A damp wind stirred among the thick, green foliage and wide boughs of trees that stood watch over silent, bone-white gravestones. The gusts raced through the lush emerald-gray grass to dance over the loose gravel walkway that wound its way up from the road to the doors of the parish church, Greyfriars’ Kirk. Crows sat among the branches and chirped their annoyance as the occasional clockwork owl sailed over the graveyard, a message secured in its leather message compartment bolted to its leg.
William listened to the gravel crunch beneath both his and Constable Martin’s boots while they walked up the gently sloping path from the ancient slate stone stairs. Ahead the tan and gray parish church stood out in silent relief against the cloud-peppered, mid-afternoon sky.
“So, Miss Newt be seen just … somewhere in here?” Constable Martin asked, looking around at the wide stretch of the graveyard. “Foolish for a young lass ta be pokin’ about here, if’n ye ask me. What with the vagrants breakin’ into tombs for a place ta sleep, an the angry shades wanderin’ the dark, any manner of harm could be comin’ to a body.”
William looked around at the surrounding arrangement of silent, weathered headstones that jutted up through the grass. “Ghosts?” He asked nervously.
The constable raised an eyebrow at the young man, then let his eyes wander the graveyard. “Aye, ghosts. Most along the south edge and o’er near the Black Tomb. Just need ta stay careful and we’ll be fine.”
Young Mr. Falke took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Right.”
Constable Martin looked over at William, “Greyfriars Kirkyard be quite the place ta hide, lad. Just what were ye told about this place and Miss Newt?”
William shrugged. “Just that a couple o’ men saw a young lady in here, and described Miss Newt.” He gave the constable a weak smile, “I know it’s kinda thin ta go by.”
The constable chuckled. “Lad, we need ta be checkin’ any trail left behind. Even the thin ones. Let’s be gettin’ ta work, eh?”
As if in silent agreement, they each took one of the many winding paths that lead between grave markers and tombs. Constable Martin struck out north, where the cemetery wound up among the thickest portion of trees. William chose a parallel path that wound to the northwest of the graveyard, towards the ancient wall that formed the boundary between lone, parish chapel, its cluster of nearby monuments, and a long series of mortsafe vaults – iron and stone devices designed to house a dead body and keep it safe from grave robbers.
Time trickled along, like water dripping from an old fountain while the two men slowly canvased their portions of the graveyard with no results. William turned his search toward the mildewed, ancient stone wall that framed the western edge of the cemetery. At first, he checked every grave site and headstone for anything out of the ordinary, but nothing came of that, especially since he was not quite sure what to be looking for. Finally, William fell back on a skill he had – tracking. If something about the graves was unusual, he would likely not recognize it. However, he knew he was looking for a young woman, alone, walking through the graveyard. It was at least a place and a way to start.
He crept along, eyes bent to the ground for the better part of a half-hour until he reached an ancient archway with the rusted hinges for an absent gate still embedded in the stone. It was barely a reminder of the massive ironwork gate that used to block the main graveyard from this much older section. The young man started to enter, but remembered Constable Martin’s warning about vengeful spirits which supposedly wandered portions of the cemetery. He hesitated and looked around.
Off to the north, he saw a hint of movement: a man in a blue coat. That had to be the constable, he suspected. He waved and the figure in the distance paused, then waved back. Other than birds, a highly curious squirrel and the occasional clockwork owl that soared overhead, nothing else moved. Satisfied no specters lay in wait, he crouched down to examine the rough path that ran through the archway.
The dirt was clouded with a collection of footprints. Some were possibly women, based on the type of shoe and the size and shape of the footprint itself. However, most seemed far older than what he was led to believe from the story at the tavern.
“How many times do I have to repeat myself? I never spoke with him!” A man’s voice exclaimed.
William froze in his tracks and hunched lower in the archway. The voice was excited, upset and only a few feet away from where he crouched at that moment! Slowly, William leaned back on his heels to peer out towards Constable Martin. The constable was moving about the trees facing in the opposite direction. The young man repressed a sigh and settled back into his original position. He had no way to get the constable’s attention without giving himself away, as well. Best he could do was listen and wait.
“Quiet down!” Hissed another man in an Irish accent.
