The Illumination of Evil: Chapter 1

Introduction: One chapter from the novel The Illumination of Evil (a historical mystery in Boston) will be published weekly.

CH1 – A Beguiling Crime 

The muddy bicycle trail passed underfoot as the woman in the ghost-white evening gown strode along the misting gray of the Charles River. The shadows of dusk unfurled like a cloak to settle silently upon the shoulders of Cambridge, bringing forth the chill of night. Electric lights popped to life atop pencil-thin poles, speckling the encroaching darkness with a dim and wary glow. The woman did not pass a soul on the path of the riverbank, but walked purposely on, her slim silhouette no more than a shadow in the darkness.
Arriving at the stone and iron of Harvard Bridge, the traveler clutched her thick fur about her. The extensive crossing stretched over the dark waters of the Charles to the distant folds of West Chester Park, above which the scattered lights of Boston rose like the birth of a star from the dark earth. Her eyes darted to the gas lamps posted along the bridge, between which was plenty of room for deep shadows to linger.
The foot traffic was non-existent on the bridge, a sure sign of the community’s response to the recent attacks. Three on domestics in less than two months, followed by a public outcry for protection, and then a fourth domestic attacked, this time brutally lethal.
The woman took comfort in the fact that there seemed to be at least one clattering horse-and-carriage in view at all times, either coming or going. With firm resolve she stepped onto the bridge and was met by the snap of cold air and sea-salt. She walked at a rapid pace, the hem of her dress fluttering madly in the unfettered wind. Her eyes remained focused on the lights of the city, and in particular the endpoint of the bridge marked by a distant electric lamp in West Chester.
The shadows traced her steps in tendril-like fashion from the translucent glow of the bridge-lamp into the awaiting darkness. Pausing momentarily to listen to the silence, she hastened on as a chill took her. The road was deserted at the midway point, the wind a mere whisper. She paused. A scrape of boot-gravel against stone broke the otherwise oppressive silence. Her heart thundered painfully in her chest as her gaze locked on the angelic glow of the closest bridge-lamp, a mere fifteen paces away. It seemed like an eternity. Focused on the inviting light, she broke into a small run. At her reaction, a shadow rose like a midnight specter from the bridge rail beside her.

A gloved hand gripped her upper arm tightly, and instantly the woman snapped about in terror. The scream died on her lips as she viewed the lean, grayish features of the intruder in the thin moonlight; a furrowed brow looming over a sharp, thin nose, with eyes of intense gray – eyes that suddenly looked down at his hand, which had released her and slipped a watch from out of his pocket.
“Nicholas!” the woman cried, her voice twisted with anger and relief. Nick Griffon leaned upon his steel-tipped cane as he stared at the pocket-watch, his heavy overcoat blending into the darkness like a midnight shadow. “Eight in twenty-two minutes, Miss Reluctance.”
“You need your head examined!” Miss Reluctance Wilding shouted. Exhaling through gritted teeth, she adjusted her attire with a few quick tugs. “Standing out here in the shadows like some… like Jack the Slugger himself. You were supposed to meet me in West Chester!”
“My apologies,” said Griffon, snapping the watch closed and dropping it into his pocket. He slid his arm under hers, which accepted him reluctantly at first. They continued in the direction of Boston. Griffon’s free hand clutched his cane, clattering hard against the stone in time with his step.
Reluctance’s demeanor softened to a simmer after a minute of silence. “So is this another one of your tests, then?”
“An experiment. You see, it took you twenty-two minutes to walk to this exact location from your apartment in Porter Square. I followed you unnoticed throughout the course of your travel, and upon eight occasions – eight! – there was ample opportunity for me to accost you unnoticed.”
“You really let your imagination run riot, you know that?”
Griffon frowned. “This exercise has revealed to me the seriousness of the circumstances that exist regarding the current string of attacks around Cambridge. Even with the police beats and the vigilantes roaming about, I was easily able to manipulate the streets to my advantage.”
“Let us not forget that you are an expert at such exercises.”
“I would expect the same expertise from the attacker,” Griffon replied in kind. In a sudden change of subject, he looked Reluctance over in appraising fashion. “You certainly look the part tonight.”
“I will take that as a compliment.”
“Take it however you will.” He cast a sidelong glance his companion. “I realize that this business of stolen diamonds has been tiresome.”
Reluctance raised a brow. “Since when is look’n for a diamond thief tiresome? I find it exciting.”
“Since more important matters have come to light.”
