At mid-afternoon, the White Hart Tavern, while not teeming with customers, had already begun to collect a modest share of patrons. No matter if they were sailors in port for a night or two or teamsters stopping off for a brief pint of stout, people from many walks of life started to gather inside to escape the damp, sooty afternoon air.
Laughter echoed off the warm, polished dark wooden walls from a myriad of conversations. Knots of patrons, grouped across the common room of the pub, were well into their afternoon revelry and relaxation. The owner, Brian, stood behind the bar chatting with two teamsters. The topic of conversation was the same that was on everyone’s lips: the spectacle of the doctor who was arrested by the police outside Greyfriars’ Kirk.
At the bar, Captain Anthony Hunter tossed his coat over an arm, then cleared his throat to get the tavern owner’s attention. A moment later, the barmaid appeared at the captain’s side, wiping her hands on the dull white cotton apron she wore over her modest green dress.
“No use of doin’ that, he’ll be wigglin’ his jaw for awhile,” She said with a impish grin.
Brian gave the woman a stern glare, “Ah not be deaf, Mary. Ah can hear ye just fine!”
Mary, the barmaid, flipped her hair around and returned the stern look with one of her own. “Och, that be a likely story! An here ye leave the man standin’ thirsty!”
At the far end of the bar, in a large production, Brian rolled his eyes and returned to his conversation. Mary grinned at her temporary triumph, and swung her ample attentions back towards the captain.
“Now, what can Ah be doin’ fer you?” She asked with a grin.
Hunter raised an eyebrow, “Two stouts, if you please, and two ales.”
“Comin’ up,” she answered cheerily. Mary took a step, then paused, “Beggin’ ye pardon, but ye were the one from the other night who stood up fer that begger girl? A cap’n as Ah heard ye called?”
Hunter’s mood darkened slightly, “I daresay she’s no beggar.”
Mary instinctively took a step back in surprise and raised a delicate hand to ward off further comment. “Oh, hold off now. No offense meant, just describing how it appeared. Anyway, Ah didn’t see that young lad with ye, Cap’n, will he be comin’ in?”
For the span of two minutes, Hunter wrestled with his own internal frustrations over the topic. It was not the barmaid’s fault for touching on a sore subject. He sighed and managed a thin, tight-lipped smile. “He’ll not be in. He’s missing, though myself and my crew have a few ideas on how to locate him. Just need a few moments to get our thoughts straight.”
Mary’s cheerful look took on a much more somber one at Hunter’s news, “Oh … well … Ah wish ye good luck in trackin’ him down. But … if ye’ll pardon me again … the only ones that have been found, weren’t exactly … healthy.” She hesitated, as if uncertain of what to say, next. “Or so Ah’ve heard,” she shrugged, obviously uncomfortable at the unexpectedly sour turn the conversation had taken. “Maybe he’ll be the first to be found in better shape?”
“I certainly trust he will,” Hunter replied. “He mentioned that a young lady who works here told him about the cemetery, where he subsequently vanished. Would that young lady happen to have been yourself?”
“It ’twas me, Cap’n. Probably shouldn’t been passin’ hearsay I suppose. It was just somethin’ Ah heard in passin’ while at work one day,” She replied in a more somber tone. “Sorry, for the trouble it caused. Ah didn’t mean fer it to turn out like this. Just tryin’ to help settle things out.”
“If you don’t mind a question then, who did you hear that information from?” Hunter asked pointedly.
Mary shrugged, “A couple of fishermen. Irish ones Ah be thinkin’, based on their accents. They come here every so often. Though, not nearly as regular as ye been lately.” She gave the captain a friendly grin.
At his stony look, she cleared her throat and turned away, “Ah’ll get ye pints, Cap’n. Be just a moment.”
Anthony watched her hurry off along the bar, then sighed. He knew better. The barmaid was not the one deserving of his anger, it was those behind the kidnappings. He spun on his heel, stalking across the room to a stained chestnut table in the far front corner next to the large bay window. Anthony pulled out a chair, dropped his coat onto the back of it, and sat down heavily. He stared out the dusty window at the long stretch of the Grassmarket and its patrons outside, tracing the odd wood grain pattern with his artificial, clockwork left hand.
“Benjamin,” Thorias said in sad amazement to no one in particular. Thorias, along with Moira and Rodney, shared the table with Captain Hunter.
The doctor withdrew a tiny brass valve – now completely cleaned from its time spent in a dead body – from the pocket of his waistcoat. He toyed with the small device that was no larger than the end of a child’s thumb. “I just cannot get past the idea that Benjamin was behind this. I’d been searching for just how he could have missed this in his examinations,” Thorias sighed slowly, “I suppose now I have my answer. He could’ve said … something to me. I would’ve helped him well before it came to any of this.”