“Both of ye, hush it!” Said a third voice in a harsh whisper, also with an Irish accent.
William nearly jumped in shock. He knew those voices! It was the two men that had attacked Mrs. Carpenter. His mind spun in circles as he hesitated a moment, unsure whether to stay or creep back to get Constable Martin. William opted for the former and stayed where he was.
Gravel crunched and thick grass rustled while one of the speakers edged up close to the opening of the archway. William froze, every muscle tense. He heard the footsteps stop just inches away. Suddenly, to his relief, the footsteps turned and retreated from where William was tenuously hidden.
“Nobody about,” one of the irishmen whispered. “So, yer doin’ nothin’ wrong is it? Rubbish an’ rot! Listen Belker, there’s too much goin’ on now. Too many stirrin’ the pot, askin’ too many questions. Ye job was ta keep the constables in the dark on all this. Just check the bodies for ’em and hand over just enough ta keep ’em quiet. An what happens? A pair of ’em show up to poke about on Hiram’s boat while we’re there lookin’ for this bloody logbook! That Detective Inspector MacTaggart and that bloody hell of a nuisance, Cap’n Hunter!”
“Ya, the one with a damn hard fist,” muttered the other Irishman.
“Shut it!” Snapped the first. “Now, take this damnable logbook and do away with it. The doctor don’ want any ties back, understand? Then we’ll make account for the bodies.”
William frowned before his eyes went wide. In his mind the pieces clicked firmly into place. They knew the captain and Detective MacTaggart were at Hiram’s boat, more than that, they knew them both by name! William inched forward to balance himself with a hand on the gravel path so as to peer around the corner of the archway. The moment he did, his breath caught in his throat. There, in the shadow of the wall, stood the two men that had attacked Miss Olivander at the boarding house! Between those two stood the thin man, the doctor that had arrived to examine Maggie Campbell’s body in the close just after the attack!
Suddenly, in a moment of bad luck, the gravel beneath William’s hands gave way. Unable to catch himself on the rough archway, loose stones skittered out with a crunch that sounded deafening to his ears. He looked over. The conversation had abruptly stopped, and the two large, broad-shouldered men – one of which was named Conor if he remembered what the captain had mentioned in passing – had just handed a worn, leather bound journal to Dr. Belker: a tall, thin man in his mid-thirties, dressed in charcoal cotton trousers, white shirt and a matching charcoal coat.
The three men stared at William for what seemed an eternity. William stared back in kind, wide-eyed. Finally, the two larger men shifted position to face him.
“I got the worst luck,” William muttered to himself, slowly pulling his feet up under him so he could stand. His eyes settled on the leather journal that the thin man clutched to his chest. “Now, if I can only get to that book.”
Carefully, William got to his feet with one hand on the old stones of the archway. He licked his lips. “What would the Cap’n do?” He asked himself. “Gotta think like the Cap’n.”
The Irishman to William’s right pulled a knife from his pocket and gave the young man a nasty sneer. “Well, seems ye be in the wrong place at the wrong time, boyo. Told ya once, we met again, it’ll be the devil ta pay. Well, devil’s come callin’.” He glanced at his companion, “Grab ‘im Conor, seems we got ourselves someone in need of killin’.”
Conor chuckled. It was an ugly, harsh sound that echoed dully against the burial vaults and the surrounding rock walls. Slowly, the big Irishman stepped forward, flexing his meaty hands. That was when William noticed Conor favoring his left leg. William grinned, which caused the brute to pause.
“Why not?” William said aloud, almost casually. Before either of the men could reach him, he quickly yanked free a handful of dirt, dust and moss from the ancient wall and tossed it into Conor’s face.
“Bloody bastard!” Conor yelled, recoiling from the rough grit and raising his hands to protect his eyes. Immediately, William kicked at the man, but instead of hitting the man’s knee, he instead slammed the heel of his work shoes right into the big Irishman’s thigh.
“Damn, me leg!” Conor screamed in agony and collapsed like a wet rag. “Why are people always kickin’ me in the same leg? Liam! Get ‘im! Belker! What’re ye waitin’ fer? Boxin’ Day? Run!”
