Within the cattle market, despite the late hour, the crowds had returned. This time the crowd of people was not one associated with buying or selling livestock, but were here for other interests. Across the length and breadth of the bog-filled market, the yellow glow of hand lanterns bobbed like corks on a wind-tossed, dark lake. Each lantern was carried by a constable, dressed in their distinctive woolen, dark blue uniform, custodian helmet and Wellington boots. Methodically, they had spread out in pairs to search the grounds, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Anything that would shed more light on the discovery brought to their attention earlier. Among the constables, the stout figure of Elias Ross shuffled about, wringing his hands in consternation. Occasionally he would exclaim his dismay over the police invasion, or plead that they be careful as he had to be ready for market in the coming week.
Beyond the commotion, next to the squat cattle sheds, Captain Hunter pushed his hands into the pockets of his long coat to fend off the evening chill. Stoically, he watched while a police detective spoke with Lydia at length. For several long minutes he gently asked her questions about Allison, such as when she last saw her, when they were supposed to meet, among many others. They spoke in low tones, which made it impossible for the captain to overhear more than the occasional word or two. Once the detective had turned away, Moira stepped up to speak quietly to the upset young woman. William lingered nearby with a long face that looked as if he would give all he could to be anywhere but where he was at the moment.
Detective Oren MacTaggart closed his small notebook and adjusted his wire-rimmed spectacles that seemed to perpetually slide to the end of his thin nose. “Ah think that’ll be all the questions Ah’ve got for the moment. While Ah’m very grateful ye’ve brought this to our attention, Ah must be remindin’ ye … all of ye … that if ye recall any more, you’d do wise to contact us immediately. In the meantime, we may be seekin’ all of ye out for more information as our investigation proceeds.”
Hunter nodded politely. “Of course, Detective. I can speak for my crew in that we’ll be berthed in Edinburgh for some time, yet.”
Behind the detective, a burly, older constable, brown mustache shot through with the first hint of gray, emerged from the run-down cattle shed where two other constables still lingered over Allison’s small cart. “Detective? Ah be thinkin’ we have all we’ll be findin’ here.”
“Very well then. Have the lads make another pass and we’ll be headin’ back ta headquarters then.” Detective MacTaggart looked over at Lydia. “Miss Olivander, where might ye be stayin’?”
Lydia flushed slightly. “A boarding house on down Candlemaker Row. Neily’s Boarding House it’s called. It’s not much but it’s all I can be gettin’ on me wages.”
The detective nodded sympathetically. “Ah understand, M’dear. We may come ’round ta speak with ye later. For now, Ah’ll be havin’ a constable take ye along home.”
Lydia fidgeted nervously, looking between the detective and the several constables that roamed about. Hunter had seen the look before. While in practice, the idea of a constabulary was a good one – and an idea Hunter agreed with – the general public did not widely share that same agreement. Often constables were viewed with suspicion, disdain, or irritation. Usually more the latter than the former.
The young woman cleared her throat. “Oh, well, that’s rather kind of ya detective. If’n ya don’t mind, I’ll make me own way back. It’s just a short stretch around the corner. No need ta trouble anyone over the likes o’ me.”
Detective MacTaggart adjusted his spectacles again. “Nonsense. It’s what we be here for. Constable Martin? Be seein’ Miss Olivander safely on her way.”
The burly constable with the grayish brown mustache inclined his head slightly in a half nod. “Right away.” He turned to Lydia with a reassuring smile. “When ye be ready miss, we’ll be along.”
Moira put a hand on the young lady’s arm. “If ya not workin’ tomorrow, we’ll stop on by ta call. Just ta see if yer doin’ well. If that’s a’right.”
The fatigue and weight of the situation had begun to wear on Lydia. She nodded and managed a smile despite the fatigue in her eyes. “The factory’s shut down fer the the day, somethin’ needin’ repairs from what I recall. I don’ know what. So, I’ll be at the boardin’ house helpin’ clean, most likely. Just so anyone don’t mind bein’ seen at a boardin’ house … that is?”
William chuckled with a grin. “Nothin’ ta worry over. Moira’s been thrown out ‘a more establishments than I can count! Don’t think we can get embarrassed over it no more!” Moira, with a stern look, elbowed the young man in the stomach, knocking the wind from him.
With a small laugh and a tired smile, Lydia waved, then walked with Constable Martin across the cattle market grounds. A moment later, they vanished from view into the night, a ghostly swirl of smoke in their wake under the gaslamps. Detective MacTaggart sighed heavily as if a lead weight hung from his shoulders.
“At least this time there be somethin’ ta look at.” The dectective glanced at Hunter. “Ah shouldn’a say this, but ye young lady friend be against some tall odds.”
The captain frowned. “How do you mean?”
