The reporters' voices ran together, but Maggie could still pick out a few questions: "Think he'll dangle for his crimes?" "Are you in favor of capital punishment?" And then, always the reminder: "You were almost one of his victims. Wish you'd finished the job yourself?"
I do wish I'd had better aim that night. Maggie had shot Reitter in the face, taking out his cheekbone and one eye. Then he'd been captured alive. A few inches one way or the other and we'd be spared all this.
One hunch-shouldered man in a black trilby stepped in front of her, blocking her path. She recognized Boris Jones's pale moon face and round black-framed glasses from the trial; once a respected journalist, he now worked for one of London's worst tabloids. "Have you seen this morning's paper?" he asked in his high-pitched, nasal voice. He held up a fresh copy of The Daily Enquirer, forcing her to read: BLACKOUT BEAST PUT DOWN? Nicholas Reitter, Sequential Murderer in the Style of Jack the Ripper, to Be Sentenced Today. "What do you hope the judge decides, Miss Hope?"
Is it even a question? Maggie wondered. But before she could move on, a petite figure in herringbone tweed inserted herself between Maggie and the reporter. "Shoo!" the woman admonished, as if the bulky man were nothing more than a wayward puppy. When Jones stood his ground, she waved her walking stick at him; it was topped with a silver British bulldog. He swallowed and took a step back.
Even at age eighty-four Vera Baines was a force to be reckoned with. "Mrs. Baines!" Maggie exclaimed, with the first genuine smile of the morning. Vera had found one of the Blackout Beast's first victims on her shift as an ARP warden and had remained involved in the case. When Maggie had returned to London, they'd become acquainted during the trial, and then Maggie had joined Vera's book club.
"Miss Hope," Vera replied, taking Maggie's arm. Together, they made their way through the crowd of shouting journalists and photographers, flashbulbs detonating.
"Despite the circumstances, it's good to see you again," Vera said, keeping the crowd back with her walking stick as she steered the younger woman through. She called back, "And you, too, Detective Chief Inspector." Durgin nodded and tipped his cap.
They approached the courthouse's arched doors. Maggie flinched as Jones caught up to her once again. "Miss Hope," he said, panting, "what do you think should be the fate of the Blackout Beast?"
Maggie had had enough. She stopped and looked him square in the face. "Everything today seems to be about Nicholas Reitter. But I'm thinking about the victims—Joanna Metcalf, Doreen Leighton, Gladys Chorley, Olivia Sutherland, and Bronwyn Parry. Let's not forget their names today. They, as well as the brave men of the Met Police—Cyril Page, Alan Dailey, Douglas Gage, William Lekkie, Anthony O'Leary, and Stanley Vincent—are dead. I'm here to represent them and make sure they're not forgotten."
Once again, Vera brandished her walking stick. "We're done, sir. Good day!"
Photographers weren't allowed inside the courts, and as they passed through the doors, Maggie breathed a sigh of relief. The lobby was hushed, full of pale men in dark suits and ties and a few women with drawn faces.
The trio walked through the hall under the soaring arched ceilings, Maggie's boots tapping on the marble mosaic floor. A few paces in front of them, the scent of roses wafted off a woman in a pink hat trimmed in pink silk flowers and circles of ribbons. The heavy floral scent made Maggie feel faint, but Vera only grasped her arm tighter. "Stiff upper lip, my girl, stiff upper lip."
They reached courtroom number 13; a sign in block lettering in front of the door read, R V REITTER. Vera raised her chin. "We must be brave little soldiers now," she admonished. Maggie didn't know if Vera was saying it to her, or to Durgin, or to herself. Perhaps to all of us, she thought as Vera pushed the doors open.
The high-ceilinged chamber was colder than the hall and loud with echoing nervous chatter. Maggie and Durgin followed Vera to one of the few still-empty leather-upholstered benches at the back of the gallery. Maggie had been in the same courtroom with Durgin once before, on the day she testified against Reitter. Once again, Maggie spotted the woman in the pink hat nearer the defendant's dock; she looked away when the woman caught her glance with an unsettling stare.
Above the bench was yet another iteration of Justice. "She doesn't seem to need a blindfold, either," Maggie said to Durgin. She slipped out of her coat, revealing a black dress from before the war. It was clean and neat, the cuffs mended and the collar replaced. She flipped back her veil and took a seat.
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Running Out of Road by Daniel Friedman.