Detective Inspector Oren MacTaggart slammed his fists against the top of the flat wooden desk in his small office at police headquarters. A pencil bounced from the force of the blow, fell off the desk and struck the floor. “Ah’ve every reason to throw all of ye in a cell, and leave ye there till ah’m good an done with this investigation!” Nearby, Constable Martin, dressed in his usual tidy blue uniform, stood to the right of the detective, his arms folded across his chest with a deep, disapproving frown etched on his face.
“Ah stop in to check on Mrs. Carpenter and to be askin’ her a few questions around her being attacked, what do Ah find?” Detective MacTaggart snarled with indignant outrage. “Ah find the lot of ye muckin’ about with a dead body in a ransacked house! All of ye, just ripe for arrest!”
Placed in front of the police detective’s desk, as if each were on trial, Moira, Lydia, William – without manacles while dressed in a fresh, clean set of clothes – and Anthony Hunter sat facing the irate detective. Each person seated there was a portrait of conflicted thoughts and emotions. Hunter gave the detective a stony look, obviously waiting for a moment to speak. William was pensive and obviously uncertain over what had transpired while he had been locked away. Lydia looked distraught, quite willing to vanish into the first hole she could either find or dig for herself the moment her battered courage snapped.Then, there was Moira.
“Then why don’t ye?” Moira yelled back while she leaped to her feet in a boxer’s stance, fists clenched by her side. “Seems clear ta me that all we’ve been doin’ is helpin’ un-bugger yer investigation, or whatever ya want ta call it!”
“That be so?” MacTaggart replied with a dark undertone. “Right now, ye all look prime ta be arrested and tried for interferin’ in me investigation! Ye achin’ to be shipped to Australia that badly, lass?”
“Moira!” Hunter barked sharply. When Moira did not move, Captain Hunter shot her a hard look. “Miss Wycliffe! That will be quite enough.”
“I’m long and tired of it, Cap’n.” Moira snapped. “We’ve been runnin’ about, kickin’ over stones that they’d been pokin’ at fer who knows how long and we’ve been getting’ better results than them. This bloody bugger could at least be thankin’ us fer the effort!”
Hunter turned, fixing Moira with an icy stare. “Moira. Sit. Down.” He enunciated each word forcibly, with the hesitation between each a punctuation that screamed in its brief silence. “Let the detective finish.”
Moira reluctantly returned to her seat with the briefest glare at the detective, who returned the look with one of his own. “Beggin’ the Cap’n’s pardon,” she said after a moment’s hesitation, then crossed her arms in irritation.
The detective cleared his throat, “As Ah started to say, Ah’ve every good reason to lock the lot of ye up for what ye’ve been up to.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly while he reached up to instinctively tug his tweed coat into a less rumpled position. Visibly the tension began to leak from his shoulders, as if he had resigned himself to a course of action.
MacTaggart pushed his glasses up from the end of his nose and continued, “However, it’d be a waste of time and money to be doin’ that. We now know none of ye are responsible for the murders. Even if all of ye are underfoot every step of the way.”
The detective held up a hand when Moira, Hunter and even Lydia started to interrupt. William, however, wisely sat silent. He had already enjoyed enough attention from the police, and was not eager for any more. “Look, we’re doin’ what we can, but to be sure and honest with all of ye, this case be a tough one. Whoever’s behind this has hidden themselves carefully away.” He paused and searched for the right words. “And as much as Ah might be wishin’ for it, the Home Office’ll not be givin’ me more help anytime soon.”
“We could lend a hand or two,” Lydia hesitantly suggested.
“We could, ya know.” Moira piped up immediately. “There’s them Pinkertons over in the ‘States, they do something like this.”
“Pinkertons,” Constable Martin said in a huff. “They be no better’n paid thugs, if ye ask me. No sense of proper police work.”
“The Pinkertons notwithstanding,” Hunter interjected quickly, as he leaned forward in his chair, “we have uncovered quite a bit of useful information so far, just from talking with those that might not normally speak to the constabulary. Trouble being, we’ve plenty of information, but not the vital pieces to form a larger picture. Perhaps, much as the ladies suggest, we pool our information so that this wider tapestry will emerge.”
Detective MacTaggart heavily resumed his seat, the aged wooden chair squeaking in protest. “Ah’m not so certain about this. Could be me job over it. Though, it might be me job if Ah can’t be catchin’ this murderer.”