“Ah’m assumin’ that ye know by now this na be the first person ta go missing along here. Nor the first time such happened.” MacTaggart explained. “West Port’s got it’s own wee share o’ murders. First, it be a pair of resurrection men, another time it be a bunch ‘hirin’ help among the poor here which in turn be just another name fer slavery. This time? Na sure. Now we’ve got more complaints of missin’ people than we’ve constables ta be seein’ after them all.”
The detective waved a hand at the small shed and wooden cart that could partially be seen from the open doorway. “From all this, Ah’d be havin’ ta call it theft. An if’n Ah don’t, headquarters might be anyway just ta be rid of it. Goods taken, blood stain where the young lass be fightin’ back ta keep her livelihood. Ah’d na be wantin’ ta say it aloud, but her friend may na be comin’ back, if it were a theft.” The detective smiled thinly, a tired but genuine attempt to be polite, and offered his hand to the captain. “Nonetheless, we’ll be doin’ what we can. Thank ye again for ye cooperation. If’n we need ta know more, we’ll come ta the White Hart and ask for ye.”
Hunter clapsed the man’s hand in a brief, firm handshake. “Certainly. Good evening, Detective.”
Slowly, in pairs or groups, the police slipped away from the cattle market. In the end, even Elias Ross, with a final look of irritation at Captain Hunter and his crew, returned to the seclusion of his small home that squatted to the right most side of the darkened livestock pens.
“Doesn’t sound as if they’ve got an idea.” William said, jerking a thumb in the direction of the departed police. “Ask a cargo load a’ questions and that be it.”
Hunter stared off in the direction the police departed. “Their investigations, as I understand it, take much longer. Though given what the detective did say, I’m worried they have too little to work with.”
“So, what do we do?” William asked with a concerned look. “We can’t be just going about our way.”
Hunter turned to look at Moira and William. “Of course not. We help them. Discreetly, of course. The good detective labeled this as a theft. I’d say that was a decision based more on frustration and fatigue than on the facts. William, you’re a tracker. Look into the shed yourself.”
“All right. Do ya have a lucifer I can use?” William asked Moira and Hunter.
The captain withdrew his leather matchstick case from an inner coat pocket and handed it over. William smiled, popped the case open and withdrew a match while he walked over to the small cattle shed. “Thank ya, Cap’n.”
When struck against the door frame, the match roared to life. Immediately the small area inside the doorway was bathed in a flickering orange light. William moved the light back and forth while he examined the cart, the ground, and even the few items left behind by the police, such as the tins of oil. Eventually the tracker stood and blew out the match before it burned his fingers. “Pretty odd fer a theft. Them tins of oil look new. Oil’s pricey these days.”
Hunter withdrew a brass gear from his pocket and handed it to Moira. “And this?”
Moira turned the gear over in her hands. The circumference of the gear was approximately the size of a man’s hand, and it was made of a finely tooled, thin brass. Surrounding the edge were the customary ‘teeth’ of the gear, that when used in conjunction could provide some means of motion to whatever the gear was attached to. However, brass as a metal was flexible, and often made for a poor metal for gears unless it was for something delicate, like a clock.
She studied it a moment longer then handed it back to Hunter. “That’d be nice work. Wouldn’t handle a bit of a load. Fer delicate mechanisms, that is. A bit large fer an opti-telegraphic though. Suit somethin’ bigger. I suppose if’n ya mounted a bigger opti in a ship somewhere.” She hesitated as a thought came back to her. “Lydia was sayin’ her friend sold parts ta people stayin’ along here who work with steam engines and the like. Most o’ those would be like us. Airship crew. That gear’d never be holdin’ up fer much aboard ship. That’d be something more suited ta more delicate. Like Arcady, or them clockwork men they be usin’ over in America.”
William snapped his fingers. “Or them new clockwork lamps I heard about. Real delicate, but don’ need gas. Or some o’ them new clockwork guard dogs. Real expensive, way I heard it told.”
Hunter smiled. “Precisely. If she peddled to airships and the locals, why would she have this? The other few pieces on the ground were more suited for either an opti-telegraphic or a thicker metal to support the gyrations of a steam turbine. Again, why leave the tins of oil? They would easily bring several shillings per tin. Why leave them?”
Moira shrugged. “I’m na thief, but I’d think he’d be makin’ off with ‘em. If he did somethin’ ta young Allison, why didn’ he just stuff her in the shed? He hid the cart?”
“Also how I’m thinking, as well.” Hunter agreed. “It’s simple to think of this as a theft. I suspect something darker.”
“The police won’t like us nosin’ around.” William said cautiously.
“We can’t just sit by and do nothin’.” Moira argued back.
Hunter gestured for the other two to follow him while he walked away from the sheds and toward the entrance of the cattle market. “We won’t. As I said, if we’re discreet, the police should be none the wiser of us, yet wiser as to the matter at hand. First order of business, a late meal. Then back here to look again. This was no simple burglary. Those parts had to come from somewhere. We gather a few, then tomorrow we try and locate where they might have come from. If we can backtrack where her parts came from, I suspect we might find someone who really did see Allison before she vanished.”