Chapter One

1748 Words
Chapter One A Hunting We Will Go London Times headline, June 1st, 1897: London Ladies Vanish; Foul Play Suspected. “Tell me, James, what do you make of this?” My colleague and roommate Edward Rand handed me his newspaper, the London Times, and tapped the headline with his long forefinger. I scanned it, and glanced up in shock. “Why, Edward, what can this mean?” He took his Times back and read aloud; “Scotland Yard’s Inspector Howard Marcel reports the disappearance of several young ladies of noble linage. No ransom has yet to be demanded. The girls’ names were not released by the police for publication.” “No ransom?” I said. “I can’t understand why not. Surely their families are wealthy, as well as titled.” “No, my dear James, this is darker and more sinister than a mere kidnapping. Look at the girls’ photographs. Surely it’s evident what purpose such young and beautiful females would be desired for—it is unmistakably obvious.” “They are lovely girls indeed, Edward. So young and innocent-looking. Surely no one would wish to do them harm.” Edward looked at me down the length of his smoldering pipe and gave me a condescending smile. “Professor James Corwin, surely all those years you spent teaching medicine at the university, while certainly brilliant, have left you woefully deficient in understanding the criminal mind.” “That’s your specialty,” I replied. “You’re the private detective and everyone admits you are remarkably brilliant in your own field.” “Perhaps not everyone will be as charitable as you are in judging me. I expect one of them will be calling on us this evening.” “Inspector Marcel, you mean?” “The same. I have this telegram from him,” he drew it from the pocket of his lounging robe and handed it to me. Dear Mr. Rand: May I have the benefit of your theories concerning the disappearance of several young ladies from London’s most illustrious families? I shall call around to your apartment at 25 Tallow Lane this evening at seven. Inspector Marcel Now concerning my companion, Edward Rand, who is perhaps the most noteworthy and clever private detective in Victorian London, mostly due to his many successful triumphs in solving several crimes of the most diabolical and cunning nature that criminal minds have devised. Yet in his person, here in our mutually-shared second-floor apartment, he appeared to be the most common and disorganized of men. Our furniture is festooned with scattered and sometimes crumpled newspapers, opened books, and Edward’s collection of photographs, all waiting each morning for our housekeeper to return them to their ordered place. The fireplace mantel is littered with pipes, tobacco tins—a few empty but not yet disposed of, cigarette papers and scraps of notepaper filled with Edward’s arcane, carelessly scrawled notes and innumerable items that defy description. I intend to write another book about my friend, and tried to read his notes, finally giving up in frustration. “Sanskrit, my dear James,” he replied to my puzzled comment. “In my field of work, one must always guard against revealing my thoughts to any intruder who may burgle our home to learn my secrets.” “You wouldn’t mind would you,” I asked, “If I make notes of this event, and write about our involvement in it?” “Certainly not, James. It should be amusing for me to see what you make of all this. What will you call your book?” “Oh, something like—um—The Adventure of the Vanishing Virgins.” Edward laughed. “Really, James, you do have imagination after all. An excellent title, both lurid and sensational.” “You’re mocking me, surely.” “Not at all, James. You’ve seen my library. Scandalous stuff. My notes of my criminal cases fill several scrapbooks. I expect you will mine them for material for future books.” I smiled and nodded. “If I may.” Edward removed his pipe and jabbed its stem at me. “See that you stick to the facts, James. I don’t want my name dragged through pages of absurd fiction, just to make a better story.” “I promise, Edward.” There was a faint knock at our door and the willowy form of our young, widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Corliss Blanford, strode in with a large empty tray. “I’ll just clear up the supper dishes, then.” As she deliberately bent over the table, facing us, her abundant breasts enthusiastically struggled to burst out of her low-cut maid’s costume. She stacked the plates, cups, and platters on the tray, shaking her head at Edward’s scatter of tableware and soiled napkins. “Good evening, gentlemen. If you’ll be wanting tea later, just ring.” “Thank you, Mrs. Blanford,” Edward replied. “Perhaps you could serve tea for three at precisely five after seven this evening.” “Yes, Mr. Rand.” With a physically yearning glance at Edward, her short, petite physique scurried out the door, cups, plates and silverware rattling on her tray. Edward strode to the fireplace and tapped his pipe to empty the burnt odium he called tobacco into the flames. “There’s something sinister about this case, my dear James. Have you noticed that in the newspaper’s prattle?” I picked up the crumpled first page, sat down and smoothed it out on my lap. “Hmmmm, it seems odd that the kidnappers chose only the most beautiful and young ladies from wealthy, titled families, and yet ask for no ransom.” “I dare say, James, you have taken up the scent, but not caught the quarry yet. Anything more?” “Well, Edward, if they were just after girls for the white slave traffic, why take only the most well guarded and sheltered of girls? Surely there are thousands of pretty girls wandering the streets and alleys. They would be so much easier and less risky to capture.” “Indeed, James, you are closing in on the truth. What thoughts next, then?” “Well, I can see only one other