It was an hour after the remains of Mrs. Vivan Carpenter had been recovered from the White Hart Tavern and taken to the mortuary. Within that hour, once again the blue coated constables had descended on the Grassmarket, only to leave no better informed than when they had arrived. As the undertaker’s coach carrying her body wound its slow path to the morgue, a constable arrived with a message for Captain Hunter, Moira, Thorias and Rodney. It was from Detective MacTaggart, urgently requesting their presence at the police headquarters.
Inside his office Detective MacTaggart, suit rumpled and coat unbuttoned, paced like a man possessed. His hands were folded behind him, clutched tightly together, knuckles white with emotion. The detective’s brows were furrowed, his eyes flashing with an intense anger, although, this time it was not directed at his guests.
“Despite havin’ every lad Ah can spare out beatin’ the bush for these mongrels, they be a solid step ahead.” The detective stopped in mid-pace, staring furiously at a citation for bravery in the line of duty awarded to him the previous year. He glared at it, as if it were mocking him.
Detective MacTaggart spun on his heel as if insulted by very the sight of the award, and stalked slowly across his office. “Despite havin’ a good, solid lad at the door – a lad Ah’d been trainin’ meself, Ah might add – they slip inside to make off with what may be their next victim. And that’s before ye get to the young boy, ye man William, or depositin’ the late Mrs. Carpenter, bless her shade.”
“What I don’t understand,” Rodney, standing not far from the door to the Detective’s office, folded his arms over his chest and idly considered the thin, herringbone gear in his hand, “Was how they managed to get Miss Olivander away and leave the body?”
Moira leaned back in her chair and whispered to Rodney, “I heard some constable’s talkin’, they found a door in the back standing open. It led right to a storeroom with a rickety old ladder. They said it woulda been simple to scamper up that, then go across the roof to both rooms. They even found where the ladder was stuck in the ground outside.”
The young inventor raised his eyebrows, “now that is devious. Most often don’t look up, what with the buildings here being so tall.”
The detective stopped next to his desk, staring angrily down at an innocent folder that lay there, stuffed with papers. The ink from the servitor scribe was barely dry. MacTaggart picked up the folder and looked as if he might throw it across the room. “Now Ah be getting’ a report that a flower grower, a Sarah Givens, be gone missin’. Ah be well past tired of these bloody buggers bein’ just a step ahead!”
“I agree. I wholeheartedly agree,” Captain Hunter said in a hard, dangerous tone. His eyes smoldered while he stared out the only narrow window of the Detective’s office. The clouds had begun to gather overhead, slowly boiling in preparation for one of the usual Edinburgh storms. In the distance, Hunter watched a pair of ravens chase a clockwork servitor, this one a messenger owl, while it flew quickly on whatever errand sent it across Edinburgh.
Behind his back, Hunter clasped Jimmy Quick’s woolen cap securely in his right hand while his artificial clockwork left hand flexed in a tight fist. “So far we’ve been racing to catch up to them. There must be something we’ve overlooked. Something we can do.”
Dr. Thorias Llwellyn sat in a chair next to the Detective’s desk, his face drawn into a thoughtful frown. “Indeed, there must be. We’ve been over the trail of evidence for the past half-hour. We know from young Rodney here that Miss Newt stumbled across two suspicious characters carting off something in the dead of night. When she went to tell someone, again young Rodney, she was unable to do so before she vanished.”
Detective MacTaggart dropped the file back onto his desk with a heated sigh. “Ah be of some acquaintance with Hiram Jones, and Lydia Olivander. Hiram, rest his soul, went and had the misfortune to be findin’ a storage place for smugglers. Likewise he and Mrs. Carpenter had been courtin’.”
Moira sat up straight in her chair, causing the wood to squeak, “Which probably means he’d been around ta call on Mrs. Carpenter.” She shrugged, “just a guess mind ya. But that means he’d have met Maggie Campbell and Lydia, too.”
Rodney looked around at the others in the room, “but how does that connect to the kidnappings? Might the smugglers be a coincidence?”
Captain Hunter shook his head, “I sincerely doubt that. I’m convinced it was Conor and Liam after Hiram’s journal. We know by Dr. Belker’s admission, Conor and Liam were involved with the kidnappings, among other morbid dealings.” Anthony paused for a slow deep breath, then exhaled slowly while he reined in his temper.
