Several hours later, after the meeting in Detective MacTaggart’s office, Dr. Thorias Llwellyn stepped out of the tall grass and onto the gray wooden front porch of a fishing shack.
The shack itself was little more than a one room building, like a closet lacking the company of a house, that faced the dark waters of the Leith Docks. It was one of two dozen scattered along the waterfront, some decorated with netting, others just with bare, weather-worn shutters. This one had a shutter. Just one, painted black and only covering part of the small dirt-smudged window.
Looking around nervously, the doctor withdrew a small bundle from under his arm. Wrapped in yellowing, wood-ground butcher paper and secured with a simple cord, the package bulged from the money it contained. A note was neatly secured inside as well, but that was hardly noticeable by comparison.
Thorias walked across the small wooden porch to a squat barrel on the far side. He peered inside it, then carefully dropped the package within. Nervously looking around, Thorias’ turned to leave, but then glanced over to the shack’s front door.
“I wonder,” he muttered quietly to himself. “I know I’m supposed to play the part of the nervous doctor, but the more we know here the better we’ll be for it.”
Cautiously, he tried the latch. It was unlocked. Slowly, he pushed the door open.
The door swung wide with surprisingly little sound. Carefully, he peered inside. Not surprisingly, the interior was filled with an assorted mess of moderately well-kept fishing poles, old wooden buckets, a tarnished steam-powered fish scaler, and neatly bound netting that hung on wall pegs. Nothing seemed unusual for a fishing shack. Over all, the door hinges were the best maintained pieces of the entire location.
With great care, the doctor pulled the door closed, then retreated through the tall grass and river reeds to the ancient cobblestone road that ran beside the Leith Docks. There, Anthony Hunter was waiting beside a hansom cab, chatting with the cab driver. When Thorias approached, the conversation slowly wound to a graceful end.
Anthony stood up from where he had been leaning against the cab. “Is it done?”
Thorias nodded, “quite done. I took the liberty of a look, but the shack appears normal for one of its use and vintage. Except the hinges, which, somehow didn’t surprise me.”
The captain pulled open the cab door while the driver climbed onto the cab itself. “How so?” Hunter asked curiously.
“While they took great pains to make the shack seem just as it appears, a fishing shack, I suspect they actually might use it as a place to hide in emergencies. If I was a more conniving soul, I’d say someone might even lie in wait in the shack when the moment arrives to deliver the ‘goods’,” Thorias replied, climbing into the vehicle.
Hunter nodded in understanding, then followed the doctor into the cab. “I am a conniving soul, so I think I’ll arrive early tonight and bring a small wooden wedge with me from the Griffin‘s stores.”
“To seal the door?” The doctor asked with a bemused smile while the cab lurched gently into motion.
“Tight as a drumskin,” replied Hunter with a similar smirk. “With luck, anyone wanting to hide inside will need to find a different hiding place. Like the tall grass outside, where we will all be able to see them. How urgent did you make the request?”
“Oh most urgent,” the doctor said, chuckling. “Since we know there is a doctor involved, I didn’t dare try to fake the diseases, however I did make my choice carefully. I mentioned experimenting on ‘volunteers’ for the effects of the pox and consumption. Depending on how they read it, and if they ask their medical patron for advice, the pox might get us either the young boy or young lady. Consumption, would likely get us William or the Givens woman.”
“Well played,” Hunter replied, smiling. “Now, all we need is nightfall, and for one of our two fish to take the bait.”
“What of the Detective? Is he ready?” Thorias asked.
“Nearly, last I heard,” the captain replied, glancing out of the window at the buildings while they trundled by. “He’s arranged for two of his men to pay a visit with him to the Monkhouse residence at ten tonight. Constable Martin will take four strong lads to search the factory at the same time.”
“Which will leave Monkhouse, his wife, and Liam little chance to hide,” the doctor said smiling.
Hunter grinned wolfishly, “Precisely.”
It was much later when Thorias stepped out of another hansom cab and looked across the shadowy docks at the cluster of fishing sheds. Glancing up at the sky, he drew in a deep breath of waterfront air to steady his nerves.
Gray streaks of cotton-like clouds were spread out in bands above him. They reached from Edinburgh proper and out towards the waterfront, stretching out like necrotic, clawed fingers grasping for the quarter moon that sat low in the star-filled sky.
“No need to stay, my good man,” Thorias told the driver, “I’ve a friend coming along in a moment.”
The disguised constable adjusted his coachman’s cap with a shrug. “If ye be certain,” he replied with an air of concern. “Its a bit dark here about, ‘guv. Like as not, a man could be findin’ a knife in his back.”
Thorias played his part of the charade, waving a hand in an attempt to ease the concern of the worried ‘coachman’, in case they were being watched, “Oh, I’ll be fine enough. What with it being a nice night and all.”
“Suit yeself then,” the coachman replied, snapping the reins once to encourage the horse forward. With a slow rattle of hooves, the hansom cab trundled away over the damp cobblestones into the dim moonlight.
Dr. Llwellyn turned his attention back to the sheds, walking slowly through familiar tall grass, now draped in damp, grease-gray shadows. Hunter had wanted him to take along a lantern, even a small hooded one, however, Thorias felt it would not have suited the moment, or the part of the ‘nervous doctor’ he was to play.
He was only ten yards from the shed when a large shadowy figure of what looked to be a man pulled itself apart from the ink-black shadows between the buildings. The figure struggled with something awkward, like a large bag or a rolled carpet.
“I say, hello there,” Thorias whispered a little too loudly.
The large figure jumped, then spun with surprising dexterity for someone so broad-shouldered. Immediately after the turn, the man flinched in pain, favoring his left leg as if it were hurt. He leaned against the shed a moment, where a weak glimmer of moonlight revealed Conor’s face, twisted in pain.
