48 Hours a Day
Chapter 517 - Same Starting Point
Zhang Heng returned to 221b Baker Street at four in the morning. It had been a peaceful and uneventful night at Whitechapel, and the only real bother were a few drunks fighting in the alley behind the pub. As soon as the police arrived, everyone disappeared from the street except for the wasted ones, to sloshed to even wake up. Nothing else happened after that.
After sending Naomi back to her place, he headed home to bed. At seven o’clock, three hours later, his eyes flipped open.
As he walked out of his room, where Holmes, as usual, had already finished breakfast and was smoking his pipe, flipping through the day’s newspapers. “Good morning.”
“Morning.” Zhang Heng sat down at his usual seat, rang the bell, and waited for Mrs. Hudson to bring his breakfast to the table.
“You came back rather late yesterday night. How did it go? Please don’t tell me you still found nothing. I had high expectations of you,” remarked Holmes as he turned a page, his eyes still fixed to newsprint.
“I have found one very important clue. I have a general idea of how the killer selects his targets.” “Oh?” Holmes straightened up, finally tearing his gaze away from the newspaper. He looked at Zhang Heng “Pray, tell.”
“Don’t forget that we’re now in competition against each other. If you want to know, you should go find out yourself,” Zhang Heng answered.
Holmes burst into laughter. “Are you still mad at me for choosing the opera ahead of time? Alright, I take back what I said. But I’ve also managed to learn a lot of things. If that’s the case, let’s see who finds the answer first then.” He put down the papers in his hand, fetched his hat and walking stick from the hanger, and said to Zhang Heng, “I must admit, you’re putting me under a bit of pressure. It seems I’ll have to raise my game.”
“Hopefully, you can still catch up,” said Zhang Heng with a grin on his face.
By the time he finished his breakfast, it was seven-fifteen. Quite some time had passed since Holmes left. Zhang Heng lingered at the breakfast table for a while and began sorting his thoughts. What he had said to Holmes wasn’t in any way an exaggeration. In fact, he did discover a lot of things last night, especially after his talk with Naomi. He found a precious piece of information. According to her, churches of the East End wouldn’t accept girls in her trade, except for a tiny chapel known as The Church of the Sacred Heart. The priest treated the prostitutes as equals, and when some of them had no place to go, he often allowed them to spend the night at the church. On top of that, the generous clergy periodically passed out loaves of bread to the starving women when he had the opportunity.
Naomi might not realize something amiss, but Zhang Heng sensed it clearly enough.
He finally found the answer he had been searching for the whole night.
Who could approach these prostitutes openly without attracting attention? The answer had actually been staring him in the face the whole time-a clergyman. In fact, there wasn’t even the need to deliberately collect information about these women since they actively sought the parish out to reveal all their secrets no holds barred during confession sessions anyway. Zhang Heng looked at his pocket watch but did not leave immediately, knowing that the Church of the Sacred Heart wasn’t yet open at this hour.
While waiting, he briefly planned his next move. After that, he put on last night’s gear again and called for a carriage.
When he arrived at his destination, a familiar face showed up at the steps of the church.
Holmes was standing outside the door, watching him, wearing the most intrigued look on his face.
“Interesting. While we both chose to go in different directions, it appears we still ended up in the same place.” Zhang Heng felt a little frustrated. He had tried his best to race against time, even successfully obtaining the information he wanted, but despite all the effort, he was unable to curb Holmes’s unrelenting progress.
The skills of this Victorian detective could never disappoint.
“Well, should we exchange information we have before we go in?” suggested Holmes.
Zhang Heng considered the proposal and agreed, albeit reluctantly.
Unlike during the previous cases they worked on, where Holmes would candidly explain his reasoning and Zhang Heng would employ them in the investigation, the pair was now in a short-term alliance. This fair transaction of information shouldn’t affect the final outcome. But then, the question remained, that if the both of them caught the killer together, who would be considered the winner?
At this juncture, there was simply no point in thinking about it.
“I’ll go first,” declared Zhang Heng. He gave a quick summary of the information he gathered from Naomi and also his own interpretation of it. “Also, the wounds on the victims’ facesthe first one was a little vague, but the knife marks on the second and third victims were crisscrossed. They looked very familiar when I first saw it, and now that I think about it, it resembled a cross. The murderer is likely to be a religious person.”
“Impressive analysis and reasoning!” Holmes exclaimed, “I am very glad your work yesterday bore fruit!. Mine is relatively simple. I went to the newspaper’s publisher in the afternoon.”
“The newspaper?” “Yes, I noticed some red ink on that letter. As you already know, I’ve been researching this subject for a long time and from the material of the paper, I was able to tell the manufacturing company. It’s the same with ink. But the information I could gather from the black ink is limited because nearly half of London uses this red ink. The letter, on the other hand, turned out to be useful.”
Holmes chuckled, continuing, “Unlike the ink, these letters were not the cheapest. It’s not something commonly found in the East End, but when I heard who the biggest customer of that paper mill was, I immediately thought of this place.”
“Yes. The church’s stationery is purchased in bulk before they get distributed to each chapel,” Holmes said.
“But there’s not only one church in the East End.”
“Yes, but this is the one closest to all three scenes of crime. And while you were still at home enjoying your breakfast, I talked to the people in the neighborhood. The prostitutes are known to frequent this church!”
Zhang Heng sighed, adding on to Holmes’ account.
“There are two priests in the church. Father Matthew is 80 years old and is semi-retired. He retired to the suburbs five years ago and is now rarely involved with the church. Basically, only his name is attached to the church. Also, at his age and seeing how frail he is, he is unlikely to be the murderer. So that leaves us with Father Jacob. He is fifty-six this year, still strong, and is in charge of the church. The prostitutes often come to confess their sins to him. Now, what they didn’t know was that Father Jacob may, for some reason, resent prostitutes who have children but are drinking and cohabiting. The dear secrets they so openly shared with him turned back on them, haunting them in a lethal fashion.”
Holmes could only smile.
“As I said, we’re both now at the same starting point again.”