On the first floor of the Blake Hospital, in the back hallway, three figures crept quietly along. Bands of shadows draped like a thick shroud over silent corners, along walls and across doorways to darkened rooms. Windows let in pale streams of moonlight that swept aside the darkness and drove it back against the wall at regular intervals.
“The main records room, I believe, is at the end of this hallway.” Thorias said quietly, pointing to a lone door at the end of the corridor.
“Why’d they store their papers all the way back here?” Moira replied quizzically. “Seems a long way ta carry ’em.”
“Of the hospitals I’ve known, most are built out of something else. For instance, a manor home, like this one was.” The elven doctor explained quietly. “They convert as many rooms for the patients, usually the old bedrooms and guest rooms, as it makes for an easier means to care for them and for the patients to rest. Whatever is left is converted for other uses.”
“Oh, like a place ta keep all their papers?” Moira asked, following the doctor down the hallway.
“Precisely,” Thorias said with a small nod. “An office for the doctors as well.”
Behind them both, Captain Hunter watchfully glanced at each darkened doorway they passed. “Granted that, would any corpses to be examined by a doctor be kept in that doctor’s office? Or a room near the records room away from the patients?” He asked in a whisper.
“Not in the office, no.” Thorias replied. “Typically they aren’t kept cold enough. Usually they are kept in either a basement or a room near the records room. Someplace that has the space for a refrigeration unit. However,” he finished with a small shrug. “All hospitals have their own practices.”
The trio paused at the end of the hallway, just in front of what they suspected was the door to the records room. Chestnut in color, the wooden door retained the tarnished brass hinges and door latch of its previous incarnation, well before it was a hospital. Hunter looked at both hinges and lock warily. He hoped they had been oiled. Anthony reached for the door, pausing one last time to make sure they had not been seen.
Silence wrapped its arms about them with a gentle embrace, as nothing moved in the still evening air. Suddenly, a dull snort echoed from a partially opened doorway fifteen feet behind them. Hunter’s back stiffened, Moira instinctively reached for her sidearm, then remembered she had left it on the Griffin. Thorias abruptly held his breath as he looked behind them.
The snort abruptly collapsed in on itself into a rough snore that quietly faded away. The trio in the hallway relaxed slowly.
“Just someone sleeping,” Captain Hunter said quietly, granting a name to the interruption. “Lets see what records we actually have.”
Anthony slowly turned the tarnished brass latch. The metal bolt in the antique door slid open with only the barest muffled click. Carefully, slowly, he pulled the door toward him. Inch by inch, the door eased away from its frame. Only once did the hinges protest, and even then the sound was no more than would a cricket make.
The room within was, in fact, a set of stairs leading down into darkness. Anthony looked at his companions with a surprised glance.
“Perhaps they keep their records downstairs as well.” The captain said, easing through the door. Moira and Thorias followed along behind the captain, only partially closing the door to allow a feeble amount of the ghostly moonlight to illuminate the stairs.
“Everybody keep their dead under the buildin’s?” Moira asked Thorias uneasily.
“Edinburgh is thick with inhabitants.” Thorias explained. “While I’m sure they add to the expanse of the city, more often I’m familiar with them renovating buildings for new and different purposes quite regularly. Therefore,” he shrugged to her while the descended the stairs, “they use every available space they have. Basements and root cellars included.”
At the bottom of the stairs, Hunter paused, feeling for a switch. The dim moonlight from above had accompanied them only so far, and exhausted itself near the bottom. Beyond the stairs, the basement was wrapped in a thick woolen blanket of darkness.
Finally, his fingers encountered an engraved winding key. Hunter gave three stout turns. Immediately the faint click of gears and the faint creak of a mainspring preceded the resurrected glow of lanterns hanging strategically on the walls of the basement.
“There, that should help.” Hunter said with a satisfied tone.
“Indeed,” Thorias agreed. “It seems we’ll need it.”
Moira paused just inside the door to the basement. “Where do we be startin’?” Her voice caught short with a hint of surprise while she looked to a room caressed in the gentle yellow glow of the lanterns. “Looks a bit like the other basement.”
“Likely the same carpenter was hired to refurbish both.” Thorias explained with a matter-of-fact tone.
The basement spread out in front of them for twenty feet, not subdivided off with any smaller rooms as the mortuary basement had been. On the far wall from the stairwell, a pair of old wooden doors – much like ones for a root cellar – were kept closed by a single padlock and old metal hasp.
Beginning on either side of the double doors, a collection of shelves, bolted to the dark, slate-gray basement stone, traced the shape of the basement along its walls. They raced along – save for one place on the right wall, which was heavy with papers and the occasional leather book. Eventually the shelves ended near, but not next to, the stairwell entrance.
