Once outside the dirt-swept alley, Detective MacTaggart quickly twisted Dr. Benjamin Belker’s arm behind him in a secure arm lock. Unable to move, the doctor yelped in pain, while he swayed unsteadily on his feet.
“Ye got him?” Constable Martin asked, letting go his hold on the doctor.
“Ah do. Fetch a police wagon if ye would, Constable. Ah’d hate ta lose hold o’ this one,” the detective replied while he shifted his hands on the doctor’s arm to have a better grip.
“Quick as a Ah can be, Detective!” With that, Constable Martin adjusted his helmet for a more secure fit, spun on his heel and raced off down the street.
“You don’t understand,” Dr. Belker wheezed aloud between deep gasps of air.
“We understand quite enough for the moment,” Captain Hunter said sternly. “You are, at least by association, involved in the abduction of one of my crew.”
“And we want ‘im back!” Moira snarled.
Rodney looked from Captain Hunter to Moira, then to Detective MacTaggart. He cleared his throat, “Hm, please?”
Moira, standing next to Rodney, jabbed him in the ribs with an elbow. “We’re not askin’ him out ta tea, y’know.”
The young inventor gave her a pained look, blushing from embarrassment, “Well … there’s no reason to be impolite.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Belker, seemingly unaware, sobbed despairingly, “I can’t! None of you understand! It’s not my fault. I had no choice! I have no control over any of this!”
“Ah be doubtin’ that,” Detective MacTaggart replied grimly. “Although, we’ll be findin’ out quite soon enough just how much at fault ye be.” He then hesitated a moment before he continued, “Though, if ye are willin’ ta tell us who ye accomplices are, this could be goin’ easier.”
Hunter glanced up and down the street a moment beyond the knots of gawkers that had gathered, curious if the carriage was nearby. He saw plenty of horse-drawn carriages, but none with the familiar black box-like shape unique to the constabulary.
When it steadfastly refused to appear, he leveled a hard gaze onto Dr. Belker. “As your carriage has yet to arrive, please enlighten us, Doctor. I, for one, am riveted with curiosity to know the details.”
Dr. Belker twisted in the Detective’s tight grip to look at Anthony. “My family, it’s my family! They threatened myself and my family. You must believe me! I never thought it would all come to this. It was only two, and it was to validate a mainspring for artificial limbs! Harmless work! I never knew it would come to this! They blackmailed me … ” Overcome with a mix of exhaustion and emotion, he sagged in Detective MacTaggart’s grip, sobbing gently.
“Talk straight, damn ye,” the detective growled, his patience thin due to the beating he had received earlier in the day. “Who are ‘they’? Just what did ye do, man?”
Dr. Belker shook his head sadly. “I don’t know who they all are. By the Queen’s mercy, if I did I would surely confess it.”
He took a deep breath to steady his voice then continued, “I bought two bodies some time back.”
“The law’s clear on the matter of buyin’ corpses, Doctor,” MacTaggart said sternly.
Dr. Belker nodded glumly, “I know, Detective. I needed to validate the fine adjustments to the new prosthetics I was working with. They were to support and strengthen a snapped spine, like dock workers who’d been caught in a CASS accident.” The doctor stared fitfully at the ground, “Yet I am not going to just experiment on the living. That would be monstrous.”
“An’ buyin’ corpses is the saintly thing ta do?” Moira snapped.
The doctor ignored her barb and pressed on, “I heard a rumor – gossip among colleagues – that one merely need to leave money at a certain location with a note or a card containing the address where the bodies should be delivered.”
He paused again, taking another slow breath to steady the quiver in his voice, then continued, “I did so, heaven forgive me. Two bodies were delivered as agreed. I finished my tests and buried the corpses myself, around Greyfriars near the Coventers’ graves. I can show you where, I still clearly remember it. I thought that the end of it, but then the Irishmen started visiting me at odd hours.”
“Irishmen? What about these Irishmen?” Hunter asked curiously. “Do you have their names? Did they visit more than once?”
“One goes by ‘Liam’, the other ‘Conor’,” Dr. Belker replied woefully, “They visited dutifully, once a week. Always with a new request from their ‘doctor’, who I think kept them on retainer. First, it was a few medical supplies, then a few spare rolls of bandages – nothing that would be missed. Later it was medicine, then suddenly came bodies that I was ordered to hide.” The doctor shook his head as if the memory were painful. “I knew, I could tell, that they had been … ” His words trailed off.
“Murdered?” Moira offered, her voice icy and brittle with anger.
