XIV. Mr Truelove

The Recollections of Rutter Skitch Truelove, Witch Finger

Patrons visit the Bishop's Arms

Patrons visit the Bishop’s Arms

Proselytisin’ ain’t much of my style, but it serves its turn when you’re in the gristle and garber of a stew. So I cried out me profession, and a few choice words o’ the vernacular, if you get my meaning, when the door caved. I stepped in to that doxy-hole palace snortin’ the Lord’s justice, and lifted my bobbyknocker to me shoulder so my meaning would be clear.

“Witch finger, you sinnin’ bastards,” I recall barking, summonin’ up a dollop of spit with the words. The whole room burst into activity then, half-clad cads and shaunty-sister girls scramblin’ out of my path like I were Moses himself. The truth be told, Rutter Skitch Truelove is not a pious man, but my office is bestowed by the clergy, and a little holy water serves to quench any tempers. That’s as why I met no resistance on that first floor, only a rush of people tryin’ to make clear of the doors.

The barman looked at me. He was penned in, stock fast behind his wooden run, so couldn’t scarper like the rest of the serving staff. I gave him a smile, and rapped the bar with my bobbyknocker.

“Where’s the pagans, ay?”

The man looked at me with a queer stare. Half-glassed eyes, as if he were assaying me, determining size and temperament.

“I don’t know what you mean, sir.” It was a placid response, now I think on it; too quiet, and all the queerer for it.

“I mean the knife. I mean the witchcraft under your roof. An’ you best me waggin’ your tongue with both alacrity and veracity, ’cause I ain’t in a mind to argue.”

He shook his head, and dropped his hands to the bar, knuckles blisterin’ white from the pressure. “I can’t,” he said.

“Oh, I think you’ll find you can.”

He drew breath. A judderin’ sort of suction from his lung, like a reverse hiccup. Sweat dripped on his brow.

“I…can’t.”

“Tell me, or it will be the worse for you.” True enough, though you don’t stay on the side of law and order for long if you sent every resistin’ barkeep to Tyburn. He was goin’ to get a rappin’, but no more. Of course, I didn’t say as much.

He swallowed. “Upstairs. Go upstairs.”

I can be most persuasive when give opportunity. But there was something queer about the way he said it. When you stick your neck into the chopper, or grind your way through the detritus of a Whitechapel slumyard, you get a sense of when danger lurks. There weren’t danger up those steps, but I knew there weren’t nothing of use, neither. I smiled, scooped up the cudgel in my hand… and brought it crashin’ down on those dainty digets.

It was a cruel blow ‘n’ no mistake; I’d delivered it hard and true enough to crush a few bones to fine powder. Not mortal in itself, though dicin’ with the Devil when it came to settin’ it right and preventin’ the sweats. He should have screamed in agony, should have cursed me in a whimperin’, pleading cry. But the barkeep did neither. He just looked at me, his face turning pallid.

Then he began to sob. Quietly, pitably. When you strike a man, he howls in pain, but it’s a throttlin’, primal yell, like the roar of a beast. This was a gurgling whimper, a noise of utter self-pity. He looked at the stairwell, eyes transfixed on the downward passage.

“Down there,” he finally said. And, at the moment he did so, his eyes widened in a sudden flash. It was as if he had suffered a jolt of electricity, somehow both surprising and expected.

“You’ve killed me,” says he. Then he keeled over, face rubbing against the bar, and slipped into death.

I admit, I hadn’t been expectin’ that. And nor had I expected the gunshot that followed seconds later.

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