In the only spot on the wall not occupied by any shelving sat a wooden cabinet with a glass door and a small wooden accountant’s desk. Out from that, in the middle of the room sat two wooden chairs and three tables. The cabinet held a wide array of polished medical tools and cryptic devices, although it was the three tables that dominated the view in the room. Next to it, the desk was well cared for and clean. Two of the three tables were thick with glass laboratory equipment, and the third held a sheet-covered figure. The sheet was clean, with only the hint of former use that resolved itself as brown and tan stains on the surface. Beneath it, the outline suggested a distinctly female figure.
“And there is our young miss.” Thorias said with a note of sadness in his voice.
“Indeed,” Hunter replied, then looked around at the sea of papers and binders. “Moira, the best advice I can give is start at one end and begin checking for numbers close to the one you found. If we are fortunate, they’ve been able to keep them in some sort of order.”
“Aye, Cap’n.” Moira answered with a small sigh, staring at the wooden shelves that sagged from volumes of information. She took a deep breath, stepped over to the yellowed papers and leather-bound binders to her right, and began her search.
Meanwhile, Anthony and Thorias focused their attention on the young woman beneath the sheet. The two walked over, and the doctor respectfully pulled the sheet aside to reveal a young woman. Her face was a deep ashen gray, with long tresses of dark brown hair that spilled around her peaceful countenance.
“She was butchered like the others before her.” Thorias said grimly. “Is she the young lady you were looking for, Anthony?”
Captain Hunter frowned and fought to conceal the revulsion he felt at the sight of how badly the young woman had been mangled. “No,” he said at last, “she’s not. At least she doesn’t match the description I have for Allison Newt.”
The doctor looked over at the cabinet and opened the glass door. From inside, he withdrew a pair of metal forceps. He looked them over with a skeptical eye.
“This will do.” He said, turning back towards the corpse. Carefully, he used the forceps to nudge open the horrific wound in the dead woman’s chest. He glanced over at Hunter.
“She’s suffered the same butchery that the others did. Although,” he said with a moment’s pause, “while the others were similar cuts but all in different portions of the lung, heart and so on, what this woman has been through is different. Where the incisions took place, there are minute traces of scalding. As if she was scorched in several different places in her chest.”
Hunter was stunned. “What? How can that be?”
“I’m not terribly certain.” Thorias said, confused. “I know of some techniques to cauterize a wound with a heated iron bar, or even with acid, but this … this originated from the inside!”
“How did she die?” Hunter asked somberly.
Thorias moved to examine the woman’s mouth and throat. “No signs of bruising. But this type of surgery would have required her to be unconscious. No one would willingly lie still for a vivisection, much less anything of this sort. If she encountered the same fate as the others in the mortuary, then she would’ve been suffocated.”
“Wouldn’t being suffocated leave some mark?” Hunter asked curiously.
Thorias looked up thoughtfully. “Usually yes, but only when the person being suffocated is aware of being attacked. If someone was to grab you, and then try to cut off your air, you’d struggle yes?”
“Naturally,” the captain replied.
“Of course. Anyone would.” The doctor continued. “But, imagine if the fiend came at you when you were deep asleep, or say after a good few glasses of brandy? Well then, you’d hardly be aware enough to fight back. All the murderer would have to do then is press a hand over your nose and mouth, perhaps even push down on your chest as well.”
Hunter looked uneasy. “Very … insightful. I daresay I think I’ll be sleeping lightly for awhile.”
“Cap’n?” Moira called out from the far side of the room. “Found the papers.” The blacksmith hesitated while she read. “She’s … Maggie Campbell.”
Hunter looked up at Moira in surprise. “That’s the young woman gone missing from Vivian Carpenter’s boarding house.”
“Aye,” Moira replied. “Be the same name, at least.”
Hunter glanced down at the woman’s corpse with an mixture of sadness and anger. He started to speak when he noticed a telltale sign of bluish stains on the dead woman’s fingers. Anthony knelt down for a closer look.
“Dye stains.” He said aloud.
“Eh?” Thorias asked, looking up from his examination of the body. “What’s that?”
“Dye stains. Such as would be on anyone working in a textile factory. Lydia Olivander has the same stains on her hands. Moira, is anything there written about any work Miss Campbell engaged in?”
Moira flipped through some of the papers. “No, Cap’n.”
“Are there any other records there? For the victims in the mortuary?” He asked quickly.
