“Detective, these log books show Mr. Falke was aboard the Brass Griffin the entire time your previous ‘vanishings’ had transpired.” Hunter said energetically, stabbing a finger onto a pair of weather-beaten, leather-bound ship’s records. “He was aboard until we reached port, at which time I gave most of the entire crew leave while my ship was undergoing repairs.”
That morning, Anthony, Moira and Thorias had risen with the smog-filtered sunrise, still tired from the previous night’s exploration of the dead victims at Blake Hospital. Thorias had returned to the Brass Griffin to continue pondering over the strange valve he had recovered from one of the bodies the night before. Hunter, upon recovering his ship’s logs for the Brass Griffin, had made his way to the police constable headquarters with Moira close behind.
Their unexpected appearance, along with a firm protest over William’s incarceration, had brought them quickly before Detective MacTaggart’s desk.
Detective MacTaggart, dressed in one his usual brown tweed suits, lifted the top-most log of the two that lay on his desk and idly flipped the pages. His countenance was impassive behind his wire-rimmed spectacles. “And ye logs show this?”
“That they do, Detective.” Hunter explained curtly, folding his arms over his chest. “We put in three days ago at Leith Docks for repairs and an engine refit. For that I maintain a strict and proper crew accounting, as none are allowed to remain aboard more than a few hours at a time. Those that do are either essential to the refitting, or part of the standing skeletal crew roster.” Hunter gestured to the books, “If I may?”
Detective MacTaggart handed the log book to Captain Hunter. Anthony flipped several pages into the journal and then returned the open book to the police detective. “If you’ll take note, that is the record of our arrival and the accounting of the crew as they disembarked.”
MacTaggart scanned the pages carefully. Finally, he looked up at Hunter, closed the log book with a faint, slow sigh of a man reaching deep into his reserve of patience and placed it back atop the other one. “Captain, ah have to admit, ye make a good case. However, ah’ve got a process to follow. While he was helpin’ Mrs. Carpenter, which ah for one commend him for doin’, he did find another woman monstrously killed. He might have been tellin’ us about the kidnappin’ to throw us off his path. The fact she was killed using a knife much akin to the one he carried makes it suspicious. The fact ah saw him try to hide it with me own eyes makes it more so.”
Moira fidgeted, obviously working herself up to a thunderous outburst despite her attempts to not foolishly yell at a police detective. Hunter, however, merely nodded sagely, even though inwardly he cursed a silent blue streak at the ill luck. “Can you prove it was his knife that did the deed though, Sirrah?”
The Detective smiled thinly. “Ah can’t tell ye yes or no, Captain.” He quickly raised a hand to forestall any comment from Moira who looked ready to exploded like a keg of powder. Abruptly she turned on her heel and slowly paced the length of the small office. “Before either of ye say a word, this be an open investigation. Ah’ve rules to be followin’ here. His knife be in the hands of a doctor now who’s been usin’ a process to see if the weapon might have been used on the young woman he found. Until we get that back, ye man stays here.”
The frown on the captain’s face was as dark as a thundercloud, however he could respect the need to be thorough. Hunter took a deep breath, then released it slowly.
“Might I have the courtesy of seeing my crewman, then?” Hunter asked with a small, if forced and frustrated smile.
“Certainly,” Detective MacTaggart agreed. “The constable can be takin’ ye. Oh, an Captain? When ye be done , ah’ve a few questions ah’d like to be askin’ ye myself.”
Moira gave Hunter a concerned look. The captain, however, returned it with a reassuring smile.
“Of course, Detective.” Hunter replied politely and picked up his long coat from a coat rack in the corner of the detective’s office. “Only glad to help the constabulary. While I’m speaking to my crewman, I’ll leave the log books here so you can wind up a servitor to make a copy of what you need.”
“Thank ye, Captain.” Detective MacTaggart said politely.
The constable led Hunter and Moira through the short maze of corridors until they reached the rear of the police headquarters. There, the freshly whitewashed walls gave way to base, rough-hewn brick, stained with the aged residue of tallow-burning lanterns. Doors and windows were either covered in bars or were themselves stout, iron cage doors that more often than not showed hints of rust at its edge.
At regular intervals, stern faced constables garbed in their blue woolen uniforms and armed with clubs stood guard with a watchful eye. All of the various sights led to the same conclusion: these were the holding cells where criminals or suspected criminals were kept awaiting investigation, trial, or punishment.
Constable Martin led the pair through a large iron cage door and past two broad-shouldered constables. Beyond was a stone platform which formed a landing for a steel catwalk that ran the circumference of a wide, tall stone tower. An iron handrail kept the unwary from falling to the gravel courtyard below. Voice raised in anger filled the air.
