Victoria’s Terror by Gianluca Busuttil
It was a thick October night in West London, three days before Victoria’s golden jubilee, when a little boy named Jack found his mother skewered on a pitchfork like a fat trout.
The morning after, Constable Barry came immediately after breakfast to inspect the corpse of Kitty Drummond. The constable’s eyes had the painfully blood-shot look of a man who found sleep hard to come by, his moustache accompanied by an unkept stubble. His hair was dying at the temples and his thin lips were permanently pinched to the side.
He found her on a four-poster in the corner of the single-roomed house. Her night-dress, rigid with congealed blood, was pulled up in some strained attempt to cover up her face, leaving her naked body exposed, awkwardly pulled around the three-pronged fork that had penetrated through her gullet and into the mattress. She lay like a grim Vitruvian woman encased in a pool of her own blood.
Jack Drummond’s tiny body lay curled up on the whitest corner of the bed, clutching blankets and bawling as though he thought he could wash the sheets clean with his tears.
Constable Barry took off his hat, and turned to Archie Drummond. The corpse’s husband was a thin man, with cold blue eyes and a nose that was as straight as they come. He reeked of cheap whisky.
“Why’s she like that?” said Constable Barry.
“Why is she how?” Archie Drummond’s voice was polite and girlish in contrast with the constable’s booming mutter.
“I did that,” admitted Archie Drummond. “Thought you might want to look at ‘er body. And, if I’m bein’ honest, I wanted to cover ‘er face.”
“Well cover her up, Christ. You’ve not the foggiest what arouses some of the chaps around here.” Constable Barry nodded towards the window, where curious eyes were huddling to pry past the undrawn curtains.
Archie Drummond did as he was told.
Kitty Drummond’s face was a rare one in that it drew a twitch from Constable Barry. The lower half of her face was masked in blood, some of which had snaked back inside her through the corner of her mouth. The hue of her eyes had given way to a colourless opaque, her skin had whitened like lace, and her matted hair had formed tendrils.
As though suddenly irritated, Constable Barry walked over to the woman and yanked the pitchfork out of Kitty Drummond’s corpse, ignoring the soft whimpers of the foetal young Jack. A lame puff of crimson flakes coughed out of the neat wound, the woman’s innards dry as bone. The constable thought of the woman’s last moments as she felt her own heart forcing her own innards out of the gaping hole in her throat, possibly mixed with shock or hopefully some peaceful sense of understanding as she met the eyes of her killer.
“Do you know who did it?” asked Archie Drummond.
Constable Barry rolled his eyes at the question.
“I just got here, lad. Grief is no excuse to be a fool. Tell me everything you know.”
Archie Drummond swallowed with difficulty, as though he had dust lining the inside of this throat.
“I found ‘er like this in the morning –”
“What time of the morning,” the constable interrupted. “Was it sunrise or was it after breakfast or was it just before noon?”
“’’Round breakfast I’d say,” Archie said. “I came in here and I found ‘er like this.”
“And was it the devil’s luck that had you sleeping elsewhere tonight?”
Archie Drummond’s eyes shifted. “We’d been havin’ a fight or two. I was out… with mates. I got in around nine o’ clock. ‘Eard the boy bawlin’ in ‘ere, came to shut ‘im up. That’s when I found ‘er. He was trying to put the blood back in ‘er.”
The constable nodded and paced the room slowly, searching with his eyes. He eventually knelt next to a crisping puddle of solidified blood, intrigued.
“What is it?” asked Archie Drummond.
“It’s a finger-print.”
“And what does that mean?” asked Archie Drummond.
“It is a finger-print,” said Constable Barry pointedly. “Obviously your son’s, ‘else it belongs to a man with hands too small to lift his own cock. Mr Drummond, I understand your suffering, but please do not impose it on myself with these ridiculous questions.”