“Like Jack the Slugger?”
“So what’s your angle, then?”
Griffon glanced at Reluctance from the corner of his eye. “Why must everything have an angle?”
“Spill it, Nick.”
“If – ah, when, that is – I solve the diamond case, the district will give me access to the current Slugger files.”
“How’d you manage that?”
“The brass-boys are stuck in the mud. Desperate, as it were. I offered them a bargain, and they were… receptive.”
“Yeah, receptive. Assistance from you is just what the blue-collars want.” She chuckled. “Well, you’ve already solved the diamond case. That’s what tonight’s all about.”
“Yes, we know that. But the brass must be convinced of it.”
“Detective Weathers, you mean.” Reluctance smirked knowingly. “But he’ll be convinced soon enough.” Her voice softened and a sliver of anticipation rose from beneath her whisper. “So you are officially moving to the Slugger case?”
Griffon frowned. “I have already begun, Rela.”
            Within fifteen minutes they had traversed West Chester Park and made their way to the nearest trolley. An open-air affair with more bells on it than the Notre Dame Cathedral, the car was crowded elbow-to-elbow with the Saturday evening crowd.
            Another ten minutes and several dozen clatters of the trolley-bell later they found themselves at their destination. Griffon stood from his seat, his cane rapping against the floor. Reluctance followed as he washed from the trolley with the crowd, his top hat bobbing a hand’s-length above the throng. The trolley jerked ahead and Griffon’s black chimneystack broke from the crowd at the edge of the street.
            “The jeweler’s shop,” he stated, pointing across the street to a non-descript first-floor establishment that shared space with the Grand Central Hotel. A sign in bold black lettering read Goldschimdt and Hoch: Jewelers. “Shall we?”
            Safely navigating through the dangers of the busy thoroughfare of Central Street on Saturday evening was not a simple affair, but it was completed without injury and they soon found themselves before the cramped entrance where a small wooden sign hung in welcome: Closed Until Further Notice. The window was heavily curtained and the lights from within burned low and dark, creating a sense of unease.
            “Inviting little spot, ain’t it?” Reluctance mused.
            “I am sure the robberies have caused the proprietors to take certain precautions.”
            “Yeah, like keeping all the customers away,” murmured Reluctance. “Just a moment.” She pulled a powder cloth from her bag and patted her cheeks lightly. Dropping the cloth back in, she extracted a small cylinder that held what appeared to be powdered lipstick and brought it to her mouth.
            “We are standing before the door, Reluctance.”
            “You don’t say.”
Griffon’s eyes crinkled impatiently. “Perhaps it would be more prudent – ”
“Don’t get your knickers in a knot.”
            Griffon leaned against his cane. “You could not have prettied-up before now?”
            Prettied-up? Really. It doesn’t have the same effect if it’s not fresh. You of anyone should know that.”
            “In what manner?”
            Reluctance finished without pursuing the matter further. She smacked her mouth together and pursed her lips.
            Griffon studied her face. “An issue with your maquillage?”
            “Let me worry about my part.”
            “As you say.”
            Thrusting the contents back into her bag, Reluctance produced a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles. “For a close view of the goods,” she remarked with a smile, affixing the eyeglasses to her face.
            Griffon opened the door and they entered beneath the chime of a delicate bell, blinking at the sudden onslaught of luminosity. The fierce glow of the electric lights created a sunburst within the multitudes of precious surfaces that staggered the eyes. Peering over his shoulder to clear the glare from his eyes, Griffon noticed dark fabric affixed to the windows.
            “Why the phony view outside?” Reluctance whispered as her eyes blinked against the light. “It’s a regular diamond mine in here.”
            “As I was eluding to previously, they have been robbed four times this month, but cannot close down entirely due to their particular clientele. So for now, they remain open but are keeping the general public away.”
            “Sounds like a winning strategy,” Reluctance murmured doubtfully.
            The one-room affair hosted three rows of glass-and-rod cases replete with shimmering contents. The cases ran the length of the room and ended at a large table of dark mahogany strewn with books, papers, and jeweler tools. Huddled around the table, a group of four men bent their heads in discussion.
            “…the mystery is the tool used to snatch the stones. How was the culprit able to slip the diamonds off the tray in broad daylight? Some kind of cloth hidden by the palm?”
            “Impossible. We have trained our clerks to hand our customers this silver baton while they view the merchandise.” The jeweler raised a thin silver rod. “Inconvenient to be sure, but it keeps the customer’s hands occupied and in plain sight.”