Suddenly, everyone moved at once. As fast as a snake, Liam sliced the gleaming knife blade at William’s face and neck, in the hopes to cut the young man before he could go too much farther. William, however, was just a hair faster as he ducked under the blade, then slammed a tight fist against the side of Liam’s knee. Behind them all, Dr. Belker let out a screech of terror and bolted north, in a frantic scamper among the tight row of mortsafe vaults and monuments.
Liam howled in pain, reaching down for William, who had already scrambled past. Beyond the man’s reach, William pulled back a fist to hammer Liam again, but noticed Belker and the leather book racing away through the graveyard.
“Bloody hell!” William swore aloud and raced after the thin man, who was fast disappearing through the tombstones, coat-tails flapping in the air.
Belker raced a few yards north, then scrambled up a monument as sure footed as a squirrel then over an ancient inner wall of the cemetery that divided two of its older sections. William rolled his eyes and leaped after him. Being used to climbing rigging aboard the Griffin, scaling the stone wall was no trouble. At the top of the wall, the young man paused with a grin. He knew where he was, the north end! Constable Martin was here! His elation quickly turned to dismay as he heard the constable call out from the archway to the south! Much too far away to help at all.
William groaned, “Damn it all, a’course he’d run to all the screaming.” Suddenly, a brick slammed into the rock wall next to William’s hand with almost no room to spare. He jerked his hand back on reflex and looked behind him. Only a half-yard back, Liam and Conor ran along as best they could with their wounds, both harboring a dark, smoldering look of murder in their eyes.
“Oh, not now!” William complained at seeing the Irishmen so close behind, and threw himself over the wall. He landed in the grass, pitched forward in a clumsy roll and got to his feet. Looking around and between the headstones and trees, he spotted his quarry heading for the northern-most wall of the cemetery! With a burst of desperate speed, William launched himself in Belker’s direction.
Racing, heart pounding, William dodged one monument, sidestepped a next, then threw himself at the thin man. The pair collided in a confused and panic-ridden heap. Belker rolled, slamming into the oak tree, the leather book still in his hands. William skidded sideways to collide into the foot of the marble monument. The tan and white marble column shuddered, and the stark white marble angel, stained gray at her wings and eyes as if she had recently cried over some mysterious loss, shook ever so slightly. Finally both came to rest almost in the original positions they had began in. Slowly, Belker tried to get to his feet first despite his injuries.
“Run again, and I’ll slam ya into a tree again!” William growled while he pulled himself up to his knees. “Yer goin’ nowhere with that book!”
Panic-ridden, Belker swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple working furiously in his throat. He ran a hand though his thinning light brown hair. “Now, now … see here,” he began, holding out one thin hand defensively while he clutched the book to his chest with the other. “I actually can explain this. All of this.”
Through sheer force of willpower, William ignored his screaming injuries and stood, the hot light of anger reflected in his eyes. “I’ll say ya will. I hear Cap’n Hunter and the Detective want that book, so we’re gonna take it to them. An you’ll explain to them.” Abruptly, when he heard the faint rustle of grass from the far side of the monument behind him, a realization shot across his mind like a bolt of lightning.
Two men claimed to have seen Miss Newt walking about the Greyfriars grounds here the other night. How could they? With all these monuments, trees and walls, that at night … anyone would have a hard time seeing anything! William spun around in a blur, just before his world shattered in an explosion of light and pain. He crumpled in a dazed, bloody, bruised puddle on the ground. A moment later, the shattered pieces of a burial urn dropped to the ground beside him.
As his eyes crossed and as he fought a losing battle against unconsciousness, he heard the most remarkable sound: A woman’s voice.
“Bloody fool! Have ye no spine?” She hissed like an angry snake at Belker. “Now run off. When those two bloody oafs get here, we’ll take care o’ this one. The doctor’ll be in touch with ye, Dr. Belker.”
William struggled to turn his head and look at the speaker, but it was like swimming in pure molasses. He saw a definite feminine form dressed in white and black, but his vision was too filled with tears and pain to make anything more clear than her voice and her long locks of dark hair.
The battered young man tried to speak, but his words were a slurred mess. He felt the woman kneel down next to him and pat him softly on his cheek. “Shush now, Ah need ye as healthy as ye can be. After all, ye’ll be no good to me dead.” She smiled, “Well, not as yet.”