As Captain Hunter and Detective MacTaggart arrived at the Betsy, several slips to the south, the sandy-haired, rumpled figure of Rodney Barnes nervously stared at the gangplank to the Brass Griffin. Near the other end of the gangplank, aboard the ship, Thorias Llwellyn paced slowly across the width of the deck in thought, hands clasped behind his back. The doctor’s mind was ablaze with theories, all of which centered around the killing spree that had taken root in Edinburgh.
Calling the gruesome events of the past many days a ‘killing spree’ would be only a superficial description, from Throrias’ point of view. He had not voiced his theory yet – as it was only just that, a theory – however the acts committed to the corpses in the mortuary were not those of a mindless butcher. They were the acts of an educated being. What worried Thorias the most was the strong implication, in his mind at least, that this educated being might be well versed in medicine. The elven doctor sighed heavily, his gaze returning to the newcomer at the end of the gangplank.
The doctor had noticed the young man some few minutes before, but had not worried over his presence there. Either he would climb the gangplank and introduce himself, or surely he would go about his day. However, that had been at least ten minutes ago, and Thorias began to be unnerved as to the young man’s intensions. The doctor eyed the nervous, agitated, young man for what was the countless time.
With a sigh, Thorias stopped in mid-pace, instinctively grabbed the front of his black waist coat and gave it a gentle tug to straighten the material, then headed over to the railing in long, quick strides.
Before he could reach the railing, Moira stormed up the ladder from below deck wearing a fresh change of trousers, a clean linen shirt, and her old leather vest. With a bright grin to Thorias, she raced across the deck, brushing at her sleeves to be more presentable. Thorias’ only comment was to raise an eyebrow in response and shake his head slightly while she breezed past.
“He still about?” She asked, quickly pulling her brownish-red locks up with a ribbon into a neat pile of curls behind her head, trying to form a modest bun. In response, her hair partially escaped the binding to spill two long wavy locks along either shoulder.
“Well, as it happens … ” was all Thorias could manage before Moria looked past the thin, trim elven doctor to see Rodney waiting nervously on the dock. She gave the agitated, young inventor a hearty wave.
Rodney, on seeing Moira at last, managed a half-smile and pushed his glasses up from the end of his nose. They promptly began to work their way back down. He returned the wave, just without the same flagrant exuberance.
The doctor glanced at Rodney, then fixed a firm gaze on Moira. “So that is the young man I’ve heard talk of. He seems rather fragile, Moira. Be gentle,” he said in a low tone so as Rodney would not hear him.
Moira returned Thorias’ hard stare with a glare all her own. “It’s not what ya be thinkin’!” She hissed in reply. “It’s all about the case we’re on, helpin’ the constables and such.” Her look brightened immediately into a grin. “I’ve not done this detectifyin’ before. He’s my first real informant! Of course, I’ll be right careful with him.”
Before Thorias could say any more, Moira dashed around him and descended the gangplank towards Rodney who, for any who bothered to watch, resembled a nervous rabbit caught in broad daylight.
The doctor observed their meeting from where he stood on deck and shook his head. “I believe I’ll check the ship’s stores. I put an extra container of antiseptic and bandages somewhere.”
On the dock, Moira gave Rodney a wide grin. “Glad ya could make it,” She beamed.
He shrugged. “You did mention getting a cuppa’ while we talked over Allison and our invention,” the young man said with an undertone of uncertainty.
“Why, I sure did!” Moira said with a grin while she laced her arm in his. “I don’t know too many tea houses along the docks here, but I heard tell there’s one two block’s walk from here called ‘Hannah’s Tea Room’, I was thinkin’ we could go there.”
Rodney, who by this time was slowly turning a fair shade of crimson, nodded slightly. Eventually, he found his voice. “Certainly. I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of the place, but I’m sure it’s quite pleasant.”
“Hannah’s it is,” Moira said with another grin while she guided Rodney away from the Brass Griffin and towards the entrance to the Leith Docks.
They strolled out of the gate, then down along the street. Moira lead the way, keeping a firm hold on Rodney’s arm to help guide him and secretly make sure he would not suddenly change his mind about their agreement to have tea. In silence, they navigated the bustle of people, wagons and horse-drawn cabs until Moira could no longer stand the decided lack of conversation. As they came to a stop at a corner to wait for the wheeled and footed traffic to clear, Moira gave Rodney her most pleasant and disarming smile.