Captain Hunter leaned on the rail and looked below. At least thirty feet down, several figures milled about. They were dirty; covered in varying layers of grime and filth that accented their drab clothing. The courtyard itself, where the figures were gathered, was surrounded by a tall fence like a large corral, with only a single cage door as any means of entrance or exit. Many clung to the edge of the cage, shouting taunts or threats at mostly the constables, but occasionally each other. Some, who happened to have noticed Anthony and Moira on the black iron catwalk above them, called out jeering calls to Moira who glared silently in return. Above it all, the stench of unwashed bodies rose like a noxious specter to hover maliciously in the air.
Among the smaller knots of prisoners, Hunter recognized a familiar figure sitting alone and off to one side of the large cage. It was William, still dressed in his clothing from the day before, looking haunted and quite unsettled.
“Wait here. Ah’ll run down and bring him along so ye can speak for a few minutes.” Constable Martin explained.
Moira and Hunter watched from their place at the railing while the constable followed the catwalk to some steps that eventually led him to the corral of prisoners at the bottom of the tower. Once a gang of blue-clad police had pushed aside the prisoners from the main gate, William was escorted out and up the stairs. In no time he had arrived to where Hunter and Moira were waiting.
“Looking fit, Will.” Hunter said by way of a greeting. Hunter started to shake the young man’s hand, but stopped when Constable Martin, who stood nearby, shook his head slightly at the captain to indicate that it was not allowed. Captain Hunter looked briefly at his hand then let it drop to his side. “I have to say … I’m quite sorry I let you get in such a state. It shouldn’t have come about.”
William shrugged, causing his manacles to jingle slightly, like the rattle of steel chimes. “Quite all right Cap’n. Not yer fault a bit. Just a misunderstandin’, what with me jumpin’ in ta help Mrs. Carpenter.”
“What did happen?” Moira asked quickly, interrupting Hunter’s response. “No one’s really told us what’s goin’ on.”
“Not much ta tell.” William admitted, trying to hide his fatigue and anxiety under a thin attempt at nonchalance. “I’m walkin’ along the Grassmarket when, plain as day, I see two buggers pinch Mrs. Carpenter! Well, I dive off after them, thinkin’ someone surely has called the constables. I was thinkin’ she was bein’ robbed, given she was carryin’ a basket with what she’d bought so far in the Grassmarket.”
Hunter folded his arms over his chest and nodded. “Good instincts. I’ve always said you’ve had that. Go on.” He said.
William blushed a little. “Thanks, Cap’n. Well, like I said, I go after them. They take her off down a close I’m not sure anybody uses much. When I got down there, I saw the bloody nabbers tryin’ ta choke Mrs. Carpenter! That’s when I noticed I was by meself.”
“So you jumped ’em.” Moira said, more as a fact than a question.
“Right,” the young man confirmed. “Didn’t have a gun or anything, so I used my skinning knife. It was all I had on me. Once I cut one, and Mrs. Carpenter got a hand free, they lost the fire to fight us. They broke down a door and ran off. After that was when I stumbled across the dead girl, half-hidden under the trash pile.”
“Dead girl?” Hunter asked, intensely interested.
“Aye, Cap’n.” William said with a nod. “Right pretty in the face, too.” The young man hesitated slightly at the stark memory of the dead body. “She’d been cut up pretty bad. Like a skinned animal. I figure that’s why they got me here. My skinning knife.”
“To be puttin’ it blunt, ye be right.” Said Detective MacTaggart, joining them on the catwalk with a pair of books in hand. Hunter’s face grew wooden and expressionless. Moira frowned.
“Detective.” Hunter said, his voice not quite covering his surprise. “I didn’t think you would be joining us.” The captain hesitated. “Or at least so soon.”
“Something came up that ah need ta see about. However, ah hate to disappoint ye Captain, it turns out we don’t need ta speak at length at all.” the detective said with a faint smirk.
“I believe I’ll find a way to soldier on.” Hunter replied wryly.
If the detective noticed, he gave no sign. “So, before ah go, ah wanted ta bring the log books back before ye got away. The dockmaster at the Leith Docks will be sendin’ his own log for the past week. Ah’ll be comparin’ that with the copies of yer logs. Ah might have questions then.”
Captain Hunter took the log books Detective MacTaggart offered, tucking them smartly under his arm. His left hand gripped them tight out of frustration. “Thank you, Detective.”
“Ye welcome.” The detective replied.
“Detective, the skinning knife in my man’s possession proves nothing. It’s a common enough knife, one I’ve seen far more than once among anyone in and around the docks. It makes for a strong possibility, but nothing more.” Hunter said flatly, his eyes as hard as stone.