Rodney glanced around the table at the long faces, then leaned forward slightly with his fingers interlaced in front of him , “If I might, Doctor? I know I come late to this, but as I understand it from what Moira and Captain Hunter have explained to me, Dr. Belker isn’t entirely behind this. From his own admission, he was blackmailed into being an accomplice.”
Thorias considered that a moment, “True, but he could have asked for my help that day I visited him.”
“It strikes me, old friend, that under the circumstances, he did,” Hunter commented casually. “He gave us the way in to view the bodies in the mortuary at night. I’d suspect he knew you’d discover what you did.”
He sat forward as the barmaid appeared with the drinks and set them on the table.
“Thank you, my dear,” the captain said with a thin, polite smile.
“Don’ mention it.” Mary said with a polite smile.
Moira looked over at the barmaid, “Say now, Will mentioned a barmaid tellin’ him about the cemetery. That happen to be you?”
Mary glanced at Hunter, obviously a little uncomfortable over the question. “Och, it was. Like Ah told ye Cap’n, Ah shouldn’t been passin’ hearsay, but Ah was just tryin’ to help.”
“Oh,” Moira replied abruptly. “Then ya know Will’s vanished after goin’ there?”
“Ye Cap’n said as much,” Mary replied with a remorseful look. “It’s not at all how Ah be thinkin’ that would’ve turned out. Ah’d hoped it woulda’ brought an end to all the commotion.”
There was an uncomfortable silence that settled in at that moment. Moira, caught between her temper and reason, was at a loss for words. On one hand, the barmaid’s poor information was what had sent William off to the cemetery. However, from what little she knew of it, Will and Constable Martin simply stepped into something far worse than they expected.
“It’s as all right as this kinda thing can be,” Moira finally replied. “Will had a constable along, they went in careful, I’m sure of it. We just gotta get him back. Who’d ya hear it from, anyway?”
“Couple of Irish fishermen, least they dressed and sounded like it,” Mary shrugged.
“Did ya get any names?” Moira asked thoughtfully.
“No, can’t be sayin’ Ah did,” the barmaid answered. Mary looked over her shoulder at the other customers, then back to the group. “Ah hate to be runnin’ off, but Ah got others here to take care of.”
Moira gave her a thin smile, “Sure, I understand.”
Mary nodded silently, then turned away from the group to clear a nearby table.
Moira took a sip of her ale, then nodded slowly. “Since Dr. Belker couldn’t be tellin’ you right out, helpin’ you sneak around was the next best way of tellin’ you.” She glanced around the table. “I guess he figured that he was bein’ watched wherever he was.”
“Well, that being the case, he did give us this tidbit of data to go on,” Thorias held out the small brass valve for the others to see. “But a clue is a clue, I suppose.”
Rodney reached out with a hand for it, the paused, “May I?”
“Certainly,” Thorias replied. “I’ve completed what investigations I can into the device.”
Rodney gingerly picked up the valve and studied it intensely. “It’s a pressure safety valve,” he said after only a moment’s study.
The doctor chuckled, “Precisely, lad, and it only took me the better part of a day to fully realize what you’ve uncovered in a few seconds. However, the next trick would be determining what it’s a pressure safety valve for, given it was found in the chest of an unfortunate victim?”
“I … well … it’s based on a boiler safety valve … ” Rodney said after a moment, then lapsed into a confused silence while he studied the valve for any clue as to its intended purpose.
“My conclusion also,” Thorias admitted with a small wave of a hand towards Rodney’s puzzled expression.
Moira looked confused, “I don’ understand?”
Thorias took a drink of his stout, then set the pint down on the table. “While that bit of brass Rodney’s holding is indeed a very tiny pressure safety valve, I haven’t the first, faint clue as to what it, or any others like it, would be doing implanted inside anyone. What pressure would they regulate? I can’t think of what would generate quite that much pressure naturally in a body.”
Suddenly, Moira set her drink down on the table and searched her pockets. Finally, she located a small, folded piece of stained linen. She unwrapped it and placed the small gear on the table in front of Rodney. The metal of the gear glinted cleanly in the light from the window. He set down the tiny pressure valve and looked at Moira curiously.
“Other than being one of the thinnest herrin’bone gears I’ve ever seen, I was wonderin’ if ya knew of a good use for it?” Moira folded her arms across her chest, watching Rodney consider, then look down at the gear with an intense expression in his eyes.
Finally, Rodney picked up the gear and studied it. “Being a herringbone tooth design, typically I’d assume it’s for use aboard a ship or a larger steam engine. However, it’s very thin in comparison to the ones I’m used to seeing. Something this size,” he hesitated, turning the gear that was as large around as a person’s fist over in his hands, “might just barely fit an opti-telegraphic. It would definitely be useful in an automata servitor. Although, it would be quite an unusual servitor.”