Moira returned to the place on the shelf where she found the papers on Maggie Campbell and checked the binders next to it. “Sure enough are. Warren Mullins and Dubney Parker. There’s somethin’ here on the woman too, but no name’s written down.”
Hunter stood and stretched his back slightly to relieve some stiffness. “Give anything about them? Where they worked? Where they lived?”
Moira searched the hand scrawled notes. “Sirrah Mullins and Parker both worked at the docks. Cargo haulers. Says they both lived in a boarding house in West Port, just off the Grassmarket. Nothin’ on the lady.”
“I wouldn’t expect much on the young woman, since they’ve not even identified …” Hunter’s words were cut off when a rattle of keys and the sound of voices echoed in the hallway.
“Not again!” Thorias swore bitterly. “Can’t I complete just one examination in peace?”
Moira shoved the papers back together and tucked them under her arm. “What’re ya on about? It’s not like they’ll be sayin to us: Oh sure … just sneak in an take ya time searchin’ them dead bodies in the dead o’ night when we’re not watchin.”
“That’s enough of that. First we escape, then you both can bicker.” Hunter looked in the direction of the stairs they had come down. The voices were agitated, one was even angry. The captain quickly looked around the room. His eyes settled on the double doors at the far side. “We’ll try the doors.”
“Won’t that be the first place they’ll think to look?” Thorias asked.
“We’re in a basement, we’ve not much choice.” Hunter replied.
“What about this?” Moira said, pointing to a small window above the wooden cabinet.
The window was at most two foot in height and three feet wide. Hunter looked skeptical.
Thorias found a towel and wiped a dab of blood from the end of the forceps. He carefully replaced the tool back in the cabinet. “Looks wide enough to squeeze through, but where does it lead?”
Moira shrugged, already pulling one of the chairs over next to the cabinet. Using that as a boost, she climbed atop the cabinet and rubbed the dust and grime from the window. “Street, most likely. Lookin’ like the one behind the hospital.”
“Any port in a storm.” Hunter said with a sigh, stripping off his long coat to better fit his broad shouldered frame through the small window. “The window it is.”
Moira tugged at the window, it protested with a loud creak as it opened wide. From the hallway above, the footsteps and voices paused.
“What was that?” A male asked sternly. “I thought you said the doctor wasn’t working late.”
“He isn’t working late.” A woman’s voice snapped back. “I remember him leaving quite on time for tea. I also remember that door being shut also, as I was the one who shut it when I put some of the patient records away!”
“When did ye be doin’ that?” The man’s voice asked.
“Four hours back.” The woman said urgently.
Suddenly the footsteps changed from a slow walk to a dead run.
“I know that bloke,” Moira said in shock, just before she entered the window. “It be that constable workin’ with Detective MacTaggart. Constable Martin. The woman sounds like that lady who works here.”
Hunter sighed in frustration. “Yes, Sarah Milligan.” This was not one his better plans by far. “Get out the window!” He hissed.
At the captain’s stern words, she nodded once and squirmed out the window. Thorias quickly replaced the sheet over Maggie Campbell’s body, then scrambled up the chair and onto the cabinet. While waiting his turn to climb up, Hunter glanced around, looking for any evidence that might betray their presence. His eyes settled on the section of shelf where the medical records had been. He quickly glanced up just as Thorias tossed the bloody towel through the window.
“The records!” Hunter whispered urgently. “Where are they?”
Through the window, Moira leaned down and waved the folder, bound with a leather cord, in Hunter’s direction.
“Here! Thought we’d need ’em for later!” Moira replied.
The captain sighed. “No! Toss them here!”
Quickly, Moira handed them to Thorias, who in turn threw the bound folder to Hunter before squirming through the open window like a wiry otter down a wet slope.
Anthony caught the bundle and raced for the spot on the shelves where they had been. Quickly, he jammed them into place just as the door at the top of the stairs creaked in protest then jerked open.
Outside, Thorias turned expectantly, but saw no sign of Anthony Hunter. At the sound of footsteps running down the stairs, he eased the window shut. Just as the window closed, without any disruptive squeaks this time, Constable Martin, Sarah Milligan and the older grounds keeper, Duncan, raced into the room.
The elven doctor looked around the room through the dirt-smudged glass of the little window. Captain Hunter was nowhere to be seen.
“Where’d he go?” Moira hissed frantically in Thorias’ ear.
“I haven’t the first idea.” Thorias whispered back. “So he must be still in there. We’ll have to wait to see what we can do to help.”
“But … ” Moira started to protest, but Thorias cut her short.
“No. We wait.” He said with a stern glance. “Going in guns blazing will solve nothing. Right now, we watch, and we wait for the right moment to help.”