MacTaggart gazed at Hunter from above his wire-rimmed spectacles before he pushed them up from the end of his nose. “Then the logs from the dockmaster will confirm that. If it all turns out like ye say, we’ll be sendin’ him along straight away ta ye, with no harm done. If’n ye don’t mind though, ah’d like ta speak with young William a bit more. Had somethin’ come ta mind.”
Hunter gave William a stern look. “You watch yourself in here. When they strike your bonds, make for the tavern. Stand firm, Will. We’ll help you get out of this as best as we’re able.”
“Aye, Cap’n.” William replied.
While the detective escorted William away for more questioning, Constable Martin walked Captain Hunter and Moira to the front steps of police headquarters. On the front steps, the constable waved at a passing cab driver that happened to look his way. The driver pulled up on the reigns, and slowed his horse to a stop at the curb.
“Ah know ye be wantin’ ta help clear his name.” The constable said to Moira and Hunter, while the cab driver stepped down from the driver’s seat and brushed some soot from his navy blue coat. “Best thing would be headin’ back ta where ye stayin’, and wait till he arrives.”
“Yer soundin’ sure he’ll be let go.” Moira asked tartly. “Ya didn’t seem that way a moment ago. Neither did the detective in there.”
The constable raised an eyebrow and looked down his nose at her in irritation. “Ah be full knowin’ how people look at the police constables. We don’t go around puttin’ just anyone in chains. Ah looked into ye claim about when ye made port. Plenty remember seein’ ye come in and none remember ye being here any earlier. Ah’ve told Detective MacTaggart about that, and he agrees with my thinkin’. Although, like the detective said, we just need a paper copy of when ye arrived, somethin’ substantial we can show, before ye man can go free.” Constable Martin gestured to the cab. “Ye cab’s waitin’.”
Hunter and Moira took their leave of the constable and made their way to Candlemaker’s Row. In the cab, Hunter gazed out the window with a pensive look. Moira, too, watched in silence while the buildings and people of Edinburgh passed by. At first she glared at anything unfortunate enough to find itself within her sight. Then, as the steady rhythm of the horses’ hooves against the cobblestones drummed a dull, soothing beat in the wordless air of the cab her stormy temper cooled to a more temperate level. She looked over to Hunter.
“I keep thinkin’ it all over, but I can’t suss out a reason for it.” Moira said, the cab bouncing along over the cobblestone street.
“What is that?” Hunter asked, his curiosity peaked by Moira’s vocalized half-thought.
“You, the peelers bein’ so cagey one moment, then bein’ so accomodatin’ ta Will after they kept him all trussed up.” Moira explained. “I mean, I kinda get some of that with Will. They’re lettin’ him go for a reason. I just can’t see clear what for.”
“They’re suspicious.” Hunter replied. “They know they’ve not enough to hang William, however cornering me will do them little good, either. Likely they are letting him loose to see what he does, where he goes, and who he’ll speak with.”
Moira made a rude sound of disgust. “Sounds like they’re usin’ him as bait.”
“Something of the sort, yes.” Hunter said thoughtfully. “I expected as much, given the sudden change of attitude on the part of Detective MacTaggart.” The captain hesitated a moment while his thoughts changed gears. “What escapes me in all this isn’t the motives of the police constabulary, but the relationship of the crimes. Specifically, why were those particular people killed?”
“How do ya mean?”
“The choice of person. All lived within a short walk of the Grassmarket and the West Port. One worked in a textile factory. Two worked at the Leith Docks.” Captain Hunter counted off the victims on one hand. “The fourth, all we know is that she put up a fight. Nothing more than that. How the two dead men connect to the women, I’ve no idea.”
“The records had’em down as cargo haulers.” Moira offered.
“Yes, but we’ve no idea if they even knew one another.” Hunter said grimly.
“Leith Docks be pretty large.” Moira said. “So they might not have known each other a bit. We’d have ta ask about for that.”
Anthony sighed and rubbed his eyes. “True, true.” The captain exhaled loudly, as if he was putting down a heavy weight. “So, where does that leave us?”
The cab bounced over another rough spot in the road. Inside, Moira grabbed the edge of the window to keep from bouncing off her seat and into Anthony. When she was settled she held up four fingers as if counting, and wiggled them slightly for effect. “So, we’ve got four dead bodies. Puttin’ aside where they might have worked, all of ’em were livin’ in and around West Port and Grassmarket area. Then there’s Allison, the one girl been missin’ for quite a few days. Since she’s not been found, she’s likely alive but maybe hiding?”
“My hope is that she is still alive. There is something about where we found Miss Newt’s belongings. Those flowers we found were fresh, or nearly so. That means the cart hadn’t been there long.” Hunter theorized. “That would explain why no one had stumbled across it before.”
