With the slightest of smug sneers, Ackerman slipped into his dressing gown and poured himself a small sherry. As the lukewarm liquid trickled down his throat, he pocketed his bedside revolver.
"Blasted fools better not interfere," he said. One quick look around the room was now in order. The door to his flat was bolted. Check. The eastern window was open a crack. Check. All he had to do now was hide and wait.
With a chuckle he looked down at the dummy stuffed in his bed. If that didn't confuse his prey, then, well, perhaps he was finished. Ackerman toasted his nemesis and downed the last of the bottle.
As he blew out the lights, he heard a faint rustling noise coming from what he assumed was the window. This was it. Quietly as he could, Ackerman slipped between the wall and his bed.
The old window slid open with barely a creak, blowing in rain and cold air. There was a soft footfall on the window seat, then the creaking of floorboards.
Ackerman prepared his revolver.
Then someone laughed a laugh he had not been expecting to hear. It was a high laugh, much too high a laugh to belong to his man.
"Inspector Ackerman," said a familiar voice. "Please, don't get up."
"Betsy?" he asked. "But I thought… Surely it can't be—"
"Instead of drawing this out with much gloating, giving you the chance to escape, I might add—"
"It had to have been Vervain! He wouldn't touch the punch! Made the excuse that he couldn't drink alcohol. He was taking quinine for malaria, just as Miss Smithe was; that's how he knew about her. You can't be the X—"
A gunshot rang through the night, and feathers flew up in a cloud. Ackerman leapt from his hiding place and tackled the woman to the ground, wresting the pistol from her hands.
"Tell me," he said between ragged breaths as he pinned her hands to her sides, "tell me how and why, and I might let you live to see the gallows. Are you truly the X Murderer?" He could feel her glowering at him in the darkness, felt her body wriggle as his nails dug into her wrists. "You blasted, vile creature. You cost me my career, my wife, my life!"
"How's that?" she demanded.
“Tell me why Miss Prewitt? Mr. Keefes? Mr. and Mrs. Miller? Why Miss Smithe? Why? I had a theory," he interrupted her. "I had a theory, and the Chief thought it was ludicrous. It's the reason I suspected Vervain."
"Let me go, you—"
"A religious fanatic, on the loose, trying to convert the 'lost souls,' condemning the wicked to their 'rightful' damnation."
Betsy tried to break in, "I don't know what you're—"
"It all fit," said Ackerman. "Every last one of the X Murderer's victims were into witchcraft; and I suppose Miss Smithe, God rest her poor soul, will be found to have had such ties. But what would have been your motive? It makes no sense. No sense at all."
They were quiet for a moment. Or, at least, Ackerman was. Betsy continued to whimper and writhe.
"Well," he said at long last, "I suppose that's for the judge and jury to discover. Of course, if you cooperate, I might convince the judge to show some leniency."
"The girls!" Betsy said at once. "It was me who told them to dress as they did. Or, rather, their maids. I'm good friends with both. I dropped a few hints, and they took them."
"Then you laced the punch with poison."
"Yes, yes. But I didn't commit no other murders! I swear it, on my honor."
"On the honor of a woman who just attempted to murder an aging man in his bed?" Ackerman shook his head. "Never mind that, yet. Tell me, it was you who attempted to frame Boyette?"
"Y—No. It wasn't! I swear it. I didn't think I'd get in no trouble for this. He told me I would be taken care of. I did this for him, for love, and now he is—"
Whatever he was, Ackerman didn't find out. A second gunshot rang through the night, this time piercing him in the back, above his heart.
He could just register Betsy screaming as he fell sideways off her. And as he slipped into unconsciousness, the face of Reverend Martin Vervain swam in front of his face.
"You were right," said King, looking down at his old friend. "It was Vervain all along. He came quietly, of course, once we stormed your house. He definitely wanted the credit this time." He patted Ackerman on the shoulder. "I'm sorry I didn't get there sooner, my friend. We were following the maid, my suspect, you understand. Who knew it was a diversion?" King gave a mirthless laugh. "You knew, probably. But he fooled us all, hiding under your bed like that. Really, you should have headed straight home and not for the pub. Blasted cockiness on your part, I'm afraid." He saluted the casket as it was closed and whispered, "Rest in peace, Eugene."