Mr. Finch? Why would I be following you? Inspector Jenkins asked.
No, I am here on another matter entirely. Though I must say it
is a coincidence, our paths crossing again so soon. Quite a coincidence
am on holiday, Finch said, feeling unaccountably guilty.
funny place for it, the Baron muttered.
drew back a curtain to reveal a partially dissected cadaver under glass.
The two men stared at the grotesque display, a body multiplying and
decaying, transforming itself into something else, a flower from Hell,
growing high in places like a termite mound while other sections of
the corpse--barely recognizable as the former site of limbs, a chest
or abdomen, the repository of a divine soul--were, in their advanced
state of decomposition, sticky-looking and black, like tar pits.
the Baron called, picking up a notebook to record some observations.
Ill take my supper now. Bring it here, boy.
walk with me, Mr. Finch. Inspector Jenkins indicated they should
take a turn around the laboratory while the Baron busied himself with
his notes and cold pie.
is going on here? Lutwidge demanded.
Baron is a working on the cure for a contagion that has been troubling
some members of our society, the Inspector said carelessly. I
come here from time to time, listen to him, report his progress to my
superiors. They like a man with a bit of common sense telling them these
things, you know. Not some dotty old Lord, even if he does hold the
secret of creation in his head. Have you thought any more about what
I asked you, back in your rooms the other day?
Bradleys personal life? I told you, I know nothing.
come sir, dont deny him thrice before the cock crows.
wasnt my Savior, Lutwidge said angrily, mopping his brow.
was your friend. You knew his habits. And very peculiar habits they
were, from what people tell me. I see that, in your capacity as Executor
of the Ghoulrich estate, you are seeking the whereabouts of a young
woman, a prostitute who disappeared several weeks ago.
did you know that? Lutwidge asked sharply.
us just say it has come to my attention. I wonder if she might know
anything of your friends affairs.
hardly think so.
I should like to speak to her, if you do find her. I should like to
speak to her very much.
a matter of tying some loose ends. I am a meticulous man, when it comes
to my work. Look out there. Jenkins, who had obviously been here
before, led him on a tour of the glassy maze. Ants, he uses. And
stopped before the spectacular cylinder of flame blasting upward with
a deafening roar that discouraged further approach.
it hot to mimic the inside of the human body, Inspector Jenkins
explained, so the disease will flourish. Gives me the creeps to
think of it breeding here, just a wall of glass away. You should see
his laboratory in London, under Tattson House. Big as a railway station
disease is fatal? Lutwidge asked.
the Inspector said. But I would not worry. It is common mostly
to freaks of nature like your late friend Mr. Ghoulrich. Though lately
there is some evidence it has spread to the lower classes. Still, nothing
for you to concern yourself with.
turned and began working their way back across the laboratory, where
the Baron was still studying the hideous sight before him.
gawking? He glowered at the Inspector. Because I am expecting
someone, and I know you dont like to be seen.
that true? Finch asked.
is not an official visit, Inspector Jenkins explained. If
pressed, I would deny ever being here.
you told the Baron it was all right to let me in.
you are one of us, Mr. Finch.
I? And what is that?
law-abiding citizen, Inspector Jenkins said, giving him a level
stare. I know I can rely on you to do the right thing, in a pinch.
I am quite a judge of character.
the Baron growled, proving he was listening, despite his apparent fascination
with the cadaver. The world is falling down all around you, and
you play games.
sir, one mans calling is another mans game, I suppose.
The Inspector gave the laboratory a significant look.
you go, then.
has been an honor, sir-- Lutwidge began, but the Baron waved,
or rather pushed them off with his hand, still mumbling to himself.
outside, the night air sucked the moisture from their skin. Both men
paused a moment, letting the cool darkness rush over them.
you be at the fair tomorrow? Inspector Jenkins asked.
Finch yawned. Will you?
I love a good fair, the Inspector answered, or rather did not.
By the way, we recovered a bird, a tropical parrot of some sort,
in the neighborhood where Mr. Ghoulrich used to reside. It speaks like
him a bit, I am told. Very high up in the vocal register. Keeps squawking
about the essential divinity of Christ. Wouldnt know
anything about that, would you?
essential divinity of Christ?
