“I don’t see no one inside,” Johnny Dawkins exclaimed, from atop the shoulders of Mr. Petharic. The boy’s excited whisper seemed to cut right through the frosty December air causing Petharic to cringe. At least half dozen times already he’d had to remind Johnny to speak only when required and only then to do so in hushed tones.
“Without stealth we risk arousing the suspicions of the neighbours,” he explained as they made their way across the city earlier.
“Don’t see how it matters much, ain’t too many can see in back of Mr. Emerson’s house anyhow,” Johnny replied as the mismatched pair navigated the maze of Wheatstone canals. “”Ceptin’ them at Miss Book’s. They actually gotta pretty good view lookin’ onto Mr. Emerson’s back steps.”
“I believe I have met this Miss Book if by ‘Miss Book’ you are actually referring to Miss Hienrichs.” Petharic paused before reminding Johnny once again, “Listen, I need you to be alert, especially now that I run the risk of being identified should you screw up. We are at a delicate stage, especially if we have to break something to get in.”
“Jimmy done told me once Mr. Emerson always forgets to lock his kitchen windows so we don’t even need to break nothin’ so long as you give me a boost.”
Petharic gritted his teeth as Johnny adjusted his footing and dug his toes into either side of his collar bone. He detested being exposed like this. He scanned the windows for any sign of movement from in Miss Hienrich’s home but all appeared quiet. He reached his arm across his side, a reflexive move to ensure he could still reach his gun unimpeded. He gauged the length of the shadows, judging the hour to be about three in the afternoon. Still at least two hours of light this time of year.
Petharic glanced up as best he could in order to better monitor and direct the child’s progress. He watched as the urchin braced his chest against the window frame, cupped his hands to the sooty pane and peered into the kitchen.
“There ain’t no fire in the stove neither,” Johnny called down. “With it nearin’ dinner time ‘n all it’s likely he and the Miss Missus is outten about, else they’d be heatin’ that bugger up by now to cook their stew.”Petharic shifted his stance eliciting a shout of alarm from the boy. “Oy, you be careful down there!”
“Quiet,” Petharic hissed without any attempt at masking his irritation. “Try the window. The longer we loiter the greater the risk of observation.”
Petharic heard the sound of wood sliding against wood. “It is unlocked!” Johnny called down, his volume rising with a note of excitement.
“For the last time – speak softly!” Petharic held up a finger in warning. “Don’t waste a moment, now, get inside and unlock the door!”
The Late November sun had long since set leaving Petharic and Johnny shivering in the dark front parlour of the Wheatstone house. From outside came the nighttime sound of engines and horns as delivery men used the canals to transport their wares.
“I be some cold Mister Petharic,” Johnny piped up from across the room.
Truth be told Petharic was cold himself. “Well,” he paused, not really wanting to give in to such minor discomfort. “It is late. We could light a fire. If I close the shutters and draw the drapes no one should see the glow from the street.
Johnny most heartily agreed and soon the room was bathed in a comforting glow from the hearth.
“You don’t suppose Mister Emerson and Miss Junie have any bread in their pantry?” Johnny ventured.
“Why don’t you check,” said Petharic who then handed Johnny a candle he’d taken from the table and lit off the fire. “While you’re at it why don’t you check to see if they have any cheese and wine.”
“I found lotsa good stuff,” said Johnny a few minutes later, his arms filled with bread, cheese, butter, onions, and tomatoes. Most impressively, however, he was rolling a small cask of amontillado along the floor with his foot.
“And I found us a whole cookie tin fulla hookah leaf – it’s just back in the pantry.” Johnny said excitedly. “I got me a pipe, we can pass it back and forth.”
“No need for such vulgarity,” said Petharic. “I carry my own pipe. Now run along, son, and get that tin.”
“Hey!” Johnny exclaimed returning just moments later with the cookie tin and finding Petharic already well into the picnic. “I thought you dint eat nothin’ that come from animals no more, like cheese and butter,”
“I’ve laxed, son,” said Petharic as he unbunged the cask and filled a mugful.
“Laxed, sir?” Johnny looked puzzled. “Are you sure that’s the right word?”
“Don’t get so hung up on semantics,” Petharic shook his head. “I’m getting myself back on the right track is the important thing.”
“I don’t understand?” Johnny still looked puzzled. “How is killing Emerson Lighthouse putting you back on the right track?”
“I knew you were going to bring this up.” Petharic staggered slightly as he went to lean against the mantel. “I would like to answer that by way of an analogy. Do you know what an analogy is, son?”
“Ain’t that something that’s done in the doctor’s office?”
“Correct,” Petharic said, only realizing after getting settled against the mantel that his mug was empty, necessitating he return to the cask. “Doctors often employ analogy to explain something of a complex nature to one of lesser intellect. It helps usher the simple minded to the next level.”
Petharic paused while he filled his mug, took a healthy swallow, then topped it up before crossing the room to take a seat across from Johnny.
“So back to my analogy.” Petharic continued. “Imagine one of the city trams is running out of control with no breaks and it’s heading right towards a pram somebody left on the tram tracks – and inside the pram is a sleeping baby.”
“Why would someone park a pram in front of a tram?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Petharic shook his head dismissively. “At the side of the tracks, and within your reach, is a hand switch which diverts the tram to a side track upon which a hansom carriage carrying eight grandmas home from a temperance meeting is parked.”
“Why would a hansom cab driver park his carriage on tram tracks?”
“Listen, stop being so tangential.” Petharic took a drink in order to stave off a wave of temper. “It doesn’t matter why it is there, what matters is what you do?“
“What I do?”
“Yes. Do you pull the switch, killing all eight grandmas – or do nothing and watch the baby get smashed by the tram?”
“Golly, that’s awful,” said the boy.
“Now think about it.” Petharic cautioned. “There’s no need for rash decisions. On the one hand you have a future contributing member of society and on the other, dead weight singing for a worthy cause.”
“If the baby died there’d probably be a coupla sad parents,” reasoned Johnny, “but if eight grandmas died there’d be a lotta sad urchins, at least eight but probably more.”
“They’d get over it,” said Petharic with a dismissive wave. “So, tell me, what would you do?”
“Well,” said Johnny, his face screwed up in consideration. “I would do the right thing I suppose.”
“Exactly!” Petharic slammed his empty mug down on the table as if his point had been clearly demonstrated. “As would I. And that is precisely why Emerson Lighthouse must die!”