
The house was in a row of well-to-do properties, without being too ostentatious. They descended from the carriage, mounted the steps and knocked at the door. They were welcomed by a venerable servant and shown into the parlour where the two sisters were sitting next to each other on a large settee. They welcomed the visitor and invited them to take refreshments. Wilks made the introductions “Miss Rachael, Miss Sarah, this is Amelia Ecclestone, a private consulting detective. Inspector Knott, my superior has invited her to help us with the case. As well as being an expert detective” she threw a glance at Amelia “she has a very sympathetic manner, and will be very circumspect in asking you questions. However, it is vital that you provide us with all the necessary information we need to bring your brother back safely. I have been seconded to assist her investigation and to give her back up if needed. Amelia! “she turned to face her, then got out her notebook and pencil. Amelia smiled “I know how important it is for you for Robert to return home” and continued hurriedly as the sisters were gearing up to launch into their story. “Just when was the last time you saw him and do you know where he was off to?”
They replied, twittering and interrupting each other, but finally settled on 6 days ago. “He went out to work. He only works two days a week. He doesn’t need to we are quite well off without, but he does insist. We want him to give it up so that he can spend more time with us, but he does insist. He is a lawyer; he used to be a good one” (implying that he was not a good one any more, but Amelia let that pass) ” and he works for a legal firm in the City Garstang, Garstang, Cabus, Winstanley and lots of other names we can’t remember. Yes he left at the usual time on that morning.” Amelia asked about what else he did when he went out, did he belong to any Clubs or suchlike?
“We don’t really know” but between them they came up with a Gentleman’s Club, a (very disreputable, they twittered) billiards’ club and the local Richmond tennis club. They did know the names of any of the clubs, and Amelia asked if she and Wilks could look at his room. His room was reasonably clean and tidy, showing a dedicated servant, rather than a tidy batchelor! Amelia and Wilks carried out a careful search and found membership cards for the Solomon Club in The Strand, and the Richmond Tennis Club although there was no information about the billiard club and nothing about his work. Amelia called a halt to search “I think we have enough to go on at the moment.” she told Wilks “Now we ought to return to the sisters and listen patiently to what they have to say. We have managed to get from them some of the information we want, and, I’m sorry, but I think its only fair if we give them a chance to unload their worries. We never know when we may have to return for more information and listening now will stand us in good stead in future” So they listened attentively for another half hour and as the sisters were beginning to run out of breath, said their ‘goodbyes’ and left.
On the way back in the carriage, they began to review the situation. They now had a number of leads. “I think first,” began Amelia, “We should get someone to track down Robert’s next of kin, even if only to rule him out of foul play. Then I think we should start with his Club. If he has any friends then we should be able to find out something there, then try the billiards’s club. There is bound to be some dirty dealings go on there, they have such a bad reputation, and leave the tennis club for the time being. As far as his work is concerned, it does not appear to be a large part of his life and if he is only working two days a week he is unlikely to be involved in anything serious.” Woman Constable Wilks was quite happy to leave this to Amelia. This was her first case and she was determined to learn as much as possible. From having nothing to go on, she was amazed that the sisters had given them so many avenues of investigation. It demonstrated that the patient approach used my Amelia has produced results, but then, Amelia did not have the time constraints which Scotland Yard was under. Amelia began again “I think its vital that we work as quickly as possible. After 6 days the trail must already be getting cold and we have not a moment to lose” (she suddenly realised that she was speaking in cliches!). “As well we must have a ‘Modus operandi’ ; method of working, ” she added, when she saw the enquiring look on Wilks’s face. “First, names, What is your Christian name? You are always referred to as W.C. Wilks when we meet.”
“Then if you agree, I will call you plain Jane.”
“That’s my nickname in the Office PJ, ‘plain Jane”
“Oh. I’m most awfully sorry. I just meant that I would like to call you Jane and not Wilks or W.C. Wilks, although in this role, you are more Detective Constable Wilks, rather than Woman Constable Wilks.” Relieved rather than insulted readily agreed. Amelia continued “I sorry if you were offended, but I so hate the way men call each other by their surnames, Holmes and Watson for example. Its so formal, and not very ladylike. Now as far as I am concerned, I would like you to call me Amelia. Some people try to shorten it to ‘Amy’ but as a child in India, I read a book about a very nasty little girl whose name was Amy Pond, and I have hated the name every since.
“Finally I wonder if you should get out of your police uniform. It may put people off.”
“I don’t have anything else suitable to wear”
“Then we must get you something. As time is of the essence and I must change if we are to visit the Solomon Club, let us stop off before we get home and buy you something suitable for a plain clothes Detective.”
Jane blushed. This was happening so quickly, but as Amelia had said, time was not on their side and they had to act as quickly as possible. “Alright then.” was all she could manage, and her thoughts turned to the wonderful clothes she had seen in the Emporium windows that she had never been able to afford.