“How do you mean?” Hunter asked curiously.
Rodney shrugged and set the gear down on the table. “Well the size, for one thing. It’d have to be large, larger than the message owls, or even the servitors used for scribing copies of manuscripts.”
Hunter reviewed a memory in his head, specifically what Hiram had written in his journal about the contents of a hidden crate. “Would you say, similar in size to perhaps a dog? Like an Irish setter?”
The young man considered the idea a moment, then nodded, “Indeed. About that size, yes.”
Moira glanced over at Captain Hunter, “Ya’ve got somethin’ in mind, Cap’n, what is it?”
“I’ve little doubt that Detective MacTaggart will get more information from Dr. Belker, however, I’m less convinced it will be at all useful in tracking down William’s whereabouts,” Hunter replied. “I asked about the dog, as Hiram mentioned a dog with an artificial, metal leg.”
“The gear would be the correct size to fit in a mechanical leg, but it would have to be a leg for a person or a rather stout dog,” Rodney interjected.
It was Hunter’s turn to nod, “Precisely what I wondered. You see, the gear was one of a handful found alongside Miss Newt’s cart at the cattle market. In his journal, Hiram wrote about a hidden cache he found at the south end of Leith Docks, where he found along with some glass bottles the dog I just mentioned. Someone was blackmailing him to keep him quiet about the cache and one of the dead victims he found, while at the same time forcing him to watch over that hidden cache location.”
“So, Miss Newt might have had some contact with the same people that blackmailed Hiram?” Thorias asked aloud to confirm his suspicions.
“Not just that,” Moira said quickly, “Tell ’em what ya told me, Rodney. About that night and what Allison saw.”
As all eyes looked to Rodney, the young inventor turned a shade of bright pink from the direct attention. Glancing around at the others, he cleared his throat with a shy smile, “Well, as I was telling Miss Wycliffe earlier, Allison and I were conducting tests of a new type of opti-telegraphic. One that can send, receive, and to a lesser extent store, imagery. To make a long story brief, Allison was using one late in the evening when she observed two figures carrying a large bundle – a carpet she said – out in the dead of night. She said she was going to show me using our modified device, but … I accidentally broke mine. I’ve no idea if she took the image or not.”
Thorias shook his head in disbelief as suddenly several disparate pieces began to settle into place. “If the figures carrying the carpet were also the same people who purchased the gears from Miss Newt, as well as being the same ones who were blackmailing Hiram – that would explain Miss Newt’s kidnapping.”
“Also it explains why Hiram was so agitated when I asked after Miss Newt,” Hunter added thoughtfully. “She sold those specialized gears, and Hiram knew it. He would’ve recognized them right off, and likely theorized as we did over the body of the dog.” At a sudden revelation, Hunter sat back, the wood of his chair squeaking in protest. “Fire and damnation, that’s it! If we take it for certain that Miss Newt both sold the gears to the very same people that blackmailed Hiram, then wound up witnessing the same individuals carrying off a carpet with what may have been a body or more items for the hidden cache, that would explain more than just her kidnapping. Far more. Poor girl is merely the catalyst.”
At the confused looks around the table, Hunter continued, “They steal the girl and take her opti, however, they don’t know who she might have been talking to over it. An opti has no means to expose the last person contacted. Therefore, to find out whom that might have been, naturally, they would go to someone that Miss Newt may have spoken with.”
Moira’s eyes widened in surprise, “People she bought and sold parts to and … oh hell … her friends and people she knew.”
“Quite,” The captain replied. “Likely associates would be Hiram, and we know of her friends … Miss Olivander and Rodney here. Fortunately, Miss Olivander is upstairs, being watched by a constable. However, through Miss Olivander would follow an association with Mrs. Carpenter. Mrs. Carpenter was attacked once in the Grassmarket, which William put an end to, then later at her boarding house, which Hiram tried to prevent but lost his life in the process. Now, Miss Olivander was likewise attacked, which we interrupted right as soon as it began. Those two were the Irishmen, Conor and Liam, who both match – roughly – what Dr. Belker babbled on about at the cemetery.” Hunter paused for a moment to make sure everyone was still following his train of thought. No one interrupted, or appeared confused, so the captain pushed on.
“I’m convinced Conor and Liam were the two that attacked Detective MacTaggart and myself at Hiram’s boat, just as I’m convinced they may have been the ones who attacked Mrs. Carpenter.” The captain admitted.
“By heaven, they’re ‘resurrection men’,” Thorias said in utter amazement. “Its the West Port murders all over again, just for that damnable bloody business of selling corpses.” He then frowned at a new thought, “Ah, but wait, there’s more, isn’t there? They are not just working for themselves, they’ve an employer.”