            “So how then have the diamonds been stolen from the tray?” The question, originally meant for those huddled about, was silently passed to Griffon as he strode to the table.
            “That is what I am here to explain,” he said, removing his top hat with a slight bow. The men studied him with mixed reactions. Two of the men were officers, a flat-cap plainclothes detective and an official blue and brass. From them emitted two generous servings of skepticism. The remaining two men, who appeared more hopeful at Griffon’s arrival, appeared to be jewelers from the make of their formal attire. The jewelers were ancient – tall but stooped, with graying hair and wrinkled skin, but their eyes were bright and sharp, youthful in relation to their other attributes.  
            “Nicholas Griffon,” the plainclothes officer stated, the distaste on his tongue palpable.
            “Detective Weathers,” said Griffon with a curt nod, “and Officer O’Brien, if I am correct?”
            “Aye,” replied the uniformed officer, extending a broad hand backed by a skeptical eye.
            Reluctance stepped forward towards the elderly pair. “And you must be Mr. Goldschimdt and Mr. Hoch?”
            “Close. He is Mr. Hoch, and I am Mr. Goldschimdt,” corrected the man with the magnifying glass, smiling in a friendly manner. His accent revealed first generation German. “And if I am not mistaken...?"
            “You’re not, doll.”
            “Reluctance Wilding.” Goldschmidt’s voice held the precise amount of admiration and composure.
            The Reluctance Wilding,” said Reluctance with a beaming smile.
“From the Stuart Blackton films,” said Weathers dispassionately. “I heard you pal’d around with ol' Griffon here. For the life of me, I can’t figure why.”
            “The stage is all pomp and circumstance,” Reluctance replied. “I like to get my hands dirty from time to time.”
            “You are even more stunning in person, if I may be so bold,” said Goldschimdt, smoothing his moustache.
            “I’m a blue-blood, just like everyone else around here.”
            “You are not like everyone else, my lady,” said Goldschmidt. “Eine schöne Frau.”
            “So you’re the charmer of the group, huh?” said Reluctance, staring at Mr. Goldschmidt with a crooked smile. She frowned. “But there are these damned spectacles.” She took them off for a moment and squinted. “I need them if I’m to look at some gemstones tonight.”
             “They frame your face beautifully,” said Goldschmidt.
            Weathers cleared his throat. “You keep those things a pretty secret.”
            “Ain’t exactly something you want the adoring public to see,” said Reluctance. “I got an image to uphold, don’t I?”
            “Sure. But how do you get around the stage without them?”
            “Everything’s memorization in the business,” Reluctance replied off-handedly. “Why the third-degree, anyhow?”
            “Gentlemen, if you will,” interrupted Griffon, tapping his cane for attention. Weathers’ gaze lingered on Reluctance for a moment before joining the others.
“I believe I can explain the recent string of diamond robberies that have plagued this establishment as well as several neighboring competitors,” Griffon continued. “The answer lies in the residue at the scene of the crime.”
            “The residue left on the tray, you mean?” asked Weathers, flicking his hat impatiently.
            “Yes. Analysis revealed alum powder, corn starch, and flour.”
            “So you read the police report. Add water and you have bookbinders paste. Is that all you have to offer?”
            “Not quite. What is your current theory, Detective Weathers?”
            “It seems the going theory is that the thief dabbed the paste on the end of his fingers to assist in his theft of the small gems. The only problem is that for the last two weeks every customer has been required to hold the silver baton, as has been explained to us, and yet three days ago a diamond was lifted from a tray in this very store, leaving a slight dab of the residue behind.”
            Griffon turned to the jewelers. “How many clerks work for you?”
            “Let me stop you right there,” Weathers stated, cutting Griffon short. “We’ve already interviewed the lot.”
            “No leads?”
            “Not one.”
            Griffon leaned on his cane. “For one, it is obvious that we have a pennyweight thief on our hands, specifically a stone getter.”
            “Ah coud’a told ya that much,” officer O’Brien remarked, shaking his head. “I ‘ope yeh didn’t come all this way just to ‘ell us that?”
            “That would be disappointing, would it not?” said Griffon. “Especially for Miss Wilding, who I promised an interesting show of things.”
            Weathers scowled. “So you intend to show your unmatchable wits off to the lady, is that it?”
            “Why else would I bring her along?”
            “Yer someth’n. you know that?” Weathers growled.
            Griffon ignored the goad and turned to the group at large. “Gentlemen, if you would be so kind to listen to my thoughts on the matter?”