“So, when last we talked just the other day, ya seemed to know yer way around a ship-based opti-telegraphic. Work on a lot of them?” She asked curiously.
Rodney stammered a moment before he recovered his voice. “Oh, well, ah, I’ve done some work at repairing them. But not aboard a ship, with a real crew or any such thing, oh no. Just the odd job now and again doing repair work for ships in port. Oft times, it’s at the request of Sirrah Jones or some of his apprentice shipwrights.”
As the flow of traffic subsided, they darted between two wagons to the other side of the street. Once on the other side, they resumed their walk towards the tea house. Rodney, for all his anxiety from before, showed no desire to leave, just a general low level of nervousness. After a short distance into the walk, Moira suspected that Rodney did not share tea with women very often, excluding Allison.
“Is that how ya came to know Allison?” Moira asked. “Through buyin’ the parts ya needed for repairs?”
“As a matter of fact, it is,” Rodney said with a shy smile. “Also, it’s how our little project started.”
“I remember ya mentioning that. Alterin’ an opti to send images, right?” Moira asked, then she paused while a thought came to her. “Ya both been working on that for quite a while, ya said before.”
The young man nodded, “For some time, yes. Though we’ve been close to a major breakthrough.”
Ahead, Moira spied a small wooden sign with the image of a porcelain tea cup emblazoned on it. Below it were the simple words: ‘Hannah’s Tea and Biscuits’. She gestured to the sign. “There it is.”
Rodney looked where she pointed, “Ah, I see.”
The pair entered the tea house, letting the door slowly close behind them. Despite its proximity to the Leith Docks, Hannah’s was more of a refined tea house. The kind more often seen among the gentler parts of Edinburgh for the landed gentry. Lace and soft blue colors adorned the drapes that were held gracefully in place with a blue velvet binding. White clothes trimmed with blue and green vine patterns covered the tables that were tastefully set about the common room. Overall, it sat in stark contrast to the rough and grease-stained docks only two blocks away.
While Moira and Rodney looked around the common room, they were promptly greeted at the door by a young girl, no older than eleven with a head full of amber curls. She was dressed in a sky blue dress and white apron, and never seemed to lack for a smile.
She gave the pair a cautious look – mostly due to Moira’s particular taste of clothing – before leading the pair to a table with two chairs, then promptly brought over a tray of assorted biscuits before she ran off to heat a pot of water for tea. Behind her trailed a clockwork servitor, in this case a brass and leather miniature dragon no larger than a common house cat.
With the plate of biscuits on the table, she turned and shooed the servitor away, sending it off to gather linen napkins and a bowl of sugar for Moira and Rodney. The servitor returned a moment later in a flurry of brass trimmed, gray leather wings and carefully placed each folded linen napkin on the table, followed by the small bowl of sugar. With a flourish, it turned and flew off into the kitchen.
“So, ya said somethin’ about a breakthrough?” Moira prodded while she folded her hands on the table in front of her.
“We had been testing out the range. Allison would carry one of the devices with her, while I stayed at the other end of the Grassmarket, around the corner of the White Hart Tavern, or in our workshop at the far end of Candlemaker’s Row,” Rodney explained cheerfully. “Testing at night was a particular challenge, what with few external lights. I suggested a lantern, but Allison was always forgetting to light it. Though I didn’t think much of it, mind you, since we usually did our testing near where she lived at West Port, not far from the White Hart Tavern. At the time, I thought that would be the safest.” Rodney let the conversation trail away with an uncomfortable expression on his face.
Moira shifted in her chair, worried she was about to lose Rodney’s attention. “How did the testin’ come out?”
The question abruptly jerked Rodney out of his thoughts. “Oh, quite well. It gave Allison this just positively brilliant idea of storing the images for playback. You know, in case the other person did not have their opti-telegraphic at hand. Much like the current telegraph messages are stored in an opti now … ah … but with images you see.” He paused for a moment, searching for his words. “It’s not unlike what a servitor does, however a servitor cannot transmit the imagery it records over a distance. It records and plays back. Allison and I did discuss even perhaps augmenting a servitor one day … once we can afford one … and we work out the kinks in our theories.”
Moira sat shock upright and stared at Rodney in surprise as a sudden thought came to her like a bolt of lightning. She had listened to all of what he had said, understood it completely, but it was the implication of his meaning that struck her so abruptly. Of course, Moira thought. If they both had an opti, voice would have been recorded. “Rodney, did she have one of the opti-telegraphics that ya both been working on?”