“Yes, another doctor according to Dr. Belker,” Hunter confirmed. “That would be their actual employer. Someone who also would be quite focused on locating who Miss Newt had spoken with about what she saw.”
Rodney, who had long since drawn the conclusion that his life was very much in jeopardy, had turned a faint pale. “They can just sell whom they kill to make them quietly go away.”
“Quite possible,” Hunter admitted. “If their employer doesn’t use them for that ghastly project.”
Moira, who had been sitting mostly still through the entire explanation, finally spoke up, frustration evident in her voice, “I understand it all, and while I’m wantin’ to go hunt down them two Irishmen and drag ’em by their heels to the constables myself, how does knowin’ all this get us any closer to findin’ William?”
“By giving us an idea of how far they are likely to travel in pursuit of their grisly duties,” Hunter replied. “We know Conor and Liam are gathering victims for their employer. Of late, they are cleaning up a threat to the entire operation that began with Miss Newt innocently testing the new opti on which she and Rodney here were working. Now, they seem to be preying on the inhabitants of West Port and Grassmarket. Yet bodies, for the most part, have been found near the Leith Docks or near Grassmarket.”
Thorias frowned in thought, “Anyone carrying a body, even at night, would be quite conspicuous. They dare not take anything like that very far. Even if by wagon, they’d risk a chance of being seen when the wagon’s unloaded.”
“Exactly my thought as well,” Hunter agreed.
“So if they’ve not been caught doin’ this so far, they’re takin’ them to and from someplace close to both here and Leith?” Moira asked.
“It would make the most sense,” the doctor replied. “It would have to be far north of here.” He hesitated with a glance to Hunter, “or someplace where regular shipments could come and go with little suspicion. A business lax enough that a wagon could be borrowed without anyone raising a fuss.”
“Any of the wagons could have been borrowed from the factories north of the Queen Street Gardens,” Hunter said, half to himself and half to the group. “Which explains why Conor and Liam work for Gilbert Monkhouse. They would have completely unrestricted access to any wagon there.” The captain glanced around at the others sitting at the table. “It’s very likely Will is being held among those factories. Quite likely with the others, as well. If that irritating man, Monkhouse, keeps any sort of accurate records as to the coming and going of his equipment, we might could discern a pattern.”
“If he lets us see it,” Moira said grimly. “Last time, ya didn’t exactly part on good terms.”
Brian, the tavern owner, cleared his throat as he approached the table. The broad-shouldered man looked quite put out at having to be there. “Cap’n Hunter? There be a lady – an Anita Monkhouse – that wishes to be havin’ a word or two. Ah told her she could be walkin’ over herself, but,” the man hesitated, then continued, “the lady by the door wished herself to be introduced.” He said with much overemphasis on ‘lady’ and ‘introduced’. It was apparent to all that Brian’s patience had just been sorely tried by the newcomer.
Anthony turned in his seat to look over his shoulder at the front door of the tavern. In the doorway stood a lady dressed in a fine white blouse, a wine colored skirt with matching vest, gloves and a wide hat that didn’t quite conceal her long locks of dark blonde hair. She looked around the tavern with no small amount of distaste, as though she were uncomfortable to even breathe the air.
Moira leaned over to look around both Brian and Captain Hunter. “Looks like a fussy sort. Wonder what she wants?”
“She looks uncomfortable,” Rodney commented.
Moira gave Rodney a look, “Ever try and wear a corset along with the rest of that? Bound all up like a wrapped goose from market, you’d look unhappy too.”
“Ah, a socialite,” Thorias said disdainfully after a brief glance towards the door. “Anthony, if you need an assist, don’t fear to run up a signal flag. We won’t be far away.”
With a sigh, Anthony slid back from the table and stood up. He brushed out the worst of the wrinkles from his shirt, adjusted his sleeves, then tossed his long coat over one arm. “Thank you, Sirrah, I’ll deal with whatever she’s about.”
With a near-wordless grumble, Brian turned away and walked back to the pub’s bar, muttering. “She coulda walked ten feet over to that table her own self, but no, there had ta be ‘introductions’. Took her longer to be walkin’ over to ask me, then march herself back to the door.”
Hunter ignored the man’s grousing and walked over to the lady at the front door, “Begging your pardon, Madam, you must be Mrs. Monkhouse? I’m Captain Anthony Hunter.”
Mrs. Monkhouse daintily held out a gloved hand. “Why, Captain Hunter, yes, Ah’ve been looking forward to meeting you,” She replied with only the barest hint of a Scottish accent. “Ah do believe we’ve rather much to discuss.”