A clatter of hooves echoed in the air and off surrounding stone buildings, like a clatter of bones tossed across the cobblestones. Without warning, the black carriage erupted out of Cowgatehead and onto Candlemaker’s Row, heading south towards Greyfriars Kirk. Atop, the coachman’s eyes stayed steady on the road, even while his passengers clung to the window frame of the cab in a vain attempt to prevent being bounced about inside.
The hansom cab sped past other carriages at a breakneck pace, swerving to narrowly avoid two scullery maids that had the poor misfortune to try and cross the road at that moment. The girls screamed in terror, while the coachman managed a quick, sheepish grin of apology as the vehicle sped by.
“Oy, sorry there!” He shouted out to them, “Police emergency!”
The girls, having raced back to the safety of the sidewalk, clung to each other and shot ugly, heated glares at the driver and his passengers as they tore past.
Speeding on, the driver tugged at the reins to manage a gentle turn, then pulled back to slow the horse to a pace that was less bone-jarring. In another few yards, he drew back on the reins. The horse whinnied loud in aggravation at the sharp tug on the bit, but complied, eager for a few moments of rest. The hansom finally bounced and jostled itself to a shaky stop, its coiled steel springs creaking in protest over the abuse.
The coachman tied off the reins and quickly stepped down, but his passengers had already opened the doors and leaped out. The captain stepped down first, with Detective MacTaggart only a moment behind him on the other side.
Captain Hunter spun on his heel to squarely face the driver, while the detective raced around the cab and toward the ancient stone archway that framed the entrance to a set of dirt brown, slate stone steps leading up to Greyfriars Kirk and the graveyard beyond.
“How much?” Hunter asked quickly. “Larry, was it?”
The young coachman doffed his hat and wiped his brow. “Aye, ‘guv. Well, fer being such a rush, forty pence -” He began, before Hunter cut him off.
“Yes, yes, for care and feeding of the horse, I understand,” Anthony said abruptly, thrusting four coins at the man. “Here, four shillings. Two for the fare and some towards the horse. Good day to you then!”
Astounded, the driver took the coins, but when he looked up from the money to thank his former passenger, the Captain had already followed the detective up the stone stairs in a mad dash. The coachman ran a hand through his tangled dark hair in surprise at his good fortune, then finally placed the bowler back on his head with a satisfied smile. Just then, a broad-shouldered man limped out of shadow-draped doorway, barely a few yards away.
“Hey! Ye takin’ fares?” Conor asked grumpily, favoring his badly bruised leg.
“Sure, just got meself free,” The coachman said, dropping the coins in his pocket. “How many?”
“It’ll be three,” Conor replied. “Meself, a woman and a drunk bloke.”
“It’ll be a tight fit, and Ah can’t be in much of a rush. Ah need ta pace me horse.” The driver explained. “Had a bit of a jaunt getting’ here, ye see.”
The big Irishman grinned, a motion that actually resembled something of a sneer. “No worries, ‘guv. Me friend just got himself hammered, so it’d be better if he slept his way through the whole thing.” Conor waved to someone else in the doorway, then turned back to the driver. “Cab’s don’t seem ta stop much along here. Hailin’ one of ya nearly be right bloody murder.”
Several feet away, beyond the archway, Captain Hunter and Detective Inspector MacTaggart burst off the stairs and into the graveyard. The cemetery, as best as either man could see, was buzzing with activity. Constables, some twelve in total, had spread out to scour the grounds, obviously in search of something.
Constable Martin, looked a bit worse for wear with his normally tidy blue coat torn at the shoulder and decorated with a healthy peppering of dirt stains. He stood on the steps of the parish chapel, speaking with a gray-haired, sour-faced parish priest who appeared none too happy at the police visitation.
On the constable’s other side stood a thin man in a dirt-stained white shirt, a wrinkled charcoal coat, and trousers. The man looked tired, disheveled and generally worn out. In his hands he clutched an old leather journal that was very familiar to both Hunter and MacTaggart.
The detective pushed his wire-framed glasses up from the end of his nose. “Och, that be Dr. Belker! What the devil got after him?”
“Also, how does he have Hiram’s logbook? And where is young William?” Hunter asked sternly, glancing around while the two men walked briskly across the gravel path to where Dr. Belker, Constable Martin and the priest were located.
When they arrived, the parish priest gave Constable Martin one final sour look, then turned away to enter the chapel, shutting the door behind him. The constable sighed and rubbed his eyes wearily.
“It not be my fault ye had two blokes runnin’ about in the graveyard puttin’ the bash on anyone comin’ by,” the constable muttered to himself in weary irritation.
“Constable,” the detective said in greeting, “ye look like ye been drug a fair piece by a wild horse. An Dr. Belker, Ah be surprised to see ye here about.”
At the detective’s voice, the constable jumped slightly. Dr. Belker, who likewise had not been paying attention, looked as equally surprised. It was Constable Martin who replied first, “Detective, beggin’ ye pardon. Ah didn’t see ye arrive.”