“Well, naturally,” the young man replied in a surprised tone. “How else could we test while she worked doing her parts mongering?” Rodney hesitated a moment before he continued, an embarrassed blush rising to his cheeks. “But mine is … is in need of a,” He thought for a moment while he tossed about for the right word in his mind, “small … bit of repair.”
“Small?” Moira asked suspiciously. She, too, had used similar phrases many times in the past. Often, ‘small’ meant nothing of the kind.
Rodney looked truly embarrassed. “Well, moderate perhaps. You see, I had set my modified opti on a counter top to recover my notebook. When I turned back, my sleeve caught it and … well … it struck the floor of the workshop on the facing where the glass view-plate was.”
Moira leaned forward slightly in anticipation. “And?”
“And,” Rodney said with a ragged sigh, “it cracked. Actually, it cracked more than once … into an interesting spiderweb pattern.”
Moira sat back speechless in astonishment, which Rodney mistook for disappointment. Eager to defend his role in the accident, his words tumbled out in a mad dash for freedom, “Really now, I had no idea at the time how important those moments would be. I didn’t know she would simply drop square off the face of creation. How could I? All I knew was she was bringing her opti to bear to show me those people carrying that carpet about in the dead of night. Believe me, I’ve tried to repair it. I had no idea one of the main housing joints had come loose and so many internal parts would have been damaged in the fall.”
When Moira did not say anything in reply, Rodney looked down at the untouched plate of biscuits between them. He reached out and toyed with a scone. From the kitchen, the young girl finally reappeared with a plain, white porcelain teapot, steam curling from the spout, and a small tray with two tea cups. These she set between the pair with a small flourish.
“There ye have it! Fresh from the stove, it is!” She said brightly.
Rodney smiled faintly at the serving girl, “Thank you, Miss.”
“Ye welcome,” she replied before she breezed off for the kitchen again.
Still overwhelmed at Rodney’s implication, Moira gave Rodney a quizzical look, “Rodney, are ya tellin’ me that before, when ya told me ‘she saw two figures carrying a large bundle’, she was doin’ that with the opti? Right then, that night?”
The young man looked confused. “Well … yes. I thought you understood that?”
Moira shook her head just slightly in amazement. “Oh, I do now. So ya also said she sent ya a note and ya laid eyes on her a couple of days back?”
“Oh! Yes,” Rodney said brightly, “we met in Tinker’s Close as usual. She was rather upset. Quite upset actually. I asked her what happened, thinking that perhaps someone tried to accost her, but she really wouldn’t say. She said she wasn’t ready to tell anyone yet.”
“Not ready?” Moira echoed with a frown, trying to work out the meaning behind the words.
“Yes, Miss.” Rodney confirmed politely. “I’d hoped when I got the note, she wanted to explain. I’d even set aside some money in case she needed a means to pay for her space at West Port where she lived.”
Moira only partially heard the last of Rodney’s comment, as her mind was afire with ideas based on all the new information. She had agreed to the tea with Rodney for the hope that his close ties to Allison would shed some light on her habits, her nature, some personal clue that might lead them in the direction towards locating her. She had not expected to find that Rodney had spoken with her the very night Allison had seen something mysterious.
On top of that, even if their experiment with pictures was a failure, the opti would have dutifully recorded any sounds: words she said, other sounds of that evening in the background, very valuable clues as to her whereabouts. All of it potentially stored on that opti-telegraphic. Especially, if Allison had the forethought to try and contact Rodney before or at the moment she vanished. Moira sat forward in her chair, noticing the fresh pot of tea for the first time. She glance at it in confusion for a moment, then reached out to pour herself a cup.
Rodney fiddled with a linen napkin, then took his turn with the tea pot once Moira had filled her cup. He suddenly realized his lapse of manners. “Oh, I do apologize … I should have poured the … um … for you, I mean … ” He stammered on for another moment before regaining control of his words. “Please, I’m terribly out of practice. I’ve never been quite at ease with these social, personal moments.”
Moira smiled then laughed just a little. “It’s quite all right, Rodney, I’m not what ya call a proper social lady me own self.”
This seemed to ease Rodney’s case of nerves, as some of the tension left his general frame. While he fixed his tea and collected a biscuit for himself, Moira watched him thoughtfully, “So what did her note say?”