The constable continued to circle the room. There was no bruising on the body, and little signs of disorder that could be attributed to any sort of struggle. Given the way the pitchfork had penetrated Kitty Drummond’s through, straight as a lamp-post, the killer must have climbed onto the bed to stand over her. No dirt on the bedsheets told him that the killer must have taken off his shoes before climbing onto the bed; that Mrs Drummond was certainly asleep; and that a deep sleeper she was.
“Any suspects?” asked Archie Drummond.
“You tell me,” grunted Constable Barry distractedly.
After a pause that was inappropriately too long – or it may have been too short – Archie Drummond responded.
“Bartholomew Little,” he said. “The butcher from across the street. He always had more than an eye on her. They were close, she’d go buy our meat from him and he’d keep her there, telling her jokes and such.”
Bartholomew Little was one of the many who had been drawn to the Drummond household by the news of Kitty Drummond’s gutting. He was a young man, but already burly and with hands thickened by the constant need to heal.
Constable Barry welcomed the butcher into the house as though it was his own. Bartholomew Little walked carefully, as though terrified of tripping over his own feet, his lower lip trembling as he caught sight of the scene on the bed. Archie Drummond stared with his arms crossed, and the sniffling boy finally sat up, and directed his swollen eyes towards the butcher.
The constable looked at the Drummonds, bemused. “Out.” He shepherded Archie and Jack Wood out, shut the door behind them and closed the curtains. He steered the butcher by the shoulder and sat him down on the bed by Kitty Drummond’s cold dead feet. Bartholomew Little couldn’t seem to rip his eyes away from the corpse.
Constable Barry snapped his fingers in front of the butcher’s face.
“You sell me a dog, I’ll kill you here and now”, he explained gently. “Tell me everything you know.”
“I ‘ad nothin’ to do with it,” the butcher blurted out. “She left me shop last night safe n’ sound. Look at the swine on me table. Fresh as living. I wasn’t ‘ere, I was workin’ all morning, it’s Saturday, busiest day o’ the week.”
It was clear he had already given some thought to why he couldn’t have killed Kitty Drummond.
“You two…” the constable said, pointing at the butcher and the corpse playfully and winked. “Have a habit of befriending married woman, do we lad?”
The butcher’s mouth gaped. “We’d play cards a lot… I taught ‘er to play hearts and such.”
The constable nodded. “Excellent game, hearts. What can you tell me about who killed her?”
Bartholomew Little shook his head. “She was home by break o’day. Archie got in ‘round two hours later, drunk as a skunk. Didn’t see nobody else goin’ in and out, neither did anyone around here.”
Constable Barry nodded, as though this confirmed his line of thinking. “You can leave, lad. Don’t go teaching hearts to any more married women, or a fine gentleman like the one who did this might be coming for you next.”
The constable shepherded the distraught butcher out of the house. Immediately, Archie Drummond and his son began to make their way in, but the constable threw his forearm into Archie Drummond’s chest.
“Master Drummond and I shall be exchanging a word in private, now,” he annnounced, with a friendly wink towards little Jack Drummond.
Shortly after, the door to the Drummond residence burst open, startling the sizeable crowd that had gathered outside. Constable Barry, standing tall in the doorway, opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. He pulled out his baton, flipped it once in his hand, and walloped Archie Drummond in the face with it.
Instant realisation dawned on the crowd, and Archie Drummond was engulfed in a storm of flailing kicks. “Lying shit,” he attempted to scream through the blood in his mouth.
That evening, Jack Drummond prepared for bed at the new orphanage which was his home now. He took off his shoes and socks, and prepared a water basin. He rinsed the lash wounds on his back, soaked his socks and wringed them, and watched as Kitty Drummond’s blood dripped out, and seemed to turn the water into wine. Jack took a sip.
Jack thought of the hole in his mummy’s throat, ripped clean through, and tried to feel guilt as he knelt to say his prayers.
“I’m sorry, Jesus,” Jack began. “I couldn’t take Daddy anymore. I promise not to rip ever again.”
This short story is the chosen winner for DESA’s Murder Mystery Themed Short Story Competition.