“Quite all right, Constable. Now, what happened here?” MacTaggart asked.
“It all started innocent enough, Detective. William and meself searched the graveyard for anythin’ that might give light to Miss Newt’s vanishin’ or who took her,” the constable explained. “All based on the rumor young William heard about them two fishermen seein’ Miss Newt here about.”
Constable Martin then took a deep breath and let it out in a slow sigh. “Ah take the blame for all this, really. We separated a wee bit, but Ah didn’t think to keep the lad in me sights at all times. Ah hoped he woulda’ called out for help if he needed it.”
He gestured to the small wooded patch at the north side of the graveyard. “Ah was up about the trees there when the shouts started. It sounded like they came from along the old wall just there.” The constable then pointed over at the ancient wall that rose from the grass to the west of the graveyard.
“So you gave chase?” Hunter offered, crossing his arms over his chest.
Constable Martin nodded. “That Ah did. When Ah didn’t see young William scalin’ the wall, it seemed right and natural he’d gone through that open archway at the end of the wall. So Ah ran down there. Ah’d made it just there and saw two big, broad-shouldered buggers runnin’ back north along the wall! Ah lifted me helmet to wipe the sweat from me eyes before I be callin’ out, when somethin’ hit me in the side of the head.”
He shrugged with a mix of embarrassment and helplessness, “When Ah got me wits about me, Ah found someone had hit me with a burial urn, and both William and those two mug-hunters had quit the entire place. It was luck that Ah’d come across Dr. Belker here while stumblin’ about like some drunkard. He dressed the bump on me head square away.”
At the mention of his name, Dr. Belker managed an embarrassed, if not strangely nervous, smile. “Yes, Yes, quite. Of all the luck, I happened to be taking my afternoon walk a touch early when these ruffians came tumbling out of the church yard here and nearly bowled me into the street proper! Among all their rudeness to nearly tumble me from my feet, they dropped this.”
He held out the dirt and water-stained journal. “So naturally, I took custody of it right away, thinking that obviously it must be stolen.”
Captain Hunter took the journal with a nod and leafed through its contents. Detective Inspector MacTaggart adjusted his glasses and withdrew a pencil and a small notebook from his coat pocket. He immediately began to scribble notes.
The doctor gestured towards Constable Martin. “About that time, I saw the good constable stumbling about and I rushed to help. I used a bit of my own shirt to clean his wound, fortunately it’s nothing severe. The constable was quite fortunate in that regard. Head wounds can be rather dangerous, you know.”
“In all that, Doctor,” the detective asked, “did ye happen to get a good look at ’em? Did they say anythin’?”
Dr. Belker shook his head sadly, “Sorry to say, Detective, I was so tossed about, that I got not one good look. They were two big, broad-shouldered brutes in quite a hurry. They might have said something, but in the rush I couldn’t tell you what.”
Anthony closed the journal with a snap. “It’s Hiram’s journal. Though the dirt stains are new.” The captain gave the doctor a piercing look, “These two men that smashed into you, did they happen to have a third? A young man, green eyes, thin stature, brownish hair that looks as if its been at odds with a brush lately? Usually wearing an old brown vest and tattered shoulder bag made from an old stained sailcloth, no matter what else he’s wearing that day.”
The doctor thought for a moment, “Perhaps … yes, could be. It was all such a crash, I had little time to notice. Forgive me, but I was worried about being caught beneath a cab at the time.”
“Och, good that ye weren’t,” The detective said tapping his pencil in idle thought on his notebook.
“Quite,” The doctor agreed. “At least I was about to lend a medical hand to the constable here.”
Detective MacTaggart looked over at Captain Hunter, then at Constable Martin. “Given they be runnin’ into the street where they bungled inta Dr. Belker here, there might be one or more that remember seein’ em? Even might give a word as to which way they made off to?” He looked at the constable again, who looked a little the worse for wear. “Are ye up for it, Constable?”
“They took the lad on me watch. Ah’d be up for it with both me legs broke,” He replied firmly.
“Will that be all for me, then?” Dr. Belker asked wearily, his shoulders just starting to relax.
Detective MacTaggart shook the doctor’s hand, “More’n enough, and me thanks for what ye did for the constable here.”
Dr. Belker managed a small, slightly nervous smile, “Think nothing of it. It’s my profession after all, not to mention just lending what little help I can when I’m allowed.”
While the doctor descended the stone stairs to the gravel path, Captain Hunter watched him carefully. Something about the man’s manner resonated poorly to Hunter, but how, he could not say.
“Dr. Belker?” Hunter called.
Dr. Belker hesitated a step, shoulders tensing, then turned. “Yes?” He asked curiously.
“Dr. Benjamin Belker, I presume?” The captain asked.
The doctor looked confused at the question, “Why … yes. Why do you ask?”