“Who’re you? What are you playin’ at?” Conor demanded irritably.
“Just walking,” Thorias replied with a shaky, nervous voice. “Looking for a package here about. You wouldn’t have seen it, would you? I need it for some … ah … medical studies?” He said far too suggestively.
Conor’s eyes widened a moment, understanding the implication. “Ciach Ort!” He sputtered in his thick Irish accent while looking around rapidly. “Yer early! What’re you doin’ here? Damn fool, if anyone see either of us makin’ this trade, we’re done for!”
Thorias jumped a little at the man’s sudden outburst. “Well, I’ve not done this before … I thought being slightly early or even punctual would be better than fashionably late … I don’t know any etiquette for buying bodies, you know!”
Conor waved his hands frantically, “Shut it! Shut it!” The Irishman rubbed a hand over his face in exasperation. “Keep quiet would ya? What, are you just that daft?”
“I’m nothing of the kind!” Thorias said, offended. “I can’t believe this. Do you treat all your customers like this?”
“Just get yeself over here!” Conor snapped irritably. “Lets get this done so we can be shut o’ each other, before we’re both caught.” The Irishman shook his head glumly. “I should’a done what Liam said and not sold any more,” Conor muttered darkly. “Shouldn’t have come alone.”
“Sorry?” the doctor asked.
“Nuthin’,” was the reply, “lets just get it done.”
Thorias hurried through the grass and over to the shed. Conor, meanwhile, limped to the front porch where a bundle of sailcloth lay, bound with stout cord.
The doctor paused at the corner, a step away from being within arm’s reach of the big man. In the half-light, Thorias could just make out a faint protrusion at the bottom of the shed’s door. True to his word, Hunter had wedged the door shut. Fortunately, Conor seemed not to notice.
“I’m terribly sorry, I’m just so nervous,” Dr. Llwellyn stammered in a hushed tone, wringing his hands. “I’ve not done this before.” He looked at Conor suspiciously, “Do you have the merchandise?”
“I do,” Conor growled, “and for the future, ye ought to watch what you’re doin’. You could get yourself clubbed about the head in a place like this if yer not careful.” He gestured to the bundle laying on the porch, “the lad’s right here, just as the note said you wanted.”
“Dead?” Thorias asked, audibly concerned. “I paid for alive. Can we check? They must be alive. My tests won’t render any valuable results, otherwise.”
Conor rolled his eyes, “don’t go tellin’ me what you want ‘im for. I don’t want to know.”
Dr. Llwellyn ignored the remark and continued, “it’s really quite fascinating! You see, the disease is better observed when the host is alive. With them being dead, I’d have to try and revive them and that never works out as one expects.”
“Dead, he says,” the Irishmen muttered impatiently. “No, he’s as alive as meself. Only he’s been softened a bit. Just used a little bit of ether to make him easier to carry along.”
The big Irishman knelt down, wincing in pain from his left leg, and struggled with the knots in the cord around the cloth. “Most want them already dead, y’know? Alive just complicates things, most times. Easier just suffocatin’ them. Better that way.”
Once the knots were out of the way, Conor pulled the cloth aside. Wrapped neatly inside was the sleeping, drugged figure of Jimmy Barnes, the young boy also known as Jimmy Quick. No sooner had the cloth fallen away, the boy moaned slightly from feeling the damp waterfront air on his skin.
Thorias could see the marks of a fist-sized bruise on the side of the boy’s jawline. Jimmy was hurt, but he was alive.
The big Irishman waved a hand at the unconscious boy, before painfully getting to his feet. “There, alive and whole. An, for all this fuss, I think it’s only fair if you pay a little extra for the service here. A bit if a gratuity. I took me some great pains on this one.”
“Certainly,” Thorias growled, his eyes flickered dangerously in the half-moonlight.
Conor turned immediately at the change in the doctor’s voice, only to meet Thorias’ hard right fist head on. The doctor’s punch connected with a satisfying crunch against the side of the big man’s jaw. A similarly hard left followed that, hammering into Conor’s midsection, shoving the Irishman up on the balls of his feet.
“Now!” Thorias shouted at the top of his lungs, his voice cutting through the night air like a knife.
Conor staggered sideways, glancing around him, dazed and in a panic. He tried to run, but with his wind gone, the best he managed was a drunken stumble.
“No!” He stammered as realization dawned upon him, “No, I’ll hang! She’ll murder me! No!”
He turned to run, but his left leg knotted up tight and gave way underneath him. Conor fell headfirst onto the grass while all around, the glow of yellow lanterns lit the night. In the darkness, constables raced forward. On a nearby pier, Captain Hunter leaped out of hiding and headed toward the shouting.
On the front stoop of the shed, Thorias knelt down and pressed two fingers to Jimmy’s neck.
“You’re breathing with a strong pulse. You’re cut from stout cloth, lad, I’ll give you that,” Thorias sat back on his heels, satisfied at the quick prognosis of Jimmy’s survival, then glanced over at the Irishman in the grass.
Conor struggled like a wild animal while four constables hauled the killer to his feet. The big man managed to pull a hand free, punching one of the men in the nose, breaking it. The constable staggered back, grabbing at his face to staunch the flow of blood. Two more took his place and shoved Conor to the ground, twisting his arms behind him. The Irishman yelled in pain from discomfort but was unable to move.
Conor glared at the ground, then over at Thorias. “I’ll remember yer face, little man.”
Dr. Llwellyn smiled and tipped an imaginary hat to the brute. “I must say, you’re quite right, my good man. Best to look sharp at night while in a place like this. You really don’t know who might come along to club you on the side of the head!”