The Pursuit of Mrs. Pennyworth(3)

By: Callie Hutton

He made a mental note. Widow. Solid middle-class neighborhood. Her clothes reflected sufficient money and good taste.

“Go on.”

“A few days later there were more flowers, but again, no note.” She stared off into the distance, her voice lowering, her words disjointed. “Days followed with more flowers, a lovely plant, a box of chocolates, and an expensive handkerchief—”

“All with no identifying card?”

She nodded. “Last week, however, I received a single black rose, a blank card attached, with what appeared to be a drop of blood on it.” She patted her upper lip with her handkerchief once more and looked directly into his eyes. “This morning there was a dead bird on the steps.” She chewed her lips and shivered. “With a knife through its poor little body.”

What he had begun to think was merely a man too shy to approach an attractive woman, swiftly changed to something more sinister. “And still no note?”

She shook her head. “None.”

He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “Have you notified the Metropolitan Police?”

“Yes. I just came from there. They dismissed my concerns. The man at the desk suggested I had an admirer, whose attentions I should be enjoying.”

He shook his head in disgust. “And the bird? What did he make of that?”

“That it was merely some rough youths playing a trick. He then informed me that unless I lived in Whitechapel and plied my trade on the street”—she winced—“they had no time for me since they are busy with that horrible man committing all those murders of prostitutes.”

Bloody hell of a way for an officer of the law to speak to a woman. “Yes, the one the newspapers have given the moniker ‘Jack the Ripper’.”

She swallowed visibly and took another sip of tea, her hand shaking slightly. “I don’t know what to do. I have not reached the point where I am afraid to leave my home, but I must admit to having twinges of fear each time I open the front door.”

“Do you mind if I take some notes?”

“Not at all.” Her eyes followed him as he rose and retrieved the pen and pad from his desk. “Do you think you can help me, Mr. Baker?”

Prior to the incident with the woman Annabelle, that had led to his resignation from Scotland Yard, he would not have hesitated to help a woman in need. However, time and experience had taught him to go carefully with pretty women. Even though he’d tried many times to tell himself all women were not like Annabelle, he was cautious in his answer. “I am not sure. What is it, exactly, you wish me to do?”

“Find out who is doing this, and stop these things from coming to my front door.” Her voice rose, and her face flushed. “I apologize for shouting, but I am quite stressed.”

He looked down at the pad to give the poor woman a moment to compose herself. “Tell me, is there a pattern with the arrival of these items? For example, you mentioned the first flowers arrived the morning after you had attended an event. Is that true for the other packages? Or maybe after a specific type of event you attend on a regular basis? On certain days of the week, perhaps?”

“Yes. I have noticed they mostly arrive the morning after I have been to a social event. However, there have been times when nothing came the morning after.”

“Which means your tormentor might not have been at that event.”

“I thought of that and tried to remember who was not there, but so many of the events have people coming and going all night, it is hard to keep track.”

He nodded and made some notes. “Any particular type of event that did not have a package left the next morning? For example, the theater, a dinner party, garden party, etc.?”

She shook her head. “No, I don’t believe so.”

“Have you ever had a package arrive the morning after you’ve had an evening alone, at home?”

She considered for a minute. “No. I don’t believe so.”

Elliot continued to look down at the pad. “Is there a gentleman who has offered his attentions that you have spurned?”

Her body stiffened. “I am just coming out of mourning, Mr. Baker. Any gentleman who offered his attentions has been spurned.”

He nodded. Either she was a good actress, or she lived by a decent moral code. Until he knew her better, he opted for actress. “And yet you attend social events.”

If she saw any condemnation in his words, she didn’t show it. “Since I recently passed the anniversary of Mr. Pennyworth’s death, I have been accepting invitations, but only those of a more sedate nature. Smaller assemblies, no large balls or gatherings.”