Finch said. Some sixth sense told him to deny any intimate knowledge
of Ghoulrich at all.
pity, the Inspector sighed. I will take my leave of you
now. Goodnight. He walked off toward the village, then turned.
You will tell me when you find that tart, wont you?
distance between them slowed and ritualized her movements. He squinted,
trying to make out her features but all he could see was her long hair
and that her clothes were in disarray. Indeed, she was practically naked,
and beseeching him, he felt. Asking him to believe her. He took another
step forward and gazed up. Their eyes met. Then he looked around, foolishly,
hoping someone else was here, on the vast lawn at four in the morning,
to confirm what he was seeing. But when he turned back to the turret,
the light was extinguished. Indeed, he saw now he had mistaken the architecture
of this eccentric building entirely, that he was merely staring at the
front of the Hall from off to one side. But he had seen what he had
seen. It was no illusion.
Tavis-Ware appears only to the pure at heart, he recalled, and
proclaims her innocence.
are you doing? Mister MacIntyre asked.
myself in the window, Doris answered. She was down to her camisole.
They dont give us mirrors in the servants rooms so
I use the glass at night.
there is a mirror right here.
like looking out on the world naked. Why do you think that is?
to bed, he said.
the bustling metropolis of Little Dipping, Colonel Carter sighed,
reconnoitering from a hilltop.
fear of population centers really was beginning to wear. There were
no lights in the tiny hamlet, and the little illumination provided by
a cloud-bound moon revealed a line of shacks following the curve of
a river. True, there was a field, in which tents and stalls had already
been erected in preparation for tomorrows festivities, but the
general air was one of provinciality and gloom. The Town Hall and a
church were the only visible structures of substance. It was well past
was a rustling sound behind him. She was back at last.
is your friend? he called over his shoulder.
He turned. Lately, shivers had overtaken Nan, a chill picked up on the road, he suspected. She huddled under a tightly drawn shawl. Still pretty, but in a way that no longer interested the Colonel.
Her repeated rebuffs had injured his sense of pride. It was almost, he told himself, an insult to the uniform, the way she refused to be kissed, even. There were times when he felt he was nothing more than a manservant, pitching camp for her, making forays into town for food and other provisions. It was during one of these expeditions he had managed to send off a telegram in response to the advertisement. He hoped there was an answer waiting for him tomorrow, down in that valley. The poor girls money was almost gone and while his scruples would never permit him to steal what little remained he saw nothing wrong in turning her over to whatever authorities were searching for her, especially if there was an emolument involved. The child, after all, was cracked.
he couldnt go on playing Sancho Panza forever. Back in London,
Mrs. Griggs was probably sick with worry. In the privation of his present
circumstances the Colonels old lodgings had taken on a glow of
comparative bliss. He imagined sinking back into the parlors overstuffed
armchair, rather than sitting uncomfortably on this stony ground next
to a loud brook.
your friend, he said irritably. I dont see why he
could not have put us up for the night.
is not a friend, Nan said. He is a great man. He is trying
to help me. He cannot be seen with the likes of us.
really, he grunted, removing a large arrowhead that had been indenting
his buttock. And what did this know-all have to say?
I am sick, Nan said, hugging herself tighter.
I could have told you that. Quinines what you need. Three drops
daily. Washed down with a tot of Navy rum.
says I am to be careful, she recited, ignoring Colonel Carters
suggestion. That there are men about. They have been asking him
questions. He says there is even talk of a reward offered.
the Colonel said, turning away.
wrong, Johnny? She reached out, her thin hand finally coming to
rest on his sulking face, where it traced over the line of his jaw as
if belonging to a blind woman.
she stated, certain. Her hand moved lower and quite casually tugged
at his belt. Come. Let me comfort you.
say, steady on man, he counselled. How often had this happened? The
unlooked for, appearing. The gift horse, opening its mouth. He felt
with a thrill her body move close, saw her take off her shawl and lay
it on the ground.
have been bad, she said. Bad, with bad people. And two wrongs
do not make a right, you know.
course not, he agreed, not having the faintest idea what she was
talking about, or caring, for that matter. Certain operations were being
performed, of a delicacy which was best left undescribed in an official
report of this nature, he told himself. Suffice it to say...
back, she said. There is only so much I can do. The man
I saw tonight, he explained to me how--
No need to...muck it up with a lot of talk, he gasped, staring up at the heavens. The smell of her shawl, not so much perfume as the warm odor of wear, mingled with the dark swaying treetops and the endless gurgle of the brook. It all reminded him of a calendar illustration he had once admired.
Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!
she mumbled, her head bent low. There are devils everywhere.
as she lay in his arms, the Colonel reconsidered his prospective plan
of action. Part of him felt guilty, now that he had, so to speak, taken
advantage of the girl, though really it was the other way round. And
now to betray her for thirty (if not more!) pieces of silver, well,
there was something caddish in it. On the other hand--he raised himself
slightly to make sure she was still sleeping, some superstition convinced
him she could read his thoughts--having obtained his military objective
it was time to move on. He was, after all, a crack fighting unit, not
a force of occupation. Soon as bivouacs get set up the men go soft.
arrived too late. Thank God, the Reverend Belcher thought blasphemously.
Deathbed confessions had proved, over the years, the most harrowing
of his duties. The understandable desire to make a clean breast of it
soon gave way to a peevish retelling of the tawdry, the obscene, the
tedious and pedestrian, then, finally, the frankly unbelievable, as
the doomed party, convinced he or she would not die until they had truly
expatiated themselves, lay gasping from the effort to both breathe and
recall minute additional sins which might in some way explain the awful
predicament they now found themselves in. And so to bed,
the Reverend said, closing the eyelids (that was always left him), noting
the grainy texture of the pupils, as if worms were already at their
work. I will never know your story. He mechanically absolved,
after the fact, the deceased of any sins, on the dubious theological
grounds of the lingering soul, the unspoken intention, etc. etc. Give
the poor sick raving tortured sod the benefit of the doubt, he argued.
For he had the common habit of silently castigating himself for positions
he did not even hold, rather than attack, out loud, the true promulgators
of those dogma which disgusted him so.
come for the body yet? he asked, washing his hands, noting the
cowering, frightened...was it sister or wife? He could not remember.
He had been rushed out of bed at three in the morning. She stood with
her back to the wall, a frail woman, terrified.
said to do nothing.
will be here by daybreak. Have you anyone to stay with?
then. He looked to the door. It is better if there is no
one here for them to question. I will wait, tell them I was summoned
by a stranger, that the house was empty when I arrived.
Save yourself, child.
she had gathered her few things and fled, the Reverend took out his
pipe. Fumigate the premises. At one point the corpses hand came
loose from its clasped, folded repose and dangled noisily over the side
of the bed. He placed it back on the hollow chest, propped it there
with a pillow, closed one eye that had partially worked its way open,
and sat back down.
Belcher, he said.
your service, the Reverend replied. Are you in need of Holy
petty crook frowned, slipped in and silently shut the door.
for the body-snatchers?
Reverend nodded. There is nothing more quiet, he reflected, than a room
with a corpse. Such a haunting absence renders speech superfluous, inadequate.
Their words sounded like pebbles dropped down a well.
come to see how he was doing, Tom lied, looking around.
now, as you can see.
asking permission, Tom went over and seized one of the cold hands. A
band of plain steel was on its finger.
them, did you? he muttered in consternation, trying to work the
are you doing, Tom? the Reverend asked, still not getting up.
It is a crime, you know, stripping a corpse. They will have your
theyll have to get in line, wont they? The little
man smiled, sweating now, as he struggled to straighten the curved knuckle.
Those whose ring this is want it back.
they sent you?
to chop the bloody finger off if I dont-- There!
a final gruesome tug he succeeded and held up the unimpressive ornament.
have heard tell of a criminal society, the Reverend said. Awfully
bold, arent you, wearing tokens of your membership?
I wouldnt know anything about that. Just running an errand, I am. He slipped the ring in his pocket.
aint it, waiting here for His Majestys men? Answering their
questions and all?
collar still affords some protection.
have changed, Old Tom said, studying him.
From what you was. Ever had word of that tart you were trying to save? he asked, with strange perception.