motive.” “And that is?” “I seem to recall, the fathers of all of the families of these girls were recently involved in the debate in Parliament concerning cleaning up the crime in London, especially closing the houses of prostitution and arresting their owners and procurers.” “Your conclusion?” “Revenge, Edward. They must be holding these girls hostage to extort an end to the crackdown on their licentious, but immensely popular business.” “Bravo. Surely your reputation will soon eclipse mine.” I smiled and shook my head. “I hardly think that I...” “However, I must advise you that your conclusions, however reasonable, are far short of the mark. Think, James; beautiful virgin girls, wealthy families, no ransom. Surely these villains mean to keep the girls for their own immoral use and then to sell them into s****l slavery; probably transport them to some country on the continent where girls are kept captive in some remote villa for the lewd enjoyment of wealthy patrons of the pleasures of feminine flesh.” “Edward! That’s appalling!” “Exactly. So appalling in fact, that the queen herself has communicated with me.” “Queen Victoria!” “Yes. That is why inspector Marcel is visiting us tonight. The queen summoned him for an audience with her to discuss her deep concern for the girls’ fate. Some of their families are related to the royal family.” “Edward! The royal family’s relatives in s****l slavery?” “You can see, James, can’t you, that this case may be my most important one ever.” “Indeed.” “Yes, I may have the opportunity in this crime of snaring the most clever and deadly London criminal of all time.” “Ah! The arch-enemy, Dr. Valentine?” “The very same. This crime has all the aspects of his hand; audacity, insolence, cunning and a great deal of s****l gratification, which I know is his one overwhelming appetite.” “Dr. Valentine! Would he risk his vast criminal empire just for a spot of revenge and a few pounds sterling of British money? He’s always been so circumspect in his nefarious enterprise.” “So circumspect that until now, I had no hope of bringing him to justice. Now he has risked all for this monumental crime; abducting the loveliest daughters of Britain’s most prominent families, and forcing them to perform degrading s****l services. I sat down in my chair next to the fireplace. “If it’s revenge, they will probably be held captive to be repeatedly tormented and sexually abused by the lowest scum of criminals and foreign foes of the British Empire.” “Exactly, my dear James.” Edward fingered fresh tobacco into his pipe, bent toward the fireplace flames and lit a twisted stem of paper, using it to light his pipe. He straightened up, inhaled, and exhaled a stream of suffocating smoke. “And I shall have him. I shall have him in the courts again, and this time we shall see him hang for this appalling crime.” He puffed a few more times and sauntered over to one of the windows facing Tallow Lane below. Pulling the drape aside, he gazed vacantly down at the commerce of tradesmen and carriages passing. “We both have often patronized the ladies of the evening, but never against their will.” He paused to puff on his pipe for a few minutes, then turned back to me. “Perhaps we must conceal our identity in disguise, James, and pretend to be eager to have s*x with captive girls in order to locate them. As much as it may distress us to participate in Dr. Avernus Valentine’s activities, I cannot foresee any other opportunity of finding these suffering daughters and rescuing them.” There was a knock at the door. Edward glanced at the mantel clock. “Ah, come in, Inspector Marcel.” The door opened and the familiar short, slightly plump figure of Edward’s friend and often competitor in solving cases, strode in. He removed his Derby hat and coat, draping them on the coat rack by the door. “Rand,” He said, breathless from dashing up the stairs, “another young woman was abducted, less than an hour ago.” “Another? Whom was it this time?” “A young bride this time, Rand. Only minutes before she was to become the Lady Edith Leighton, bride to Lord Alfred Odell-Leighton.” I leapt out of my chair. “How?” Inspector Marcel turned his distraught face to me. “Captured, right at the wedding service. A gang of toughs stormed into the Bride’s dressing chamber, roughed up her bridesmaids, and made off with her, still in her wedding gown.” Edward frowned. “They didn’t let her wear it much longer, I expect.” “Gentlemen, this is horrible,” I said. “We must act at once.” “Exactly, James.” Edward strode to the clothes rack and donned his evening jacket and black silk top hat. “We must examine the scene of the abduction, my friends, and see what we may learn. Any thread uncovered will aid us in tracking them.” “My carriage is waiting at the curb,” Inspector Marcel said. “We must hurry, it will be dark soon.” Edward tugged me toward the stairway door and flung it open. “Come, James, the chase awaits us.” We grabbed our coats and hats against the late autumn chill and clattered down the stairs, Edward almost colliding with our housekeeper bringing up the tray of tea he had requested. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Blanford,” he called back over his shoulder. “The quest has commenced.” He paused a second to tone down her temper. “My dear young woman, you look absolutely lovely this evening.” She scowled at him and shrugged her shoulders as we shot out the front door and slammed it. “Edward, Edward,” she said with a weary sigh. “How many times must you exasperate me? One of these days—and soon, mark my words—I’ll show you and Professor Corwin what my audacious lady friends and I have constructed in my cellar, We’ll drag you both down there, and then I’ll have my revenge.”
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