The four men huddled around Griffon as the conversation ensued, and Reluctance suddenly found herself squeezed out of the crowd. Clasping her hands behind her back, she strolled around the shop, peering at the items on display.
            “These are quite remarkable,” she declared, causing a halt in the men’s conversation. “Quite a marvelous display,” she added, peering at the jewelers. Mr. Hoch broke from the group and approached her with his best merchant smile. White-haired and kindly, his grandfatherly approach played well off of Goldschmidt’s more flattering style.
            “These are platinum, of course?” asked Reluctance.
            “Yes they are, Miss Wilding,” he responded, his voice rich with the wisdom of experience. “It may have been a late-comer to the field, but its late start has not been detrimental in the least. As yuo can see, it is crafted from the choicest metal.”
            “So it is.” She smiled demurely. “Quite a spectacular gleam to it.”
            “The Edwardian jewels in particular look stunning in the setting.” He smiled gently. “Would you care to see?”         
            Ignoring his offer with a smile of her own, Reluctance bent over the glass case at her side. A set of gold bangle-bracelets laced with diamonds rested below her upon a stage of lavender cloth. “These are quite attractive.”
            “Quite. There are only two in existence, and the other one is currently in the possession of the Duchess of Mecklenburg.” He said the last as if presenting a fact of the utmost importance.
            “You don’t say.” Reluctance looked up at Mr. Hoch. “It seems there is more Late Victorian here than Art Nouveau. You guys are a little behind the times, no?”
            “Ah.” Hoch looked at Reluctance with the patient tenderness of a mentor whose student had just claimed that the world was flat. “Art Nouveau…does not fit the style of Goldschmidt and Hoch.”
            “I suppose there’s something to be said about historic pieces,” she said. “But there is a sense of the latest fashions around, isn’t there. Look at these decorative pieces. Silver ribbons, stars, and there, a crescent moon. Not exactly Victorian.”
            “Well, even we must be cognizant to the tastes of our clientele,” Hoch conceded. “We do understand that time brings change, and not everything can remain the same.” He guided Reluctance through numerous treasures with a sense of pride that would challenge the proudest parents displaying their children at holiday. After receiving a long-winded history on the origin of a platinum garland of flowers, Reluctance halted the tour by claiming thirst. Her eyes darted to Griffon during her brief respite, and she watched with interest as he gestured with frustration at his audience. It appeared things were not going well with Detective Weathers. Sighing, she plunged back into the fray with Mr. Hoch.
            “It seems the gentlemen are still in the thick of it,” Hoch commented as he closed the glass lid over a diamond-studded choker. He dropped his voice to a whisper. “This police business must be a terrible bore for you.”
“How so?”
Hoch gave her his best grandfatherly smile. “It is clear that Mr. Griffon is trying to put on airs for you. To impress you by bringing you here tonight while he makes his mark with the Boston brass. But what man would not try to impress you, given the chance?” He smiled as if he had shared some kind of wonderfully secretive joke between the two of them. “But you have a plan as well. You are here to get yourself something pretty, am I right? Tell me what sets your heart ablaze, and I will find it for you. And then we’ll convince Mr. Griffon to buy it.” He laughed merrily as if her agreement was a foregone conclusion and led her away by the elbow.
            Standing before a display of dazzling gemstones, Reluctance’s face glowed in the white aura. Biting her lip, she pointed to a tray of loose diamonds and silver bands.
            “Wonderful choice,” said Hoch. “We call that the wedding tray,” he added with a wink.
            “Now don’t go gett’n any ideas,” Reluctance replied with a slight frown.
            “I am merely your servant, Miss Wilding,” said Hoch, his tone soft. He brought the tray out. “I can get you a lens if you would like,” he offered.
            “No, my eyes do not agree with it,” she said with some frustration. “I have to rely on these silly spectacles. But I may need you to raise that tray up some.” Her forehead crinkled in thought. “Hey, what about that silver baton you mentioned?”
            Hoch laughed as if his own child had asked permission to sleep under his roof. “Oh, I trust you, Miss Wilding. That is for the everyday customer.”
            Reluctance cocked an eyebrow. “Do ya now? Trust me, that is.”
            Hoch peered at Reluctance for a long moment and shrugged, the smile never leaving his face. “If you insist.” He handed her the silver rod, which Reluctance grasped with both hands.