Dr. Belker nodded glumly. “It was hard to tell, but that first young lady … the faint bruises on her neck. There was no mistaking that they were hand prints. I nearly missed them at first, but once I did see them … they leered out at me, daring me to keep others from knowing about them.”
A thought nagged furiously at Captain Hunter’s mind, “Why did you help us, then? Why give us the logbook, if it puts your family in peril?”
“I can’t go on anymore,” the doctor said sadly. “I can’t, I see them in my sleep. Their eyes … accusing me … always accusing me.” He looked over at Moira, then at Hunter. “I thought, perhaps, with Thorias here, he would help. That my family would be helped before those beasts got to them.”
“Beasts?” Rodney whispered curiously to Moira.
“The Irishmen,” she whispered back curtly. She then addressed the doctor, the edge of a snarl apparent in her voice. “Who keeps sendin’ them louts to ya?”
Dr. Belker shook his head, “I don’t know. It’s a doctor, that’s all I know. Someone skilled. That much I could tell by the way they were … dealt with.” He closed his eyes as if to purge the memory. “Examine the bodies for yourselves, and you will see it square off!” He opened his eyes, looked at Moira, then Rodney and Hunter. “Help my family! They’ll come for them now. Please, I beg you! My children are little, my wife doesn’t know.”
At the top of the hill, the black police Brougham carriage jostled into view, its polished brass electric arc lanterns shining brightly alongside the top edge of the carriage roof. A blue leather and brass servitor, shaped like a clockwork owl, clung tight to one of the brass rails next to the coachman. Beside both clockwork servitor and coachman on the raised driver’s bench sat Constable Martin, his face set with a grim, determined look.
At the sound of the horses, Dr. Belker struggled madly, so much that Detective MacTaggart had to shake the man into submission.
“Enough o’ that now! Stop it!” The detective roared. “I’ll send the lads ’round to keep ye family safe. Ye’ve me word on it!”
However, Belker did not seem to hear the detective. His breath rasped in his throat, coming quick as if he was suffocating.
“What have I done? What have I done? My family! They’ll be killed!” The doctor raved, slipping into hysterics, and quite nearly ripping free from Detective MacTaggart’s grip. “I have to save them! Yes, yes … I’ll spirit them away!”
Hunter raced forward to assist the detective. With the combined strength of both men, they managed to hold Dr. Belker still. The doctor’s eyes grew wild with panic.
“Doctor, calm yourself!” Anthony said, struggling against the man’s antics. The captain glanced down the road at the carriage, then back to Dr. Belker. “Dr. Belker, listen to me! What is this ‘doctor’ doing with the people that are taken? Why are they being operated on?”
Anthony shook the man in an attempt to get his attention. “Doctor! Where have they taken William? Is it where Mrs. Carpenter is? Is it where the others were taken? Doctor Belker!”
Benjamin Belker shook his head frantically, pulling one way, then the other at the vice-like grip that both Detective MacTaggart and Captain Hunter tried to maintain on him. His wild eyes glared at Hunter, “No! I won’t tell you! No! I won’t be a party to this! You’ll die as well, you all will if you go there! No more killings! No more!”
Belker glanced around in a mad panic. “I won’t … I won’t help the doctor anymore. I won’t! He’s making something, I know he is, something vile! I won’t help him! I won’t!” His last words were nearly a shriek of panic.
“Moira! No!” Hunter turned in time to grab Moira by the collar, just before her outstretched hands could lock onto Dr. Belker. Rodney also latched onto one of Moira’s arms from the opposite side, and with the captain’s help was able to keep her at bay from her hysterical victim.
Unable to contain herself any longer, Moira lunged again for Belker with a explosive fury, “Where’s Will, ya ravin’ loon! Give him back!”
The momentary distraction was all Belker needed. Once Hunter shifted his grasp to stop Moira, Dr. Belker lunged at the captain, burying an elbow into Hunter’s mid-section, knocking the wind from him. While the captain staggered back, gasping for air, Belker let out a wordless cry and lashed out at Detective MacTaggart, who barely had time to deflect the man’s hands before the manic doctor could claw the detective inspector’s face.
MacTaggart stumbled backwards only a step, however that was enough for Dr. Belker. In the space of a heartbeat, the hysterical doctor raced off in a dead run. The detective lunged for the doctor, but his hands swept through the air a second too slow.
Benjamin leaped from the sidewalk into the busy street and directly into the path of a brown wooden wagon, heavily laden with stained oak barrels of whiskey!