“Then let us help you, Detective,” Hunter implored. “It’s quite apparent that something very dire and very foul is underfoot. You have an entrenched enemy. One who’s settled in under the skin, blood and bone of Edinburgh. Peering out from the dark corners where the constabulary’s arm cannot reach into. We, however, would not be quite so hampered.”
The detective considered this for a long, quiet moment while he gazed off into an empty space in the room. Eventually, his eyes met Constable Martin’s, then swept over the visitors seated in front of his desk.
“All right, Ah agree.” MacTaggart said at last, and held out a hand. “At least in this way, Ah can keep an eye on the lot of ye while digging out this monster from whatever pit he’s callin’ home. If fortune’s willing to favor a foolish detective today.”
Hunter stood, smiled, and gave Oren MacTaggart’s hand a firm shake as if to seal the deal. “Capital! So, what would you suggest we do from here?”
“See just what we’ve got to work with,” the detective replied frankly. “We’ve been been narrowin’ down where the victims are from. Ah don’t know if any of ye know this but all the victims, beside the first one, live in or next to West Port.”
William – ignorant of the nighttime mortuary visit – looked curiously at Detective MacTaggart. “What’s so special about the first one?”
“No idea who she be,” Constable Martin explained. “Talked all up and down the Grassmarket about her. Several remember seein’ her, but none ever spoke to her.”
“Maybe for now, we can assume she’s from West Port,” Moira suggested. “We can always go huntin’ after who she is once we see what pieces we all have got.”
Detective MacTaggart cleared his throat, “Beyond that, unofficially, the killin’ and kidnappin’ has only been over the past few weeks. Most only know about a few days to a week.”
“Two of your victims were from the docks? The two men, correct?” Hunter asked.
“How did ye … ” the detective started to ask, but quickly stopped himself. “Wait, don’t explain. Best Ah not know.”
Moira smirked at the detective, then at Constable Martin who gave the group a suspicious look. “A little mouse told us, that’s all.”
Constable Martin raised an eyebrow and stroked his mustache while his suspicious look grew more pronounced. “Ah’m sure.”
Detective MacTaggart ignored the exchange and pressed on. “Ye’re right. They both worked at the south side of the Leith Docks. They handled cargo to and from ships there.”
“Hiram’s note mentioned the south docks,” Hunter interjected. “It read ‘Ligan, The Betsy, south docks, dogs watch’. Given Leith is the only port for Edinburgh, he had to have meant the southern section of the port.”
“Pray tell, what’s the Betsy?” Constable Martin asked, his curiosity aroused.
“A boat,” Hunter replied, while a faint smile from good memories emerged in his mind’s eye. “Hiram’s, to be precise. He’s had it for most of the years I’ve known the man. Lived off it like a house. He always said he was more comfortable with a keel under his feet than dirt. Nothing much to look at mind you, being an old smuggler’s boat, but he often said she had it where it counted.”
The constable nodded. “Sounds like a reason to look into the place, if ever there be one.”
“One question, Detective: you mentioned a physician was assisting you, yes? Has he found anything of significance with the methods of murder?” Hunter asked curiously.
“Yes, Dr. Benjamin Belker … ” MacTaggart said after a moment’s hesitation. “He’s come across some oddities. They be rather ghoulish, if Ah do say.”
“Were they killed just like the one I found?” William asked hesitantly.
“Yes, about the same.” The detective replied. “As ye know, lad, the ghoulish part is how they’re all killed. It’s been precious little ta go on. The doctor’s supposed to be looking over the young lady we dropped off yesterday. With luck, he’ll be finding something we can work with. We’re hoping for something physical, an object or hint at something beyond how they were stabbed.”
Anthony and Moira exchanged a look, as both remembered the small devices and the bruise that Thorias discovered while they were in the mortuary. The captain was about to say something when Lydia spoke up.
“Has anyone heard after Allison?” She asked with a deep, worried tone in her voice. “She’s been gone as long as some of the others.”
“I heard some odd things, not sure how much they matter,” William replied with a weak shrug. The young man looked at Captain Hunter. “Cap’n, ya asked me to look into them flowers, remember? I did so, and came across a nice lady named Mrs. Givens. She’s a flower seller just outside the Grassmarket. She remembered Miss Newt. That’s not the odd thing, though. The flowers found by Miss Newt’s cart? They had to have been fresh. Otherwise they’d have been all wilted.
“Then someone would be havin’ to leave the flowers,” Detective MacTaggart said, half to himself, half to the others in the room. “Or the young lady be gone a much shorter time. Constable …”
Constable Martin, who had already stepped away from where he stood near Detective MacTaggart’s desk, walked towards the door of the office. “Already about it, Detective. Ah’ll get one of the lads to keep an eye on the Cattle Market for a night or two. Be back in a moment.”