Rodney shrugged slightly, “just that she needed to meet with me at the usual place and time to discuss the events spoken about from the last test. Which I took to mean she wanted to talk about the last test of our new devices that night previously. Given we always met at Tinker’s Close just half past mid-day, I arrived at the time she indicated on the note, at the very stroke of the minute according to my pocket watch.” He hesitated a moment. “And … she never appeared.” He smiled sadly, then looked down at the table. “It did strike me as odd she would be so general, she’s normally quite literal in her words.”
The ideas clicked together in Moira’s mind like gears in a gearbox. They had been testing their devices that one evening when Allison observed something unusual: the two figures carrying the carpet in the dead of night. She was going to return the next night, capture what she saw, and transmit it, but Rodney’s device became broken first. What if Allison had managed to do so? What if the two figures, possibly being up to no good, had seen her? A cold chill ran along Moira’s spine at her next thought: What would they do if they thought she had spoken to someone? What would they do to find out who she spoke to? It was apparent to Moira that Rodney cared for Allison far beyond that of a friend. What might he do if any harm has come to Allison? Moira pushed the dark thoughts aside for the moment, despite their persistent need to clamor for attention.
Moira took a sip of her tea, as her mouth felt suddenly dry from anxiety. “How close are ya to havin’ yer opti back working?”
Rodney quickly chewed a bit of his biscuit and washed it down with a quick sip of tea. “Oh, a mere day, two at most. The housing took the brunt of the blow, which is as it should, but so much did come loose, I’ve had to recalibrate everything. That does take some time.”
“When ya do, I’d check if yer opti has anythin’ recorded from Allison,” Moira suggested. “And if ya don’t mind, if there is anythin’, I’d really appreciate knowin’ about it.”
“Certainly, I’d be more than happy to help,” Rodney said with a smile. “I’d sleep better knowing that Allison’s not … well … come to trouble.”
Suddenly, the door to the tea house flew open with a bang and a young boy, no older than twelve, with a head full of curly black hair stuffed partially under a dingy, gray woolen cap rushed in. He glanced around the tea house at the collection of surprised and alarmed patrons. When he spied the table where Moira and Rodney sat, he gave them both a lopsided grin, quickly brushed some soot from his brown waist coat in an attempt to neaten his appearance, then hurried over. From the kitchen, the young serving girl in the neat, sky blue dress rushed out at the abrupt commotion. Behind her the servitor soared out and hovered, its mechanical sensors surveying the room.
“Hey, ye name be ‘Moira’ would it, lass?” The boy said, still slightly out of breath.
Moira eyed the boy warily. “It might, who’s askin’?”
The boy gave her an indignant look. “Ah be askin’ o’ course! Me name be Jimmy, most call me Jimmy Quick. Ah been sent by a big bugger named Cap’n Hunter and some peeler named MacTaggart. Lucky fer me, ya took the closest tea house along the lane here from the docks, or Ah’d never be findin’ ye. Anyways, Ah been sent ta say William might be in a spot of trouble at the cemetery from a couple of big buggers. They’re headin’ over there now and would appreciate it if’n ye lend a hand.”
Moira looked hastily over at Rodney, “I’m really sorry, but I need t’go.”
Without a word, Rodney folded his napkin and placed some shillings on the table. “Then let’s be off,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“I’m not sure ya need to go where I’m goin’,” Moira suggested uneasily. “Where I’m goin’ there’s likely ta be people runnin’ about who’ll gut ya like a fish as soon as look at ya.”
Rodney considered this a moment, all his nerves and anxiety rising to the fore. He swallowed, despite all the horrors he suddenly imagined. “Quite alright,” he replied in a squeaky tone. He cleared his throat and continued more normally. “After all, there’s safety in numbers, yes?”
Moira gave him a weak smile. She admired his bravery, even if it was ill-placed. Again her intuition screamed at her, for if left alone, how long before the mysterious figures determined it was Rodney that Allison had spoken to that night? If those figures were at all associated with the ones killing people and putting odd devices in them, Moira put little stock in the thin inventor’s chances alone. She sighed, dug out a few pence and handed them to Jimmy, who gleefully accepted, then ran off.
“All right then, ya can come, but,” she said firmly with a raised finger at the inventor, “at the first sign of trouble, if I say run, ya turn tail and make for the nearest constable. Understand me?”
Rodney’s eye widened a little at the fierceness that shone in Moira’s eyes. He nodded. “Yes, Miss. Most assuredly.”
Moira nodded, as if to seal the bargain, “Right then, we’d best hurry. The cap’n can be most impatient at times.”