“No!” The detective shouted in alarm. At the same moment, Constable Martin elbowed the coachman, and pointed at the fleeing madman.
“Over there, lad! Now!” He ordered the driver sharply. The coach bounced and swayed back and forth as the constable scrambled up from beside the coachman and onto the top of the coach itself.
As the teamster driving the wagon yanked back on the reins, his pair of short-haired, chestnut horses reared up, eyes wide, screaming in a panic. Behind them the wagon groaned from the sudden stop, the giant whiskey barrels straining at their rope restraints. The horses kicked madly, startled by the small, fast moving man that suddenly appeared without warning in front of their eyes.
The horses’ hooves hammered down, crashing to the cobblestones beneath them just a second after Constable Martin – who had flung himself from the back of the police carriage – slammed into the fleeing form of Dr. Benjamin Belker. The constable and the hysterical doctor crashed to the pavement amid shouts of alarm from onlookers who raced out of the way.
Finally, the two tumbling men came to a rough stop. Lying prone on the sidewalk was the unconscious Dr. Belker, shirt torn and stained with brackish mire from the side of the road. Next to the doctor, Constable Martin sat, wearily panting for air, equally stained, shoulders slumped from exertion. He glanced down at the tears in his uniform coat.
“The missus’ll be havin’ me hide for this,” he muttered glumly.
Across the road, Detective MacTaggart straightened his glasses, then his jacket. He started to run across the street, but Constable Martin waved to the detective, indicating that he did not need the help.
Moira, denied her chance to wring information – possibly quite literally – from the misguided surgeon, snarled and stormed off in a rage with an apologetic Rodney in tow. Hunter watched her stalk a few short paces, her face as dark as a storm cloud.
“Hot temper on that one,” the detective said carefully, brushing at a dark spot of what he hoped was only soot on his coat sleeve.
“True,” Hunter agreed with a deep, long sigh, “Very true. But she’s the most innovative blacksmith and clockwork engineer I’ve ever met. Her temper’s a small price to pay, in my mind.”
Across the street, the battered Constable Martin stood slowly, as if plagued by a thousand aches and pains, before hauling Dr. Belker to his feet. With determined effort, he dragged the doctor towards the waiting police carriage.
Hunter gestured towards the battered form of Dr. Belker, “If he’s lost to hysterics, there may be nothing left he can tell us.”
“Give me a wee bit more time with the addled man,” MacTaggart said thoughtfully. “Once Ah get the lads to move his family someplace safe, he’s likely ta be more cooperative.”
The captain glanced over at Moira, who was in mid-rant to Rodney. The young inventor politely nodded rapidly at whatever she was saying. Hunter watched them for a long moment, considering the scene. Moira’s temperament often got the better of her, but usually her heart was in the right place. He knew that once they had her back at the White Hart Tavern, she could freely vent, thereby calming herself down without risking police involvement. Anthony sighed heavily.
He did not want to assume that the Conor and Liam which Dr. Belker had mentioned were the same two Irishmen that Hunter had sour dealings with at the boarding house, then again at the factory. Conor and Liam, while decidedly Irish names, were also quite common. However, something in the back of his mind suggested they were one and the same. Given what Dr. Belker described, that would mean Conor and Liam were ‘resurrection men’ – or people who robbed graves for the sole purpose of selling the corpses.
Only these two had apparently become unwilling to wait for anyone to join the ranks of the recently deceased on their own. Hunter wondered if their employer, Gilbert Monkhouse, knew of the nocturnal activities of his men. An important connection formed in Anthony’s mind, but danced elusively outside his mental grasp. There was something there, some very important connection between what Hiram had found at the docks, what Thorias had found about the bodies, and the two brutes, Conor and Liam. He just could not bring it to light.
Hunter nodded in agreement to the detective’s comment. “Quite reasonable. In any case, I’ll need the time for Moira to regain her wits about her. She takes the matter of her shipmates’ health rather personally.”
“Och, that Ah’ve noticed. Will ye be aboard ye ship?” the detective asked. “Or over at the White Hart?”
“The White Hart Tavern,” Hunter replied. “Which is fortunately not far from here.”
The detective offered Hunter a firm, and grateful, handshake, “Ah’ll be by then, after a bit. Hopefully with more.”
“Indeed,” Hunter replied solemnly. “I dearly hope so. Mind you, Detective, I’m not eager to find any more ruined corpses, especially ones of my crew. There’ll be hell to pay if that happens.”
“If so, Captain, then ye’ll not be alone,” the detective said darkly. “Ah’ll be right beside ye, payin’ me own dues as well.”