“Good man,” MacTaggart said with a brief nod of approval. He looked back at the others. “Anything else?”
“There’s a man named Rodney,” Moira said, “that supposedly knows Allison. Seen her recently also. I’m ta meet him today in the afternoon.”
The detective nodded while he took in the information. “Ah can have a constable come along, he’d be stayin’ discreet unless ye need him.”
Moira started to reply then hesitated. Rodney was anything but dangerous. She shook her head. “He’s no danger. ‘Sides, we’ll be in a public tea house and I won’t be headin’ off anywhere alone with him.”
“It would be unbecoming on your first social with the young man,” Hunter teased. Moira gave her captain a sour look, as if she might stick her tongue out at him. Anthony only chuckled in reply.
MacTaggart ignored the display. “Ah may be sendin’ a man around, anyway.”
“But … ” Moira began, but the detective interrupted her.
“Ye be workin’ with the police, and this be my rules.” MacTaggart said firmly. “He’ll be subtle unless ye need him.”
Moira scowled slightly. “Fine.”
“I’ve somethin’.” William spoke up again. “I don’t know if it’ll help. When I was askin’ about the flowers, I was told about somethin’ strange going on at a cemetery. Grayfriar’s Kirk Cemetery, if I recall it.”
Detective MacTaggart considered that a moment. “Ah know the place. It be just down the road from the Grassmarket and West Port. Not quite a short stretch of the legs.”
William nodded. “I think I remember us walkin’ by it. The way I heard it, Allison was seen lookin’ about in there. I was going ta look for myself, but that was before Mrs. Carpenter was attacked.”
“Someplace else we need ta put an eye to.” The detective mused aloud. “Captain, as me own resources are thin, it seems we’ll need to spread out if’n we’re to cover all those places.”
A ghost of a smile played across Hunter’s face. “My thoughts exactly, Detective. If I might suggest, since Moira is having her meeting at two in the afternoon, you and I could search the docks since there’s so much ground to cover. William could go to the cemetery with a constable.”
Detective MacTaggart thought that through a moment. Finally, he spoke up. “Ah can see it. Ah agree.”
Lydia looked around at everyone in the room. “Wait, now, I can lend a hand or two here. Allison was me friend. I can’t just be sittin’ around on me hands while everyone else does the work.”
“Ah’ve lads still looking over ye boardin’ house,” the Detective said. “They won’t be finished till much into the afternoon. Ye can’t be going back until they’re done.”
“Most of the Griffin‘s refit has nothing to do with her cabins,” Hunter interjected. “The young lady could stay aboard under close watch from a couple of my crew.”
“Ah’m not so certain about that idea.” Detective MacTaggart replied, a note of uncertainty echoing in his voice. “Quite a bit points to the docks. If’n whoever took Mrs. Carpenter comes back, they might easily stumble across Miss Olivander there.”
“There’s the White Hart Tavern, then.” Hunter offered. “We’re staying there, and you could secure a room just down from us. Simple enough to station a constable there, as well.”
“It take a bit of talkin’ with the owner, but ye have a point,” the detective said after a moment’s consideration. “Ah’ll need ta make sure he’s got a place where she’ll be easy to watch over, and keep quiet that she even be there.”
Lydia glanced at both men nervously then made a sour face. “But that’s just what I was talkin’ about. I don’t want ta be cooped up in some room.”
“It be for ye own good.” MacTaggart said firmly.
“Miss Olivander,” Hunter began, “The detective is quite right about this. I believe we are beginning to stir a hornet’s nest. You’ve been asking about your missing friend for some number of days now. Whoever is behind this is bound to learn of you and your questions, if they have not already. You could very well be their next intended victim.”
Lydia looked around, then finally slumped slightly in her chair. “Do I even get ta choose where I’m gonna be locked up?”
Detective MacTaggart smiled and shook his head slightly. “It be anythin’ but a gaol, and the constable will be there to protect ye.”
“I’d prefer the White Hart,” Lydia replied glumly. “No offense, Captain, but I’d feel a bit odd takin’ space up aboard yer ship.”
“None taken, Miss Olivander,” Hunter replied with a faint smirk. “As you so succinctly – and eloquently, I must say – put it before, you’re not a member of my crew.”
Lydia looked away at a blank spot on the wall while her cheeks turned red from embarrassment.
“Seems we’ll be havin’ a busy day then,” the detective commented. “We might as well be at it. Luck be with us.”