“Then there be those little valves that Doc found.” Moira said quickly. “In the dead bodies.”
Hunter nodded in agreement while the cab jostled along the road. “Indeed. With luck, Thorias will make sense of those small devices and why the victims were missing pieces of themselves. Can you think of anything else?”
“Oh! Don’t be forgettin’ Hiram! He took off runnin’ like a scared rabbit when ya asked him about Allison.”
“Quite.” The captain agreed with a small nod. “That means there is some connection between the Leith Docks and the vanishings along West Port and Grassmarket.” He thought for a moment. “Smugglers have been known to abduct people for their crews. Risky for them to try that here in such a large city, but …”
Suddenly realization struck Moira like a hammer. “Rodney!” She blurted out, derailing Hunter’s train of thought.
“Eh?” Anthony said curiously. “What’s that?”
“The bloke I told ya about at the parts market.” Moira said in surprise. “I’m supposed ta meet him today at two in the afternoon for a cuppa.”
Hunter chuckled. “Ah yes, your new suitor.”
Moira scowled at Hunter. “He’s nothin’ of the kind! Rodney’s a nice bloke, and he knows Allison.”
However, the captain was still grinning while the cab bounced to a gentle stop. “Why yes, indeed.” He said. “Don’t fret, Moira, you won’t miss your engagement.” He looked out the window of the cab at the gray, drab walls of Mrs. Carpenter’s boarding house. “Capital! We’re here.”
“It’s not an ‘engagement’.” Moira said, a bit embarrassed and frustrated. “Just meetin’ him for a cuppa. No sense makin’ it out ta be some sorta event.”
Hunter paid the cab driver, petted one of the cab’s horses and chuckled wordlessly while he walked to the front door of boarding house. The cab trundled away down the street with a slow clatter of hooves. As the captain glanced upwards, his good humor melted away like sunlight fading behind a cold storm cloud. At the top of the stairs, the door stood slightly open, like a spring trap waiting to slam shut on the unwary. Just beyond, Hunter could make out that the small table in the foyer was overturned and a vase lay shattered into a dozen pieces.
Moira noticed the captain’s change in attitude and started to speak, but Hunter held up a hand to stop her. He shot a stern glance at her, then pointed at the broken vase and overturned table. She nodded in understanding before Hunter carefully scaled the stairs and nudged the door completely open with his right hand, which also held the thin leather ship’s journals. His left, the clockwork mechanical hand encased in its usual black leather glove, was balled into a tight fist.
The front door groaned faintly in protest, its sound echoing down the darkened hallway. Hunter blinked while his eyes grew accustomed to the shadow-drenched corridor. All along the scuffed hard wood flooring lay evidence of raw violence and destruction. Overturned tables, another broken vase scattered across the floor and discarded in one corner, and the torn painting of an army colonel in dress uniform were just part of the wreckage that greeted Captain Hunter and Moira. From the far end of the hallway, the misshapen dome of the tower servitor could be seen. It lay on its left side, two of its mechanical arms twisted in front of it, and a noticeable dent cratered in its dome. A soft, low, mournful groan of metal issued from it, like so much steam from an exhaust pipe, then it went silent.
Slowly, they eased through the door and crept down the hallway. All around, nothing moved. Everything was still. It was as if the boarding house held its breath in a dreaded anticipation. There was only the soft sound of their footfalls on the carpet and the occasional ghostly whisk when Hunter’s coat brushed against a corner or an overturned piece of furniture.
“Who coulda done this?” Moira asked in a hoarse whisper.
“I have not the first idea.” Hunter replied, his voice equally low. He knelt down to lightly run his fingers along the frayed cut that sliced diagonally through the painting. It was a neat slice, as if from a very sharp knife. The angle by which it landed suggested to Anthony that the painting of Mrs. Carpenter’s late husband may not have been the intended victim.
Abruptly, a basket fell to the floor behind them, underscoring a woman’s gasp of horror. Hunter half-turned and Moira spun around, fists at the ready. Lydia Olivander stood in the doorway, pale, eyes wide in shock with a hand to her mouth. The sunlight from outside gave her an unearthly yellowish, almost ghostly, halo.
“Is anyone here?” Lydia asked nervously.
“Yes, Miss Olivander, we are.” Hunter said, just loud enough for Lydia to hear. “Please step out of the doorway, we don’t know if the brigands are still about.”
Lydia promptly ducked outside the door, peering carefully around its frame. “What … what happened?”
Just then a faint thud echoed down the hall from deeper within the house. It sounded once, like a fist striking wood, then fell silent.
“An attack of some kind. As for why, we are not sure.” Hunter frowned at the noise. “Although, it seems there might be someone here to tell us.”