“What about that Monkhouse bloke runnin’ that textile factory?” Moira asked curiously. “Didn’t they work for him? Why wouldn’t he know where they are or what they been up to?”
“Textile factory,” Rodney muttered to himself thoughtfully, “why does that ring chimes?”
“He might,” Detective MacTaggart said grimly, not hearing Rodney’s mumblings. “Ah’d better send a couple of lads around to be havin’ a chat with him. Maybe lay hands on his business records.”
“The man’s repulsive, but he didn’t seem capable of planning murder,” Hunter said sternly, “not murder on this breadth. Likely as not, those two might easily be preparing to vanish into the slums or even leave Edinburgh itself.”
“We’ll have the devil’s own time finding them, then,” Thorias lamented darkly, then glanced over at Detective MacTaggart. “Wait now … they’re obviously cleaning up loose ends behind them, save for most of you here and Benjamin. Detective, tell me again what Benjamin told you about how he purchased the bodies?”
“Between his ravings, he described a place just south of the Leith Docks. Near an old fishin’ boat tied up near a shack havin’ only one black shutter.” Detective MacTaggart replied tersely.
“Which was close enough to where Hiram located that hidden stash he wrote about. I can’t call that coincidence,” Hunter interjected. “We need to get at Conor or Liam. At least one of them. Separated, they might more easily confess.”
The Detective shook his head, “Ah can bring ’em in, but the best we have is the fight yeself was in with them, and that’d be no more than a stiff fine. Anything more would require Dr. Belker, and what with him comin’ down with that case o’ madness, no court would allow anythin’ he’s said.” MacTaggart sighed wearily, “What we need is to catch either Conor or Liam out in the open.”
“Then lets give ’em some bait,” Moira said suddenly with a bright grin. “This’ll sound bad, but hold the course with me. They gotta get rid of the bodies, right? Let’s go an get one from ’em.”
All eyes in the room turned to look at Moira curiously. Hunter spoke up first, the wheels already turning behind his eyes. “Moira, are you suggesting what I think you are?”
“If yer thinkin’, ‘put out some money to try and purchase a body from ’em’, then sure.” She replied quickly.
The room immediately exploded in a torrent of shouts and arguments. It was Rodney who broke through the conflicting conversations by saying, “It’s madness, but I think I understand … it’s … brilliant. Would it even work? I think it just actually might.”
“Preposterous!” MacTaggart sputtered, pushing his glasses up from the end of his nose. “It’ll be encouragin’ them to kill again! Ah’m supposed ta stop the killin’, not go off and hire ’em to kill more!”
“Not if we put out the money now,” Moira pleaded. “Don’t give ’em time to do anything, leave a note sayin’ its a rush order. Just something. Say we’re willin’ ta pay double if’n they’re only banged about and not dead, or somethin’ like that. They’re really greedy, otherwise they wouldn’t have been doing any of this in the first place. So of course they’ll fall for it.”
Hunter watched Moira carefully, “This one’s tricky, Moira, neither Conor or Liam are entirely stupid. They could easily kill one of the victims before delivering them to us.” The captain looked out the window thoughtfully while the wheels in his mind turned, “We’d need someone who can play the part of a desperate medical researcher. However, we can’t use Dr. Belker, he’s too ill to rely upon.”
“I’ll do it,” Thorias said after a moment’s hesitation.
The room was heavy with a pregnant silence. The elven doctor shrugged after a moment with a helpless sigh. “Heaven and Hippocrates forgive me, but it has to be me. And I even suspect a reason why they need to be kept alive.”
“Go on,” Detective MacTaggart said curiously.
The doctor looked around the room, “most reasons a doctor, or a medical student, even, would stoop to buying a corpse is research. Even now, there are so very few available for study that despite the laws against it, the temptation is still there.”
Thorias shrugged. “If we … I … agree to pay double, even triple, for a partially conscious victim to use in a study involving infectious diseases that’s taking place away far from here, say in Spain, their greed might encourage them to cooperate. If they are planning on leaving, then the money would be useful, and it would rid them of a loose end.”
