Last night's beat

It felt like one of the coldest nights he had ever experienced with that sense of stillness, the timeless quality one sometimes senses on a frosted, silent night. It was silent, very silent, not one sound issued from any direction. No iron of horses shoe on cobble, no rattle of wheel and no human voices. Sergeant Dunn stood pondering his present situation with the reasoned logic of his profession and it left him with a modicum of mental discomfort. All he wanted in the world right now was the sight of a Hansom cab trotting its way home to come round the corner, but no cab came. Nothing came. Just the all encompassing silence.

Sergeant Albert Dunn was not a man prone to feeling fear in any of its shades easily. A sturdy, well built man of just over six feet in height, he came from a long line of dockers, stevedores and market porters. He had worked his way up the ranks of the police force on a reputation of reliability, courage and dedication and had known dangerous and fearful situations on many an occasion during his career. A sense of fear was something with which he felt a familiarity which leant him the ability to control it, but what he felt at this moment was not fear, it was more an, an unease. He kept reminding himself that he was capable of getting himself out of any sort of scrape, but he also had another fact in his mind. The fact that murders had been committed in this part of town. Cold blooded, inexplicable murders and he seemed to have a vague recollection that after the killing of a local tradesman, the third victim had been a policeman just like himself and the second…the second… he rubbed his head, still sore and pounding. He could not remember much. Presumably, he had been about his business, walking his lonely beat, but all he could recall was waking up, laying cold and numb on the freezing paving stones in one of the back alleys that ran through from street to street. Someone had given him a right good wallop, that was for certain. It only went to show that even he was not safe, the third victim had no doubt been as strong and burly as himself and it had not saved him. Dunn thanked his lucky stars. At least, he was alive.

He had tired of blowing his whistle some time ago, how long ago he could not, in all honesty, remember. Then he had grown hoarse calling out. His sense of time was a little muddled, but then, he thought, he probably had a slight concussion. He had walked this street and that street and all the time he had been met with the same circumstances; nothing. No voices, no people, no life of any kind. Just the baleful moon staring impassively down upon empty London streets. It was the early hours, he had to admit, at least it must be by his reckoning of the passage of the hours of that night, so one could hardly expect the pavements to be teeming with the hustle and bustle of citizens about there daily industry, but a solitary lamp lighter? A watchman warming his hands by his brazier? A familiar face on his way to a shift at the docks? Another policeman….but no soul seemed to share the streets that Dunn trod with just the sound of his own empty steps.

When, eventually, he did meet another soul it took him by such surprise as to unnerve him even more, followed instantly with familiar resignation. She had seemed to appear from the shadows where only shadow seemed to exist; a prostitute. Dunn cursed his luck, finally he had met someone and he would be obliged to ask her to move on, typical! In return he expected to receive the usual arguments, flirting and banter. He was wrong, however. She looked at him with a fearful expression, searching his face for something familiar, something recognisable and when he spoke, she gave no answer, but just ran off. He called after her, having spent an age searching for company he suddenly realised he had allowed it to flee. He ran after her, turning down a side street, but she was nowhere to be seen. He stopped, slowly feeling a sense of overwhelming desperation creep over him now. Sitting on a discarded crate he held his throbbing head in his hands. Odd how and when certain thoughts occur, for it was only at this moment that he realised his head was bare, he had lost his policeman’s helmet. His thoughts at that point, desperate as he felt his present situation to be, turned to the unhappy fact that the cost for a replacement would be deducted from his meagre wage. He sighed and raised his head from his hands. In front of him stood a heavily built man wearing work clothes and a leather apron, a large hammer held tightly in his right fist.

Dunn scramble to his feet, stumbled over the crate that had served as his throne and fell face down on the ground. This was it, he thought. The end. Nothing came, no blackness, no trumpets of heavenly angels, no deceased relatives to greet him on his journey in to the hereafter. Nothing. He rolled over. The man was gone. The street deserted.

The day dawned bright and there was the wonderful lightness of relief among the good citizens of the East End. The brutal murderer had been caught. He would hang for the killing of three unrelated and, seemingly, random individuals. The locations of the crimes were still beheld with a wary awe. Some said there was something unnatural at the spots, a freezing cold. The unlit doorway where Mary, the prostitute had met her sad end as the second victim. The side street where, by day, the stalls were busy selling fruit and vegetables, but where, by night, no one would now venture lest they met Henry Beckett, who had run the cobblers shop half way down the street, hammer in hand looking, they said, for the man that had killed him, and then there was the spot of the third and most shocking murder. The locals said that sometimes you would see a policeman’s helmet laying discarded on the cobbles or hear the solitary tread of the dearly loved and much missed Sergeant Albert Dunn.

No one was to discover why the killer had chosen his, particular, victims. At one point it seemed he might escape the hangman and be committed to an asylum, but the public thirst for justice was too strong and he would meet his end on the gallows.

One thing can be assured. When that rope jerked tight and snapped the life from that fiend those poor souls condemned to wonder the netherworld scenes of their unnatural deaths were delivered from their lonely, silent limbo existence and were delivered to whatever awaits good souls. What became of the murder’s eternal soul is too horrific to recount in mere words upon a page.