Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 28

Chapter 28


Jasper and I were poring over the accounts, recording our bloated income from the past few days as Boston poured into pubs such as ours to celebrate the surrender at Yorktown, when Robbie knocked on the door.

“Mister Finch, there’s something you should see.”

My husband grumbled, frustrated at the interruption. We were trying to figure how much to increase the inventory, because we didn’t know how long this streak of heavy traffic would last, but we had been running out of everything the past few days. We’d had to send Robbie to market almost every single morning. I intended to send him today, too, once he’d finished a few cursory morning tasks, but here he was, knocking on the door, probably to report that some of the pewter cups had been left near the stove and melted, or forgotten where we kept the poker for the fireplace.

“Can it wait?” Jasper replied tersely, dipping his quill into the inkwell.

“I really think you should see this,” he chirped with some measure of discomfort. I gave Jasper a glance to indicate that I would take care of it.

Brushing a bit of flour off my apron, I followed Robbie out the back, listening half-heartedly as he rambled a warning that this wasn’t much a sight for a lady, and he wished Mister Finch would come instead, as it was more suited for his eyes.

Robbie swung the back door open apologetically, and the first thing that hit me was the smell.

Betty had visited Henry on the battlefield in the early days, when there was fighting closer to home, and she once told me that the smell of death was the most terrible thing to reach the senses, and that she could not explain it but if I ever smelled it myself, I would know immediately.

Well, I knew.

I recognized the face immediately, though it was distorted with anguish. A knife was neatly pierced into the stomach, the apparent source of the blood that coated Charles’ torso from neck to waist. The blade, I realized, was the center of a large white “X”, apparently painted postpartum, once the blood had dried. A red coat, with a white “X” across it: like the uniform of a redcoat.

Whoever had done this was a wicked sort of artist.

A wave of panic. “I’ll be back,” I quivered, rushing back to the study, where Jasper would realize the necessity that he follow me back outside.

Once I swung open the door, he took half a second to realize my panic and rose from his chair. “What’s happened?”

The words came with difficulty. “A body. Someone killed him.”

Him. A man with no name anymore, at least not in this place. Now, with the life snuffed out of him, he was even more anonymous.

“Well,” Jasper said, once we’d stepped outside and he took in the sight, “good riddance, I suppose.”

My husband’s surprising humor tempered my uneasiness. “How should we get rid of it?” I asked.

“Robbie and I will find a potato sack to put him in and when night falls, we’ll carry it to the harbor.” Jasper always had answers, even to the most difficult questions, and always in the snap of a finger.

“You don’t worry that someone will see you?”

He shook his head. “Under the cover of night, they won’t know what we’re carrying. Could just as easily be the day’s waste.”

Strange still to dump it at night, but I saw his point. As long as it wasn’t overtly suspicious, people usually didn’t ask questions.

I helped the men scrounge an empty potato sack to cover him with and started a bucket of soapy water for the laundry while they went back outside to cover the body. The smell, although horrendous, was not so unusual for where the body was, in a thin alley between The Red Pearl and the tanner next door where half the street disposed of their waste. In fact, Robbie was probably on his way to empty the night’s chamber pots when he found the corpse.

I gathered sheets and blankets from a few of the rooms - I did the laundry a few rooms at a time, else it would never be done in time for that night’s guests - and considered how this had happened. The only uncertainty was how Sam had found out about Charles’ crime. Obviously he had wanted me to know of Charles’ murder, and he likely knew it would be clear to me that he had done it, but I had never spoken of the incident to him. Could it have been someone else - had Henry arrived home and done it at Betty’s bidding?

No, that wasn’t likely. Henry wouldn’t be home for another week at least. Had my brother found out? But he was as likely to know of it as Sam, and of the two of them it was clearly Sam’s work. Jonathan would sensibly have thrown the body into the harbor and calmly informed me of the act the next time I saw him, or else penned it in a letter. He would not have made the corpse into an art project and left it for me to find.

Jasper came back with Robbie just as I was finishing the soapy water, and he beckoned me back into the study - presumably to finish the accounts, but I knew that wasn’t the case. Not now.

I wiped my skirt as I settled into the chair beside him. Our records were splayed before us in overwhelming piles, with the goal to consolidate it into one little book.

Jasper cleared his throat. “Do you know who may have done this?”

No. Well, there’s plenty of people in this city who would do harm to a loyalist, if they discovered a man to be one. That was my first instinct, to deny. But I did know, and I couldn’t lie to my husband anymore. “I think an old friend may have found out what he did.”

He tensed. “So you trusted someone else to get revenge for you, because you didn’t intend to tell me?”

All the tenderness since he’d saved me from the attack, gone now. I could drown in irrefutable accusations. “I didn’t tell anyone,” I insisted. “Except Betty.”

The realization hit me like a knife. “God’s hooks,” I hissed, and Jasper didn’t even flinch at my uncharacteristic curse. “She must have told him.”

“Him?”

I crossed my arms. Was everything suspicious now? An attack, which had been no fault of mine, and now he couldn’t trust me? “An acquaintance from our youth,” I said thinly, wondering how much Jasper knew about the circumstances that had preceded our engagement. Had our father told him about Sam? We had never spoken of it, not in all these years, but I wondered if he’d known all along. I had assumed, before now, that it didn’t matter.

Perhaps this incident had ruined everything. Perhaps, for the rest of our lives, Jasper would resent that I hadn’t initially told him what happened, and every day I would have to remind him that I was still loyal and true. And every day, perhaps, I, too, would wonder why I had not been able to force the words onto my tongue.

Jasper teetered between understanding and rage, and I couldn’t let his mind will him towards the latter, so I reached across his lap to tug open one of the drawers: the one with the gun. “Perhaps you help me with this?” I said. “I know you keep yours on your belt, so I’d like to make a belt of my own. Do you think leather will do? I can scrape enough money for a strip of leather, I think -”

It did not work to distract him, but he had settled. “Lucy,” he said, pressing my hands between his, “I think we should agree that next time you need someone murdered in your name, you let me do it.”

I stared at him. Was he serious?

The corners of his mouth wiggled, and soon we had both burst into laughter. The drawer with the gun closed, and he kissed me smoothly and quickly.

“I really didn’t mean for this,” I said, my lips still close to his, and I was talking about the corpse, but I meant all of it. I hadn’t wanted any of it.

His sigh was serious and a bit forlorn. “I know.”

“Well, I should get back to the laundry,” I said, feeling the weight of many things. “I’d like to finish before the day’s over.”

Before I left he said, “I’ll get you a belt.”

“What?”

“For the gun. I have some extra bits of leather, and if I bring them to the tanner he might be able to fashion something.”

I grinned.