“Can you bring the tray up? It’s my vision.” Her eyes opened wide and blinked behind the spectacles. She brought her face adjacent to the tray, which had been raised to her chin. The diamonds reflected off her spectacles like river stones in a bath of moonlight. “What a wonder,” she whispered with a hint of melancholy. “One could gaze into these for hours, don’t you think, Mr. Hoch?”
            “One could indeed, Miss Wilding.”
            The sound of raised voices broke their attention from the delights of the treasures. The men were in hot debate. Griffon stepped aside from the men and flicked his pocket-watch open with evident annoyance. “Miss Wilding has an engagement that I must escort her to promptly,” he said, his voice strained. “We should be going, I am afraid.”
            Hoch looked up hopefully. “Have you solved it, then?”
            Weathers’ barked a laugh. “We’re no closer than before our consulting detective arrived,” he said. “In fact, I’d say we’re some fifteen minutes behind.” Weathers turned to Reluctance. “Sorry, Miss Reluctance – that’s yer real name, ain’t it? I prefer to be genuine, and skip the stage names.”
            “Fine by me,” said Reluctance with a hint of reproach.
            “As I were say’n, it’s too bad you won’t get to witness your escort perform a miracle of sleuthing tonight. He so had his heart set on it. Didn’t you, old boy?”
            Griffon snapped his pocket-watch closed and turned for the door. “Shall we, Reluctance?”
            Mr. Goldschmidt, realizing a potential customer was about to walk out the door, appeared like a faithful hound at Reluctance’s side. “There is no need to rush off, Miss Wilding. And pay no heed to Detective Weathers. He has had a long day.”
            “It’s noth’n to me,” she said, dropping the silver baton in Goldschmidt’s hands.
“Is there anything that strikes your fancy, Miss Wilding?” he asked, the honey in his voice unable to hide his hint of desperation.
            She demurred with a shake of her head but countered her own response with a secretive smile at the two owners, glancing once at Griffon to indicate that her desired treasure was a secret from him.
            “So you did see something,” said Mr. Hoch in a confident whisper. “Shall we inform your companion?”
            She bit her lip in apparent indecision, her face blushing slightly.
            “It is a diamond she is interested, gentleman,” said Griffon, surprising the men with his sudden inclusion. “Something round and pretty, I would guess. Perfect for a ring.”
            “Perhaps you would like to prove him right?” Goldschmidt inquired hopefully of Reluctance.
            Weathers and O’Hara exchanged looks of amusement. “Griffon’s in the broth now,” O’Hara whispered with a chuckle, “didn’t think he’d get outta here without buying her a pretty trinket, did he?”
            “That’s what happens when you bring a dame to a diamond shop,” Weathers added, thrusting a toothpick into his mouth.
            Griffon placed his top hat firmly on his head and stepped towards the door. “Another time, gentlemen. I apologize that your call for my assistance has ended without an apparent resolution.”
            “And yet at least Miss Wilding could tell us what diamond she is interested in?” pressed Mr. Goldschmidt. “We would be more than happy to accommodate her in any possible.”
            “Fine, if you must. It is the marquise with the pink hue that has caught her eye,” Griffon answered.
            “The marquise? A splendid choice.” Mr. Hoch turned to Reluctance with a grandfatherly nod of approval. “But let the lady answer for herself. Is the gentleman right about which diamond you prefer, Miss Wilding?”
            Reluctance affirmed with a nod.
            “Ah, excellent!” said Goldschmidt. “I will fetch it this instant.”
            Griffon turned from the door. “If you insist.”
            “I will get the tray – ”
            “There is no need for that,” said Griffon.
            Mr. Goldschmidt stopped in mid-step. “But I thought you said you wanted to see it?”
            “Upon your insistence, yes, that is true.”
            “Ah. Then as I was saying, I will just get the tray ---”
            “What I mean to say is that the diamond is not on the tray,” said Griffon. The four men righted themselves in surprise. “It is in our possession, gentlemen.”
            “Excuse me?” Goldschmidt said.
“But that is impossible,” Hoch added, “It was on the tray.”
            “Impossible? No. We simply employed the same technique that the diamond thief has been making use of these last several weeks. Do you care to show them, Reluctance?”
             Reluctance smiled in response. The room grew silent as she slowly opened her mouth in a whispered ‘o’ and extended the tip of her tongue. A collective gasp rose and the men rushed as close as propriety allowed. Stuck fast to a rapidly drying paste on the tip of her tongue perched the marquise diamond, shimmering like a newfound star in the bright electric light.