“If they are that greedy,” Hunter added.
“Ah don’t like it, not a single bloody bit, but … an Ah can’t believe Ah’m sayin’ this … it makes a kind of sense.” Detective MacTaggart sighed roughly while his conscience warred openly against itself. “It’ll be the end of me job, but Ah’m in. But only as long as we be takin’ some additional precautions.”
“Like what?” Rodney asked curiously. “If you put constables out, won’t they be seen?”
The detective smiled conspiratorially, “Och, with all the crates and shacks along there, there be plenty of places for the lads to lie in wait.”
“Us as well!” Rodney said with an encouraging smile.
Hunter’s frown deepened, “Also, if we’re not careful, this bloody business could easily deliver William, deliver any of them, back to us as a corpse?”
Moira fidgeted in her chair like a schoolgirl eager for recess, “Cap’n, if we run about chasin’ our tail any more, I just know he’ll be dead in a ditch before another day goes by. At least with this we’ll have a chance!”
“Anthony,” Thorias said quietly when Hunter hesitated, “I know she’s on your mind. All this with the factory, and that young lady, Miss Olivander. It’s brought it back. Old friend, we can’t do it alone. Moira’s idea really is spot-on, just think it though a moment.”
Hunter’s mood turned black while he leveled an angry, haunted stare at his old friend. “This isn’t about my dead sister!”
“I say, it rather is,” Thorias replied calmly, “but I remember her from the short year I met her. She was every bit a Hunter. Every inch. She didn’t shirk from her duty, and she’d tell you not to shirk from yours.”
Hunter was quiet a moment, then the hint of a familiar smile crossed his face. “She’d hit me on the shoulder while telling me so, too,” he said wistfully. He turned abruptly to face the group. “Right, so a double trap then,” he said cryptically.
Moira and Rodney gave each other a confused look, while the Detective scratched his head. Thorias simply sat back in his chair with a quiet smile and nodded.
MacTaggart glanced around the room, “Ah only be remembering one trap here. Did Ah miss somethin’ along the way?”
The smile on Hunter’s face, became a full grin, “You missed nothing, Detective. We go with Moira’s plan, but that nets us one fish. The moment we have him, we lose the other. Not acceptable. Detective MacTaggart, if you can spare the men, this deal will provide an excellent distraction. If you go for Monkhouse’s records too soon, naturally Conor and Liam will be too startled to try. Too late and they’ll be gone, and any real evidence long since destroyed. However, roust them at night …”
MacTaggart chuckled, “an ye catch ’em with their britches down! Oh, Ah can find some lads for this. Any of the ones who walk about his factory and been sufferin’ under his snide comments would be more’n happy to lend a hand.”
“Timing will be essential,” Anthony said in a more serious tone, “we can’t be a moment off.” Suddenly, thoughts surfaced in the Captain’s mind. “And once we have them, we turn on Monkhouse. I’m convinced he knows what Conor and Liam are about. He knew too much about their activities with Miss Olivander and the abuse of other employees.”
“So where do we start?” Rodney asked excitedly.
“With me,” Thorias said firmly, “I’ll have to drop the money off with a note detailing my special order. Rightfully, it has to be me, I know what to write. Also, they’ve likely not seen me. By this point, they’ve seen all of you.”
“That will be givin’ me time to get some lads near the docks and hidden away near that factory,” Detective MacTaggart said.
“The Docks, it’s a waterfront. What if they come in by boat?” Rodney asked with a worried tone.
“I’ll take care of that,” Captain Hunter said matter-of-factly. “Remember, they have to come ashore to complete the transaction.” Anthony smirked, “Besides, those cretins tossed barrels at me before, I can do one better. I remember where Hiram keeps his fishing spears and his spare rope. They won’t make it far by boat.”
“So when do we do it?” Moira said excitedly, rubbing her hands together.
“Ten in the evening,” Captain Hunter suggested. “Dark enough to avoid prying eyes, and for it to be believable that our doctor is serious.”
Moira jumped up from her seat with a war whoop, “They won’t know what hit ’em!”
“On the contrary,” Hunter replied, “if I have any say in the matter, they will most certainly know what hit them. And who. You can bank on that.”