“I’ll give Thorias your best,” Hunter offered. “I’m Anthony Hunter, Thorias is the doctor aboard my ship. He’s mentioned you more than once.”
A ripple of nerves washed over Belker’s demeanor for a moment, but he quickly recovered himself. “Oh? Quite lovely! Please do tell him that I send my best, and that he and I must get together for a chat. Very soon, indeed!”
Hunter’s steady gaze narrowed slightly, “Certainly.”
With a wave, the doctor turned back towards the graveyard exit, “Godspeed in your hunt, then! That young man’s welt will likely need some attendance. Though I’m sure Thorias will have it well in hand.”
The moment the words left the doctor’s mouth, the air grew still. For a full second, Dr. Belker’s eyes went wide with shock, and he broke out in a cold sweat. He faltered a step, realizing his dreadful mistake. With pronounced effort, he stiffened his back, forcing himself to maintain a steady, calm gait to what now seemed an abusively long walk to freedom.
“Quite,” Hunter said, his voice a sharp snap in the air. The captain tucked the book under his arm smartly and descended one step. Next to him, Detective MacTaggart slowly closed his notebook and put away his pencil.
“Just one more moment of your time, doctor,” Hunter asked icily. “If you weren’t certain of William being along, how did you know he was injured? What more did you see?”
Dr. Belker looked over at Captain Hunter and the two policemen, the color draining from his face. He started to reply, but the words emerged as a faint croak from his parched throat. Instantly, he bolted for the gate.
“Stop him!” Detective MacTaggart shouted as he, Constable Martin and Captain Hunter raced down the steps to give chase.
In a stroke of luck, Moira emerged in the entrance to the graveyard from the street below. She looked around in surprise at the thin, disheveled man running in a headlong panic towards her direction. Behind him, Captain Hunter and the two constables were not far behind.
“Moira! Stop him! They’ve taken William, and he’s a part of it!” Hunter called out.
Belker abruptly turned to his right, nearly twisting his ankle, and raced off across the graveyard in abject terror. A light wind picked up with a faint moan among the graves while a flock of startled crows took to the air from the surrounding trees.
Behind him, Moira’s features darkened into a frown, her hands instinctively dropping to her waist. She swore violently when she realized she still did not wear her customary brace of pistols. With a savage war whoop, she set her sights on the fleeing doctor, and tore after him in a blur, like an angry lioness running down her doomed prey.
Gasping for breath and fighting back terrified sobs, Dr. Belker raced across the grass, scaled a marble monument, and leaped over to the stone wall that fenced the edge of the cemetery. He jumped down to the other side with a grunt upon impact.
Moira scrambled after the doctor while Captain Hunter and the two policemen charged out the main entrance and raced between pedestrians, desperate to reach that spot of the wall before the their quarry could have too much of a head start to disappear in the crowds.
Moments later, the three men stopped at the opening to the very narrow alley in which Belker had vanished. At the far end, Moira sat perched atop the ancient, granite block wall to the graveyard with a huge grin spread across her face. She swung her legs idly and gestured into the alley.
There, Dr. Benjamin Belker lay flat on his back, gasping for air and clutching his stomach, his face pale and drawn. Standing beside him stood Rodney, feet squarely apart with a stout section of wood that looked like the half-rotten, broken handle to a shovel.
“Cap’n, I’d like ta present Rodney Barnes. He’s the one I’d been tellin’ about.” Moira said brightly. “Rodney, that’s me Cap’n. Cap’n Hunter. An those are two of the peelers – ” she immediately caught herself on the word, shook her head, and corrected herself, “uhm … I mean constables, we’re workin’ with.”
Rodney met the newcomers with a chaotic mix of trepidation, excitement and shyness. He looked at Captain Hunter, then the police, down at Dr. Belker, and finally to the more than modest length of gray wooden handle in his hands. He let go of the wood as if it had burned him, then immediately adjusted his wire-framed glasses out of instinctive habit.
“I didn’t, well, I did, but that is to say, this isn’t what you might think,” the young man stammered on in a continuous stream of words, while he nervously toyed with the end of coat sleeve. “Moira said we had to catch him, and the shovel handle was all I could find at hand. I didn’t hit him all that hard really, he sort of ran into it. Though, I actually did try and swing. You see, I’ve really never done this sort of thing, so I believe my aim was off.” Rodney paused for as much of a breath as his nerves would allow, “Is he supposed to turn pale like that?”
Constable Martin gave Rodney a friendly wink and a nod of approval while he stepped over to haul the gasping doctor roughly to his feet.
“None to worry, lad,” Detective MacTaggart said with the hint of a smile, ignoring Moira’s ‘peeler’ comment. “Ye did just fine.”
The detective caught hold of the doctor’s lapel as he and the constable dragged the man from the alley. “Seems we need to be havin’ a wee heart-to-heart chat, Doctor. Ah do believe there’s more ye’d like to tell us.”